Pot Odds Made Simple

Figuring pot odds (the pot is all the money that has been bet for a single game) is one of the most misunderstood and misused concepts for beginning poker players. In this section, simple and straightforward computations are used. And for all examples, unless otherwise noted, Texas Hold'em is the poker game being played. For a comprehensive look on how to play Texas Hold'em, click here.

Learning how to calculate pot odds puts the concept of risk and reward into a numerical computation. For those of you who aren't confident in your math skills, don't worry. It is not complicated, and with a little practice you will be able to figure your pot odds in no time. The following examples will illustrate pot odds. We will use a minimum bet of $1 and a maximum bet of $2 Hold'em for simplicity.

You are betting last of the six players in the pot for $1 each to see the flop. This makes the pot $6. You hold
A-Q, and the flop comes K-Q-6.

Possible ace-high flush
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A pair of queens with a possible ace-high flush.

The first player bets $1, two players call, and two players fold to bring the total in the pot to $9. It is now your turn to act. You must decide whether to fold, call, or raise. At this time you should assume that at least one of your opponents holds a king and that your hand must improve in order to win.

Now you must decide how many unseen cards can help you win. These cards are called your "
outs
," and this terminology will be used from here on. (One question that is often asked is: "The other players have cards in their hands that cannot come to me on the turn or the river, so how can I count them in the cards that will improve my hand?" The answer is: You must count all cards that can help you because you have no way of knowing what cards are in your opponents' hands, even if it is quite likely that they hold certain cards. Therefore, all unseen cards need to be counted.)

Because you have a
pair
of queens, you must assume that if either of the other two queens hit, it will improve your hand to make you the winner. There are also three remaining aces that will improve you to two pair. This makes five outs. In addition, if any club hits, it will give you an ace high flush. So you have nine other outs (the remaining clubs). This gives you 14 outs. Now you have seen five cards (your hole cards and the three on the flop) out of a 52 card deck. This leaves 47 unseen cards before the turn. This means that 14 out of 47 cards can come on the turn and improve your hand, and 33 will not help you at all. This makes the odds roughly 2.4 to 1.

The easiest way to figure this is to see how many times your 14 outs will divide into the 33 cards that will not help you. You don't have to figure this out exactly to know if it is correct to call or not.

Because 2 times 14 is 28, which is a little less than 33, and 3 times 14 equals 42, you know the number is closer to two than three, or your odds of winning are closer to 2 to 1 than 3 to 1. This means that for it to be correct for you to call, there must be at least 2.4 times the amount you must call in the pot. In other words, the amount you must risk, in this case $1, must have a reward of at least $2.40 when you hit your hand. In the example above, there is $9 in the pot, and you have to call only $1 to see the turn. Since the pot is offering you 9 to 1 odds, the correct play is to call or raise, which we will discuss shortly.

Pot odds boil down to percentages. The pot must be large enough to pay enough extra on the times you do hit your hand to make up for the losses when you don't. The key is to get your money into the pot when you have the best hand. If you use pot odds correctly, you will be well on your way to becoming a lifelong winner.

Continuing the above example, you call the bet on the flop, increasing the pot to $10. The turn card is
8, which does not improve your hand. You still have the same number of outs, 14, but one less unseen card, 46. Notice that your pot odds are almost the same, roughly 2.3 to 1. The first player bets $2, making the pot $12, and the other two players fold. The bet you must now call is $2 into a $12 dollar pot. This reduces down to 6 to 1 odds (12 divided by 2 equals 6, and 2 divided by 2 equals 1). Once again the correct play is to call. Notice that at this time, if you don't improve on the river, you can fold, and if you do improve, you can bet or raise.
The above example is fairly simple, but what has been said is not everything you must consider.

Actually, after the flop you can improve on either the turn or the river cards. This means that you have 14 outs two times, which if you consider both the turn and the river, your pot odds are actually .95 to 1. Any time your pot odds are less than 1 to 1, you are a
favorite
to win. In this case the correct play is often a raise instead of a call.

Some players use the combined odds for both the turn and river while others use them separately. If you use the turn odds on the turn, reevaluate the situation after the turn card is revealed, and use the pot odds on the river separately. The problem when using the combined odds is that you almost have to call on the turn to see the river even if you don't improve. This can lead to a dangerous mindset, and you can become a calling station. First, consider each situation by itself, and then, add in other factors.

In the next section we will discuss more about pot odds, including
implied odds
and raising to give yourself correct pot odds.

For more information on poker odds and winning at poker, try the following links:
  • To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
  • For an introduction to the game, skim over these Poker Basics.
  • So you think you've got the best hand. Maximize your winnings with these Poker Betting Tips.
  • Have you calculated that your hand is a loser, but you think you can fake out the opposition? Be sure you know How to Bluff in Poker.