For those of us that play poker mainly by 'feel', the prospect of calculating poker odds can be cringe-worthy at best, and totally terrifying at worst. In fact, the mere mention of poker odds can be almost enough to put even the most serious poker enthusiast off learning anything about them.
Here’s the truth, though (and say it with us): there’s nothing to be afraid of. The only scary thing about poker odds is what happens when you ignore their existence. Your odds are your safety net, your blanky, your glass of warm milk before bed. Knowing your odds is your first line of defence in the battle against bad beats and questionable calls. Best of all, poker odds are not that complicated to learn.
Don’t get us wrong; there is math involved, but the beauty of using math to calculate poker odds is that you are taking principles that may seem abstract and giving them very real, very tangible, very profitable applications – and there’s nothing like the prospect of winning a cash to oil the ol’ cranial cogs!
Knowing the Outs
To calculate your poker odds, it is important to know about your 'outs'. When it comes to poker, your 'outs' refer to any cards that will improve your hand. (Think of it as getting you 'out' of trouble.)
Why you need to know your outs...
The strength of your hand will either increase or decrease with every street of action (as more cards are being dealt), so you need to be able to determine whether or not it may be profitable for you to stay in the pot. You don't have a crystal ball, so you can't guarantee anything, but making educated calculations based on your outs will help you avoid any colossal failures.
Let’s look at an example: You have J♣, 6♣, and the flop is 8♦, 9♠, 10♥. Given this hand, any 7 or any Queen will make your straight and since there are four sevens and four Queens in a deck of cards, you have exactly 8 outs (as long as no other 7's or Q's have been seen).
An important note on calculating poker odds using outs: When thinking about your outs, you have to simply ignore your opponent's cards and what they may be holding. You cannot know this, so push it out of your mind and zero in on what you have your best chances of ascertaining for sure. Besides, by definition, an out is still an out – it just may be in the hands of your competition.
Changing Outs into Odds
Next, we have to start thinking about how to turn those outs in poker odds. In our first example, we calculated you had 8 outs. Given that each deck has 52 cards and you are holding two of those cards, we know that there are 50 cards left. There are also three open cards in the flop that you can readily see. This leaves 47 cards that you cannot see. (Remember, we are not concerning ourselves with the contents of our opponents’ hands.)
So, you have 8 outs and 47 cards of indeterminate rank and value. By subtracting the 8 cards that are your outs from the 47 unknown cards, we can ascertain that there are 39 cards that will result in your losing. As such, the odds of you scoring the cards you by the turn are 39:8, or about 5:1.
Another way to look at it: knowing what you know at this point (i.e. what you can see in your hand and on the flop), you are five times more likely to lose the pot than to win it.
Practice makes perfect!
Admittedly, it can be hard to use a newly-acquired skill on the fly and on the spot, so try your hand at calculating some poker odds based on your outs before you enter your next game. A little Friday night fun, right?