Pot Odds – Poker’s Most Fundamental Calculation

To win at poker consistently, you need to leverage every single advantage each game to maximize your winnings. In order to leverage your advantages, though, you need to learn the tools of the trade first. One such tool is calculating pot odds. This is one of the most fundamentally useful skills you can develop as a player. It will save you countless dollars at the table and has the potential to win you countless more. Here’s what you need to know.

Pot odds are, of course, only one one tool in the poker player’s arsenal, and they are closely tied to implied odds, which we will cover in a later article.  Taken together, these calculations can really get your wheels off the ground when it comes to making money from poker.  Here’s what you need to know.

What are Pot Odds?

Pot odds refers to either a ratio or percentage describing what you are committing to a pot in order to see the next card.  This means that calculating pot odds involves working out your cost of failing to win the hand.  You can then take this knowledge on to help decide between calling, raising or folding.  Playing a draw hand (that needs a certain card for a straight or flush) is the most likely scenario you will find yourself using pot odds, but the theory applies to any hand that isn’t yet made.

Mathematically speaking, pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of calling. Let’s say you’re heads-up and need to call $20 on the river to go to showdown. The pot, along with your opponent’s bet, comes to $100.  Your pot odds are then 100:20 – the amount you can claim, vs the amount you have to bet. 100:20 simplifies to 5:1, or 16.67%.

How to Calculate Pot Odds

Calculating pot odds requires a little bit of mathematics.  Most commonly in poker, odds are described in a ratio format, e.g. 4:1 or 19/2.  Often, it is more intuitive to think of them in percentages.  Switching between the two is much easier if you can work with decimal ratios, for example, 9.5:1 (the equivalent of our earlier 19/2). Both methods work equally well, so it’s down to you to find a preference.  We’ll start out with the ratio method first, though, as it is the convention in books or on online forums.  Chances are, you’ll eventually want to get used to using this method to calculate your pot odds.

Ratio Method

Scenario: Your hold is A♥, 8♥ and the flop is 2♥, 7♠ J♥. The pot is $80, with just you and your opponent are left. Opponent bets $20. What’s your move? Start by calculating the card odds, or outs (which you can learn about here).

Card Odds

First, you are going to figure the likelihood of catching another heart on the turn. The most popular method is to find the ratio of unwanted cards against cards you do want.  Here’s the breakdown:

-5 known cards in the hand (our two hole cards and the three cards on the flop)

-47 unknown cards left in the deck

-Of the unknown, 9 will make your flush, 38 will not

-A ratio of 38:9 simplified is about 4:1

Now you just need to compare those odds against the pot odds.

Comparison with Pot Odds

Our card odds give us 4:1, so for every four times the heart doesn’t come up, it should show at least once.  Next, we need to look at the pot odds and see if we get a profitable ratio.

-Opponent bets $20 into a pot of $80, raising it to $100

-Our call amount is $20.

-Odds are $100:$20, or 5:1 pot odds when simplified.

The breakdown so far:

4:1 Card Odds

5:1 Pot Odds

With these odds, your move should be to call, since the pot odds are greater than the odds for the card we need. In other words, over time, you win more money than you lose in this situation.  It’s important to realize this logic is more geared towards cash games and involves you losing 4 of every 5 times this situation arises.  When you’re working with pot odds, you’re thinking strictly long-term.

Important Note

You should only call when the pot odds are greater than card odds.

If you are finding it tough to work out the card odds in your head or it takes you too long, there are numerous tables and charts you can use as a reference. When playing online, you can print them out and put them up near your computer for easy reference as you play. Remember that the draw to flush or straight is where you will probably use this tactic most, but it is equally valid for other hands.

Percentage Method

Many new players find this a much easier way to figure out pot odds when they first start out. We’d suggest learning this way if you’ve struggled so far, then use a comparison chart to start understanding the ratios.

Scenario: You have 7♠, 9♦ as hole cards, and the flop is 6♥, 8♣, A♦. Opponent bets $30, bringing the pot to $90 total. We are trying to figure out if it’s worthwhile to call by determining the pot odds using percentages.

Finding card equity

Card equity is the percentage equivalent of card odds. In order to figure your chances of making the straight with the next card, you are again going to figure out the number of outs. The deck has 4 fives and 4 tens to complete the straight, which means you have 8 outs. To calculate the percentage chance of making the straight on the next card, you double your outs and add one.

-Double the outs: 8*2=16

-Add one: 16+1=17

-17% chance of hitting the straight

Comparing with Pot Odds

You need to make a call of $30, which will bring the winning pot to $120. To find the pot odds percentage, divide the total winning pot by your bet, or $120/$30 (not $90/$30 like you would with the ratios). In this scenario, $120 divided by $30 gives us 25%.

The Percentage Breakdown

Card Equity: 17%

Pot Odds: 25%

You have a 17% chance of hitting that straight on the next card, which means, to stay profitable in the long run, you should only call bets that are 17% of the total pot. Since you need 25% of the pot to call, you should fold.  You’re paying too much to see the card!

Our Important Note is Back…

You should only call if the percentage chance of hitting your hand is greater than the percentage of the pot you have to call.

Percentage card equity is also available on odds charts, and conversion charts are readily available.  Whichever method you can follow more clearly will be the best for you to understand how this strategy works.  We recommend getting comfortable with the concept of pot odds with percentages but move to working with ratios as soon as you can.

Remember ratios are inversely proportional to percentages.  A ratio of 9:1 is 10%, where 99:1 is only 1%.  The bigger the number on the left of the ratio, the smaller the percentage.  So with that in mind, when in percentage mode, bet if the Card Equity % is greater than the Pot Odds.  When in ratio mode, bet if the number on the left of the card odds ratio is smaller than that of the pot odds.

In Conclusion

Pot odds, as you can see, are a necessary calculation for the profitable poker player.  They’re not the be-all and end-all, as we will discuss in future articles regarding implied odds.  However, pot odds are a crucial leaping-off point for many other branches of poker strategy.  Our advice is to get familiar with the concept of pot odds as quickly as you can and use it in your play until it becomes second nature.

Be sure to practice your mental calculations for games when you are seated at the table, and don’t be shy about using odds charts for online games, or using an odds calculator to simplify things even further. Once you start to memorize odds for specific instances and hands, you will find that your game improves significantly, and you will start to see fewer expensive losses and richer wins. We wish you luck at the tables as ever, and favorable odds! Leave us a comment about pot odds in the section below to let us know what you think.

I am a poker enthusiast who also enjoys sailing, rugby, and gaming. A relative newcomer to the world of online poker, I will be putting our strategy guides to the test as I start the Bankroll Challenge: how far can I get without depositing a single penny? Keep an eye out for updates.

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