Useful Poker Odds and Statistics

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Being able to quickly calculate odds at the poker table is a real advantage to a player. Some folks have photographic memories and can picture the odds as a chart they can read in their minds. Others are very good at maths and so the calculations in their heads. For everyone else, thankfully, there are some shortcuts and tricks that can be used to keep pace with the table’s brainiacs.

Odds and Outs

Several numbers are especially important in playing poker, such as 5 and 47, the number of cards in most poker hands and the number of other cards in a standard deck, respectively. When five cards are known to a player, the possibility of any other card being the next one seen is 1/47 or about 2.13%.

Poker players refer to any card that can improve a hand as an “out,” so each out has a probability of appearing of a little over 2%. That’s a very important number to remember. Multiplying the number of outs by 2% gives a player a very quick rough estimate of what the odds are of improving any hand.

Take, for example, the Texas Hold’em player who holds two suited cards and sees that two of the three cards showing on the board are also of the same suit, making a “four flush.” There are nine other cards of that suit still hidden from view, or nine outs. There will be two opportunities to draw one of those outs, the turn and the river, so 2 x 9 = 18 outs in total. Multiplying that times 2% gives 18 x 2% = 36% as the probability of making a flush.

Actually, the exact odds are 34.97%, but the key here is to be able to quickly estimate the likelihood of drawing the cards one wants without memorizing any long tables of numbers. Holding four cards to an outside straight, there are 4 outs on either end that can make the hand, or 8 outs all together. With two opportunities to catch one of them, there are 2 x 8 = 16 outs in total, which multiplied by 2% gives 32% as the probability of getting the straight—very close to the actual odds of 31.45%.

Applying this method to an inside straight, where there are just 4 outs and two opportunities to catch one, the estimate of drawing perfectly is 2 x 4 x 2% = 16%. That’s just a tad off the real odds of 16.47%.

Applying Pot Odds

Knowing the size of the pot at any given time is an important part of winning at poker. Sometimes, there isn’t enough in the pot to warrant a bet or call. Other times, the potential winnings warrant going along for the ride. The way of knowing which situation is which has to do with “pot odds.”

As the name implies, pot odds is the ratio of the size of the pot to the cost of making a call. Another way of expressing pot odds is a comparison of the amount of money already in the pot to how much it will cost a player to win it. With £100 in the pot and a cost of £20 to call, the pot odds are 100-to-20 or 5-to-1. If the cost to stay in is £50, then the pot odds are 100-to-50 or 2-to-1.

When the pot odds are known, they can be used in combination with the odds of winning (calculated above) to decide what action is appropriate. To remain in a hand, the player should always look for the pot odds to exceed the odds against winning. That makes calling a calculated risk, not a hunch.

In the four flush example above, there was a 36% chance of success, which is the same as saying it will happen about 1 in 3 times or odds of 2-to-1 against. When the pot odds are 2-to-1 or higher, it makes absolute sense to stay in the hand. If they are lower, folding is a better option.

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