Knowing the Pot Odds


Jan 2008

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Pot odds is a poker term that describes the relative value of a particular pot compared to the size of the bet that you are planning to make. It helps you decide how much money you should bet to win a pot of a particular size given the strength of your cards.

Texas Holdem poker, especially no limit Hold’em is a game which cannot be won simply by using a calculator to determine your odds. Your ability to look at your opponents and intuitively read their body language will factor heavily in your success, and those who don’t learn how to observe other players behavior and respond accordingly will always be at a severe disadvantage. Since the reading of body language is not an extremely exact science, it stands to reason that whenever you do have the opportunity to use mathematical probability in making your decisions the best strategy is to do so. Knowing the pot odds at all times represents one of those opportunities.

From a purely numerical standpoint, the pot odds are a ratio which is calculated by comparing the size of the existing pot to the size of the bet that you intend to make. For example if the pot contains $50 and you are planning to bet $10 on your hand that translates into pot odds of 50 to 10, or 5 to 1, and normally this would be expressed as 5:1. Usually however, most people prefer to express the pot odds as a percentage. The way to do this is to first assume that the bet has been placed in the pot thus resulting in a larger pot. In our example the $50 pot would be increased by the $10 bet, and would then be $60. The next step is to take the amount of the bet and divide it by the amount of the enlarged pot. To continue the example then, the pot odds as a percentage would be $10 divided by $60, or about 17%.

The reason that poker players express pot odds as a percentage is that after you bet, the odds of getting a particular card or cards that will improve your hand are usually also expressed as a percentage. It makes it easier to compare the pot odds to the odds of getting the card you need if both are expressed as a percentage. And the comparison of the pot odds to your chances of getting the cards you want on the flop, turn or river is what will tell you how much you should bet, or whether you should even bet at all. We will continue with our previous example to see how you would use the pot odds to help you figure out how to proceed.

Before the pot odds can help us however, we first need to make sure we understand the hand odds, or the odds of making a particular hand. That’s because pot odds are most useful when you are drawing for a hand, that is to say when you hope to get a card that will give you a better hand than you already have. Determining hand odds is actually pretty easy, since the odds of getting a particular card or cards are well established and are listed in a variety of places such as this hand odds table. Let’s take a simple example where both of your hole cards are diamonds, and two diamonds have been laid down on the flop. If one more diamond is laid down on either the turn or the river you will have yourself a flush. You can see from the table that the odds of drawing a flush on either the turn or the river are 19%.

Very simply, the way to evaluate this bet is to note that the hand odds of 19% are larger than the pot odds of 17%. When the hand odds are larger than the pot odds, we say that the expected value of the hand is positive. If however you had a pocket pair and were trying to get three of a kind on the turn or the river your chances of doing that according to the hand odds table would only be 4%, and since 4% is less than 17% the expected value of the hand would be negative. Only when the expected value is positive is the bet you are contemplating appropriate. So a $10 bet to a $50 pot would be appropriate if you needed one card to make a flush, but would not be appropriate if you needed one card to give you three of a kind. Click here to see a simple tool for determining the odds of winning a hand with selected hole cards and community cards for several players.

Article Summary;

  1. Pot odds help you decide how much to bet based on the pot size.
  2. You should use pot odds because they give an objective analysis of the hand.
  3. Pot odds are a ratio between your proposed bet and the size of the pot.
  4. Hand odds are the probability of drawing a better hand on the flop, turn or river.
  5. If the hand odds are larger than the pot odds, the bet you propose is appropriate.

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