It Takes Thousands of Hands to Achieve Poker Excellence
Calculating pot odds and implied odds are the mirror image of knowing the number of outs you have.
The top players can quickly calculate these odds and combine them with the knowledge they have gained from playing thousands of hands to determine if they should call or bet or raise or fold.
Even Poker Beginners Need to Understand Pot and Implied Odds
In the previous article, we introduced the idea of position in determining your course of action in any given hand and on any street in the hand. Whether you play poker online or at a land based casino, you need to understand many different concepts in order to maximize your chances of winning. Online poker and land based poker are pretty much the same except for the tells that sometimes telegraph a player’s hand.
In this article, we’ll begin a conversation about odds, specifically pot odds and implied odds.
In order to win a hand, you have to put money in the pot. This represents your risk in the hand. Pot odds are the combination of your chances to win the hand versus the amount of money in the pots and the amount of money you need to put in the pot in order to stay in the hand.
Let’s take a very easy example first. You and your opponent or opponents have mostly checked heading into the river and then suddenly one of the opponents makes a very big bet. He could be bluffing but is it really worth the risk to find out? Unless you are quite certain that you have him fooled and will win the pot, the pot odds will likely determine that the best course of action is to fold.
Pot odds are essential to making the best decisions as often as possible so it is a concept that you need to get your head around and use on every hand. The pros use pot odds on every street as they plot out the hand the combination of their risk and possible reward in it. Keep in mind that your risk is always perfectly knowable whilst your potential reward is a guess based on everything you know about the hand, the betting up to that point, and your opponent’s past betting behavior.
How to Calculate Pot Odds
This is actually the easy part. You add the amount in the pot and the amount you need to bet to stay in the pot and divide that sum by the bet you need to make. Let’s say that there is $100 in the pot and the opponent bets $50. So the pot plus the bet equals $150 and divided by the bet gives pot odds of 3-1.
To calculate this ratio as a percentage, you add the numbers and divide by 100. In this example, we get 25% as the pot odds. This means that you need to win at least 25% of these hands to come out ahead. It should be easy to see that pot odds simply put a numerical value on your decision. You still don’t have perfect knowledge about the hand.
Pot odds give us some information and implied odds give us a lot more information. Implied odds require you to have a lot of experience which is much easier to attain playing poker online in small ante games. The calculations are the same even though the actual monetary risk will be small.
Implied odds looks into the future to determine how much you need to bet to turn what may be relatively low pot odds into a more financially viable bet. Implied odds calculate how much you need to bet to both keep an opponent in the hand and to win enough on the hands you win to still have a profit after losing hands that fall against you.
We often see in the YouTube clips pros trying to determine how much to bet to maximize a win and keep the opponent in the hand. An overly large bet will scare away your opponent and an overly low bet will simply mean that you are leaving money on the table that should be in your stack. The tool they are using to decide how much to bet is often implied odds.
To calculate implied odds you need to know how many outs you have and the odds of hitting one. In the most simplified form, the implied odds are the number of outs you would need, in theory, to have a better than average chance to win the hand. In any situation, this translates into a bet that reflects the amount you want to force your opponent to commit to the hand so that in the long run you make a profit even though you will probably lose more hands than you will win.
Implied odds are useful only when you have not yet determined that the opponent has hit a hand that you are not likely to beat. In other words, his bet might have been a ploy to get you out of the hand that he has not made yet and your response is based on your desire to get him to commit more money to a hand that you think you can win.
The most obvious conclusion from this discussion of implied odds is that you have to guess what hand the opponent may have or can make and the chances you have of making a better hand. We have all seen a YouTube clip of Phil Helmuth berating an amateur for making what he termed “stupid” bets that were enough to make Helmuth proceed incorrectly. In this hand, Helmuth simply didn’t read the possibilities correctly, assuming the amateur was betting as if he were a pro.
There are two elements in reading hands that you need to practice hundreds or even thousands of times before the “read” becomes second nature to you. First, many amateur and new players underestimate their own outs. For example, you may have an obvious flush draw but you may also have a hidden straight draw or a straight flush draw. Implied odds require that you know how many outs you have.
The second aspect in reading hands is that you need to correctly read your opponents’ chances. This requires developing a sense of hand ranges and coupling that with how the player has bet in his or her position.
The third element that is the elephant in the room in many poker games is that no one calculates implied odds or opponents’ hand ranges perfectly every time. Every poker player gets bluffed out of a hand from time to time and every poker player sometimes assumes a bluff when the opponent actually has the nuts.
Both pot odds and implied odds will help you make sound decisions in low ante games as you gain the necessary experience to play against stronger opponents in higher stakes games.