Poker Odds: Why Bother?
Even intuitive poker players need to know the odds before making a bet.
Paul Phua shares his tips for poker odds calculation
I have always been fascinated by the mathematical side of poker, but I know that’s not the appeal for everyone. Many are attracted to the risk, the drama, the excitement, the test of nerve, and don’t want to be bothered with mathematics and probabilities.
Here’s the good news if you belong to this last group: you do not have to be a maths genius to play poker. Take Dan Colman. He is one of the top poker pros, with live tournament earnings of more than $28 million. He will be featuring in my series of tips from the pros on the Paul Phua Poker School YouTube channel, and I can tell you now that in his interview he says: “I don’t use much math. I’m very intuitive.”
But – and it’s a big but – he does go on to say, “The guys that are very math based, I always want to pay attention to what they are doing and try and understand the reasoning behind it.” He also says, “You have a sense after playing millions of hands. You have a pretty good feel for what the actual statistics are.”
Just to be clear, Dan Colman is not saying here that he never uses odds and statistics, but rather that he takes into account many other factors as well as the odds, such as his read of what hand the other player is.
And this brings us on to the bad news. Let me tell this to you plainly. Unless you use some basic understanding of the odds in poker with each bet you make, you will never be a winning player.
Let me give you a simple example of using the odds to make a decision. A man offers to gamble with you on the flip of a coin. He says he’ll flip it 20 times. Every time it comes up heads, he’ll give you $10. Every time it comes up tails, you give him just $5. Assuming you have enough money, and that you know the coin was not fixed in some way, do you take that bet?
If you are saying no, you’re so risk-averse you probably wouldn’t be playing poker in the first place! But if you’re saying yes, congratulations: you already intuitively understand the basics of using odds to calculate whether or not a particular bet is a good idea. You’d take the bet because you have an equal chance of winning $10 and of losing $5 on each flip. And though you might lose one coin flip, the chances of you not coming out with a profit after 20 flips are tiny.
How much exactly are you likely to win? On average, you would win $10 in ten of the coin flips, which adds up to $100; and you would lose $5 in the other ten flips, which adds up to $50. So over 20 coin flips you should win $100 and lose $50, putting you in profit by $50. Poker players refer to this as “EV”, or “expected value”.
Sadly, few situations in poker are as simple as a coin flip, though there is one classic example. When you are dealt a pair and you’re up against into two bigger cards – let’s say you have a pair of Queens and they have Ace-King, a situation which can often result in both of you being all-in pre-flop – the odds for each player of winning by the river are about 1 in 2. Poker players even refer to this situation as a “coin flip”.
How can you work out that it’s a coin-flip? It’s not as obvious as heads vs tails, but there is a magic formula for calculating your “outs”, as poker players call them, which I will explain in my blog post “Poker odds tips: one simple magic formula”.
For now, let me leave you with just one more example of how important it is to know the odds. Inexperienced players often see that they have a straight draw, and think: “If I hit that straight, I’ll definitely win!” So they keep on calling. But a so-called “gutshot” draw, where there is only one card that will complete your straight – for instance, you have 6-9, and the flop is A-5-8, so you need to hit a 7 – will work out only 1 in 6 times. Is it worth calling till the river when 5 times out of 6 you will lose?
Just imagine the gambler in my coin-flip analogy offered not to flip a coin, but to roll a die. He tells you if it comes up a 6, he’ll pay you $10. If it comes up any other number, you must pay him $5. Would you take that bet?
You’d be foolish to do so, even though he’s offering to pay you twice as much as you pay him. Roll the die six times, and on average he will pay you once, whereas you will pay him 5 times. This means you will win $10, but pay out $5 five times over. So to win that $10, you have to lose $25. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Yet this is what novice poker players who chase a gutshot straight are doing.
Sure, they will get lucky once in a while. But over time, it’s bad play, and they will lose money.
Poker Odds Tips: How do you calculate the odds in poker?
So how do you calculate odds in poker, to become a winning player? Read my blog post “Poker odds tips: one simple magic formula” to find out.
Poker Odds Tips: How Do I Play A Flush Draw?
In the first two parts in this mini-series on poker odds, I gave poker odds tips on why odds are important, and how to calculate them using a simple magic formula. We have seen already how knowing our likelihood of winning will affect how much we bet. Now here is an interesting application in practical play: Poker Odds Tips: How do I play a Flush Draw?
Poker Odds Tips: 11 Poker Odds You Really Must Know – And How To Use Them
in the heat of the moment, you may not have time to calculate poker odds, even using the magic formula. So be sure to learn this list of 11 of the most useful poker odds tips. I promise it will revolutionise your poker game. Poker Odds Tips: 11 Poker Odds You Really Must Know – And How To Use Them