Poker odds are scary, aren’t they?
Honestly, anything involving math is going to scare off your average poker player. You don’t necessarily need a calculator next to you when you’re playing in Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, though. You just need to learn how to identify what’s on the table.
When we talk about poker odds and outs, what we’re really doing is figuring out what potential hands you might have and how likely it is that you’re going to get one of those hands and win.
When we talk about pot odds, what we’re talking about is how likely it is your hand will get better.
When we combine all of this, we’re going to figure out what our pot odds are and what move we should make next in order to make the maximum amount of money.
All you really need is some solid poker practice to make all of this poker math work. Poker practice is the only way to learn poker outs, odds, and even poker rules so well that you don’t have to think about them.
The truth is that only some of what you read in books is going to help you. Studying poker odds, poker outs, and pot odds from a book is fine, but you really need a lot of practice to figure out how they work in the real world. Since you want to win, we’re going to focus on practical poker practice.
Poker Practice: Odds an Outs
We are going to start first by assuming that you want to win both individual games and poker tournaments. The basic skills here are the same in both situations.
When you look at poker outs and poker odds, you’re looking at the process of learning how to make as much money as possible with as little loss as you can manage. We are going to look at a handful of poker practice exercises to help make these factors just a little less scary.
Exercise #1: Pocket Pairs
How likely is it that you’ll receive any given card in the deck as your first card? Is it likely that you’ll receive any given card second? How likely is it that you’ll receive any given set of cards as your starting hand? How likely is it that these two cards will both be aces?
Solution: The odds of getting any card of your first hand is one in fifty-two. The odds of getting a card regardless of the suit is four in fifty-two. The odds of getting a particular card as your second card is one in fifty-one, or four in fifty-one if you’re not worried about the suit.
So, what if you are looking for aces?
Well, you have a four in fifty-two chance of getting an ace for your first card, and then a three in fifty-one chance of getting it for your second card if you already have an ace. Multiplied together and reduce, you have a one in two-hundred-twenty-one chance of getting pocket aces or of getting any particular pocket pair.
Exercise #2: AK vs Pair of Sevens
You were dealt:
Your opponent was dealt:
Who has the best chance of winning that hand?
Solution: We’re going to avoid math as much as possible here.
Strictly speaking, a lot of this is going to come down to how the cards are suited. Assuming that all four cards are unsuited to one another, that pair of sevens has a slightly higher chance of winning (fifty-five percent) than the ace/king.
What you might have been taught is that over cards will always beat a smaller pair. Whoever taught you this one was wrong because there is still a slight bit of favor towards the smaller pair. If you have absolutely no clue what the other player has, though, you should still go for the ace/king despite the odds.
Exercise #3: Straight Draw
The board is:
How likely is it that you’ll hit a straight? How many outs do you have?
Solution: You have an open-ended straight here because you can complete it at either end. If you get any ace or any nine, you’ve got a straight – not a bad place in which to sit.
If we want to calculate the odds so you can put together a poker strategy, we first need to look at how many cards have been dealt. Because there are currently six cards in play, there are forty-six cards left. There are eight possible cards you can pull (four ace, four nine), so you’ve got eight out of forty-two cards.
If you convert that to a decimal, you’ve got around a seventeen percent chance to get a straight from one of those eight outs.
Exercise #4: Gut-Shot Straight Draw
Let’s make our poker practice just a little tougher here. Let’s say that you have:
and the board has:
We’re looking for a straight, so how many outs do you have and what are your odds of getting that straight?
Solution: Things don’t look quite as good here. You only have one possibility of getting your straight – a nine. Luckily, there’s still possibly four nines out there, so you have four potential outs.
What are the odds of getting what you want? Well, we can actually skip a lot of the math here thanks to the problem above. If we know that eight outs gives us a seventeen percent chance, we can infer that getting four will give us about an eight-and-a-half percent chance.
Exercise #5: Flush Draws
Our next bit of poker practice going to concentrate on a flush draw. You’ve got two hearts:
and the board has:
a pair of hearts and a pair of clubs. What are your outs and odds?
Solution: When you’re calculating a flush, you need to look at the number of potential cards in a suit. Every suit has thirteen cards, and you already have four on the table. You then have nine potential outs to complete your flush!
Since you know that nine cards can help you, you know that there are now thirty-seven cards in the deck that won’t. Reducing again, we get just under a twenty-percent chance of you hitting your flush out of those nine outs.
Exercise #6: Four Flush or Top Pair
Let’s poke at that flush a bit more. You’ve got an ace and king suited in your hand:
and there are four cards on the table:
Two are suited, and you feel like you’ll win with either the flush or pairing one of your cards. Let’s work on outs and odds again.
Solution: You have nine outs on your flush again, and you have six more outs when it comes to pairing your king or ace. That’s a total of fifteen outs, or just over two to one odds of getting something that you want and a thirty-three percent chance of hitting your goal.
Exercise #7: Full House Draw
And the board is:
Your opponent, though, looks like he might have hit the flush so you need a full house to win. What kind of odds are you looking at?
Solution: This one is easier than you think. You have four potential outs to the full house, or the same eight-and-a-half percent odds you had of making your gut shot straight before.
Exercise #8: Flush Draw vs All In Bet
You had a good flop for this poker practice exercise, and you’re sitting at four cards to a great flush after the flop. The pot is good – two hundred dollars – and your opponent goes all in with seventy-five dollars. After looking at your odds and outs, what do you do?
Solution: We’re looking at slightly different math here than before. Not all of the cards are on the table yet – you’ve still got the turn and river both yet to come. This changes things up because instead of just having one shot to get your flush, you now have two.
We remember that after that first set of cards, we’re sitting at a 38:9 ratio when it comes to getting your card. If you don’t hit it on the turn, though, the ratio actually moves in your favor again – it goes to 37:1, which means that you’re going to hit about thirty-five percent of the time either on the turn or on the river.
So, is it a good idea to play this hand? Well, you’re going to win about thirty-five times out of every hundred, right? So, now it’s time to do some new math.
If we were going to play this same scenario a hundred times, we’d end up putting seventy-five hundred dollars for the bet. If we win thirty-five times, we walk away with just over twelve-thousand dollars. We’re going to have a positive average after we even everything out, so it’s definitely a hand that’s worth playing.
Exercise #9: QQ vs All In Bet
Let’s say that a player goes all-in and your tournament life is on the line, in this poker practice exercise hand. When you are the only player left in, and you’ve got pocket queens. You have a good read on this player, and you know that he’s a tight player, waiting for a big hand. You think there’s a good chance – maybe sixty percent – that he has a pair of aces or a pair of kings.
What’s your move?
Solution: We don’t have to do much math here. We know that we only have about a two in ten chance of winning this one QQ vs AA or KK, so we can’t actually expect to win. We’re probably going to lose, but we do have a chance to win from time to time. Still, we have better odds of losing than winning, so we fold. This is an extremely difficult fold for a lot of players, but if tournament life is on the line think about it and pick a better spot.
Exercise #10: QQ vs All In Bet 2.0
Same as above, but the player above isn’t as tight or predictable. You assume that the other player has about a seventy-percent chance of having a much worse hand than you, probably a pair of jacks or even lower. What do you do?
Solution: Use the same logic as above. If you think you’ve got a seventy-percent chance of winning, go for it! The only issue here is that your read might be off, but it’s probably still worth your time to play.
Exercise #11: Making a Set
For our last poker practice exercise, we’re going to go with the big math. You have pocket sevens before the flop. How many outs do you have for a set, and what are the odds?
Solution: Figuring out your outs, at least, is easy. You’ve got two sevens, and there are only two other sevens in the deck, so you have two outs.
Determining the odds, though, is tougher. Because you’re dealing with a lot of fractions, it’s almost certainly better to deal with a chart here. If you want to cheat, though, know that you’re actually looking at around a twenty-percent chance to get one of those two sevens.
Poker Practice: Talking About Pot Odds
All of the work that we have done so far really just helps you to calculate whether or not it’s profitable to play. This is called figuring out your pot odds, and it’s done through figuring out if the amount you need to spend to call is better than the odds of you actually winning the hand.
Put simply, put odds help you figure out if you stand a chance to make more from the pot than it costs you to make your bet.
Honestly, this is one of the best tools you’ll have in poker. The calculations are much simpler, too – it’s the total pot divided by the cost of your call. You take that number, compare it to the odds of your hand’s improvement. Put it together and you can determine your expectation of a positive play.
All of this work can seem very scary, especially if you just want to play a few hands of poker. It’s vital, though, if you want to win Texas Hold’em poker tournaments and actually make some serious money in your poker career.
Failure to learn your poker odds and outs means losing more money. Yes, there are people who will sometimes win without know the odds and plenty who know the odds and are just plain unlucky. What you’re looking at is the long game, though, and knowing your odds really does help over time. If you want to rely on more than just luck, keep practicing with your odds and outs. See you at the WSOP!
Poker Practice – FAQ
How do you practice poker?
You can read, listen to audio books and watch poker strategy content. You can also take a poker training course/tests. But the best practice is actually playing poker.
Does poker require skill?
Yes. Some people can maximize their potential by studying, but they might become robotic. Other people are deceptive and crafty by nature, which can be considered skills for poker.
Is poker a gamble?
Yes. Poker is gambling. Some people believe that if it's gambling then there is no skill, but poker is one of those rare situations where it's both gambling and skill.
What is the goal of poker?
Most people would say that the goal of poker is to make money and that's true if we are just talking about the game of poker, which is to win the pot of chips in the middle of the table. But, if you are talking about the idea of poker, for me it's not just to make money it's an entire lifestyle. I guess it depends on the person.