Pot odds and your decisions

March 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Poker School

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As I’ve said in my previous blog-post, playing positive EV hands will always yield a small revenue, regardless of whether or not the EV comes through and wins the pot for you in any given hand. Likewise, if you play negative EV you always lose a little money.
As you’ve probably seen in my previous post, I’ve also discussed the factors that influence the EV. These factors are the size of the bet and the odds on the event on which you place your wager.

Translated to poker, the size of the bet in relation to the pot is one of the factors, the odds of your making the hand you’re shooting for is the other.
The biggest question in poker is whether or nor you should call a certain hand, fold it or raise it. If you compare your pot odds to the odds of your hand becoming the winner, you gain a mathematical response to this question.
Theoretically, if your chances to win the pot are bigger than your pot odds, you should make the call or the raise. Mind you however, that your winning chances need to be much bigger than your pot odds to justify a raise, because the raise will alter your pot odds significantly.

Here’s an example. Let’s consider that you have a $50 pot on the table and it takes you $10 to call a bet. You have a 4-card flush on the flop.
First, you need to take a look at your pot odds. It costs you $10 to win $50, so your odds are 50-10, which means they’re 5-1. If your odds of making your flush in the turn are better than 5-1, you should make the call.
In order to determine your odds, you need to take a look at the number of cards remaining in the deck, and the number of cards that will make your flush. These cards are known as your “outs”.

In the above case, out of the 52 cards which make up a deck, 2 are in your pocket and 3 are on the table. You can see these cards, so they’re not unknown anymore. That leaves 47 unknown cards in the deck. There are a total of 13 same-suited cards in every deck, out of which 4 are already involved in the action. That leaves 13-4 = 9 cards that can still help you make your hand. Out of a total of 47 cards 9 can help. That means the odds of your hand coming together on the turn are 38-9 against, (because 38 cards will not help you). That means your odds are 4.22-1 which is slightly better than the 5-1 pot odds, you get: a call is justified here. A $10 raise (which means $20 shoved into the pot) would make your pot odds 5-2, or 2.5-1 and in that case your 4.22-1 odds would be worse.

Mind you however that these numbers are only valid for the turn card. The river card will give you another shot at making your flush, but both the pot odds and the odds on your hand will be different at that stage.

This calculus only gives you a mathematical course of action. Your optimal strategy, based on reads you have on your opponents might be different.