Learning about pot odds may sound too difficult and over-ambitious to beginner or recreational poker players. I would say that it’s a lot more difficult and over-ambitious to get into poker hoping to win anything without first learning the most important basics.
Another reason to get a solid understanding of the basic theory is to avoid future pitfalls of copying plays from very good players without really understanding the concepts at their core. This is very common and often leads to costly mistakes.
What are pot odds?
When facing a bet, pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of a call.
For example; if you face a $50 bet on the river into a pot of $50, you risk $50 (cost of calling) to win $100 ($50 bet plus the $50 already in the pot). This give you the pot odds of 100-to-50, or 2-to-1.
For your call to be profitable you need to win at least 33% of the time when calling in this spot. You can calculate this by dividing the amount you have to call by the total pot after calling:
50/(100+50) = 0.333
When bluffing, you risk however much you bet in order to win what is already in the pot. So if we look at the same example again, except you are the player betting $50 into a $50 pot on the river.
Here you are getting 50-to-5, or 1-to-1 on your bluff. This means your bluff needs to work at least 50% of the time to be profitable. You calculate this by dividing your bet amount with the total pot you win if successful (your bet plus what’s already in the pot):
50/(50+50) = 0.5
Even if you betting to get called by worse hands (a.k.a. value betting) it’s good to keep in mind which pot odds you offer your opponents on a call. You want to avoid giving your opponents the right price on a call if they are drawing, or if you are sure they are bluff catching with a weak pair you can offer them decent odds on a call and extract some more value when your opponent would have folded to a bigger bet.
Instead of making these calculations every time your are betting or calling you can memorise pot odds for typical bet sizing. The percentages for calling below shows either how often you need to win if you are calling a bet on the river, or how much equity you need if you are calling a bet on earlier streets.
- Versus a bet twice the size of the pot: 40%
- Versus a bet 1.5 the size of the pot: 37,5%
- Versus a pot bet = 33%
- Versus 75% pot bet = 30%
- Versus 50% pot bet = 25%
- Versus 33% pot bet = 20%
- Two times the pot size = 66%
- 1.5 times the pot size = 60%
- Betting the pot = 50%
- 75% pot = 43%
- 50% pot = 33%
If you are facing a bet on the flop or the turn, you should also consider implied odds and potential fold equity on later streets.
This is something we’ll discuss in more detail in future articles, but for now just keep in mind that:
1. If you are deep stacked and you feel pretty sure that you will have a chance to win your opponent’s whole stack on later streets you can call with less equity than the pot odds tells you to.
2. If you know your opponent has a tendency to continuation bet (bluff) the flop a lot, and you have a hand that can pick up more equity on certain cards (i.e. a runner-runner draw), the exact pot odds are less important as well.
It could either mean you turn a marginal hand into a bluff on the turn or river, or that you call your opponents bet with the sole intention of bluffing when you pick up more equity.
For example, say you call a bet in the big blind with versus a small blind open. The flop is and your opponent bets 3/4 pot.
The pot odds tells you that you need 30% equity when calling, which doesn’t have to be a big concern for you in this case. You are in position with a hand that can make top pair, a straight draw and/or a flush draw on the turn. Or in other words, you have a hand which equity can improve a lot on a lot of turn cards.
At the same time you opponent should have a wide range for betting this flop so he is likely to be giving up with a large part of his range on later streets, giving you good fold equity as well. This presents a great opportunity for you to call his flop bet planning to start bluffing on any [4x],[3x],[8x],[9x] or any heart.
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