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Using pot odds to win

Using poker math is the modern method of choice for determining a player’s next move.  In the past, players used their instincts and, as Ernest Hemingway said in the context of writing novels, they “put everything they know about people” into their decision. 

Poker math makes the task of choosing your next move both easier and more difficult. One of the many advantages you have when you play poker online is that you can calculate the pot odds and all the other math concepts without feeling intimidated by your opponents.

In Poker, the Pot Odds May Help You Win in Several Ways

Calculating pot odds is actually pretty simple for anyone with rudimentary math skills.  You don’t need to calculate to decimals; round numbers give you a full and satisfactory picture of the situation for that hand.  However, there is another concept that goes along with pot odds that we need to include in the discussion: equity. The best online poker players use both pot odds and equity to enhance their chances of winning.

In order to fully grasp the concept of pot odds we’ll need to fully understand the idea of equity.  In fact, equity is a term that appears in many contexts outside of poker.  For example, when you buy a house for, say, $100,000 and you put down $25,000 as your down payment, your equity in the house on the day you take possession of it is $25,000.  The rest of the value of the house belongs to the bank!

Your home equity grows every month when you make your mortgage payment but only by the amount in the payment that is principle, not interest.  The bulk of mortgage payments in the early years of a mortgage are interest.  This means that the bank retains most of the equity in the home for a very long time!

So, as we talk about pot odds we will also talk about how we can retain as much equity in the hand as possible.  Before we can talk about equity, we need to fully understand pot odds.

If The Money is in the Pot it isn’t Yours

This is the first aspect of pot odds that many players forget or don’t fully understand.  If the pot is $100 and you have put half of that amount into the pot, those $50 that you put in the pot are no longer yours.  They belong to the pot.

Many people look at a pot as including their money and all the opponents’ money.  That is true until you put the money in.  Then the money is no longer yours.

Pots Odds are a Comparison

In mathematical terms, we use the term ratio.  A ratio is more easily understood as a comparison.  Pot odds are a comparison between the money already in the pot and the amount you need to put in to stay in the hand.

The first point, then, is that if it is your turn to bet, and you don’t have to put any money in the pots to stay in the hand, you don’t actually have any pot odds!  However, if you have to add money to the pot to stay in the hand, then you have pot odds.

It often happens that you bet without any pot odds but your bet makes any opponent still in the hand calculate his or her pot odds.  In other words, and as we’ll see a bit further, we can use pot odds to intimidate an opponent.

Let’s look at the pot we were talking about earlier.  If the pot was $100 and your opponent bet $20, now the pot has $120.  You need to put in $20 to stay in the hand.  The ratio of the pot to your call bet is 120-20 or 6-1.  In this hand, you have pot odds of 6-1.

Pot Odds May Determine Your Next Move

It should be obvious that when the pot odds are high, such as in this example they are 6-1, it might be cheap for you to call.  However, if the opponent had bet $100 the pot would have $200 and the pot odds would be only 2-1.

Many poker players use the simple concept of pot odds to intimidate an opponent to fold.  You can learn to do the same!

Observing Every Hand

We have said many times that it is important to pay attention to every hand, the hands you stay in and the hands you fold.  Always keep in mind that you’ll fold about 70% of your hands before the flop and you’ll probably fold a large number of hands after the flop.

Folding before the flop or after a borderline flop depend on many factors such as range and your opponents’ behavior, skill, and understanding of the game.  One of the reasons it is so important to pay close attention to every hand is because you can learn a lot about your opponents’ grasp of the concept of pot odds.

Estimating Pot Odds

In many hands, you’ll just have to estimate the pot odds because most people can’t do the math in their heads when the pot is not a round number and the bet may also not be a round number.

  • If the player bets half the pot, the pot odds are 3-1.
  • If the player bets the entire pot, the pot odds are 2-1.
  • If the player bets a quarter of the pot, the pot odds are 5-1.

You should learn a few pot odds calculations for different bet sizes as they are compared to the pot.  Then, you can make a sound estimate of the pot odds.

Equity Enters the Fray

Now we need to also calculate our equity.  If the equity is too small, we fold the hand unless we are sure the opponent is bluffing.  If the equity is substantially high enough to justify a call or raise, we then decide what to do.

First we have to compare our risk to our potential risk plus reward.  The risk in a pot with 2-1 pot odds is our bet to stay in the hand.  We divide the risk by the risk plus the potential reward.  So, let’s see.  If the pot was $100 and the opponent bet $50, we have to bet $50 in order to win what is now in the pot or $150. 

Our risk is $50 and the potential win is $150 so the calculation is 50 divided by 200.  Remember, it is the risk, here 50, divided by the risk and reward together, here 50 + 150 or 200.  So our pot odds turned into a percentage are one divided by 4 or 25%.

Now we compare that number with our equity to get a strong handle on what we should do next.

In the next article, we’ll begin by explaining equity and how it can be used along with pot odds to help you decide how to proceed in a hand.