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Understanding the ‘Pot Odds’
by Daniel Negreanu

When you watch poker on TV, you hear the term pot odds thrown around all the time. What in the world does it really mean? Well, hopefully, after you read this column you'll not only know what pot odds are, but you'll also understand how to quickly calculate pot odds and apply them to your game.

A simple generic definition of the term pot odds would be - the odds the pot is laying you in comparison to the bet you are facing. In other words, if there is $500 in the pot and your opponent has bet $100, your pot odds would be 6 to 1. Why 6 to 1? Well, since there is already $500 in the pot and your opponent has bet an additional $100, that totals $600. Since you need to call $100 to stay in the pot, your odds are 6 to 1.

Simple enough, right? So how exactly do you apply this basic knowledge to a poker hand? Here's how to figure out your pot odds, compare them to your actual odds, and then assist you in making an informed decision as to whether or not you should continue playing the hand.

Step 1 - Figuring the Pot Odds

This is the easy part. You count what's already in the pot and add it to the amount of the bet you are facing. You then compare that sum to the amount your opponent has bet. So again, if there was, for example, $200 in the pot and your opponent bets $20, your pot odds would be 11 to 1 ($220/$20= 11 to 1).

Okay, so now that you know what your pot odds are, it's time to figure out if you are getting the right price to continue playing the hand.

Step 2 - Figuring Your Actual Odds

This can be a little more difficult depending on the situation. You can find a table of actual odds in almost any poker book on the market. Another option is to pick up some simulation software that will calculate the odds for you. But since you obviously won't have access to a book or software right there on the spot, here's how to figure out your actual odds while seated there at the table.

The first thing you need to do is count your outs - meaning the number of remaining cards that will improve your hand. Then compare that number to the total number of unseen cards still in the deck. Here's an example.

Let's say the board reads Kc 7s 6d 2h, and in your hand you hold 8h 9h. Now with just one card to come, you have eight outs - the four remaining 5's and the four remaining 10's - to make your straight. There are 52 cards in the deck, and since you already know what your two cards are, as well as the four community cards on board, that leaves 46 unseen, unknown cards. Of those 46 cards, eight will give you a winning straight, while 38 will miss. So the actual odds of making your straight then are 38 to 8, or 4.75 to 1 (38/8= 4.75 to 1).

Since you know the pot odds are 11 to 1 and your actual odds of improving your hand are 4.75 to 1, you can see that you're getting a great return for the investment and should call.

If, however, there were only $20 in the pot and your opponent bet $20 then the pot odds would be only 2 to 1, and you wouldn't be making a good investment at all by calling the bet. In this example, even though you have eight outs, the correct play would be to fold the hand.

The goal in poker is relatively straight forward and simple. It's not about how many pots you win. It's about making good investments, much like you would in any business venture.

By understanding pot odds, you can make educated decisions as to whether calling or folding would be good long-term investments. As is true in the stock market, if you make good decisions in the short-term, you'll make a decent profit in the long run.


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