Jump To Section
What Are Pot Odds?
Pot odds are the ratio between the size of the pot and the size of the bet you are facing. They are used primarily in comparison to winning odds as the basis for optimal decision-making. Think of pot odds as the amount you stand to win for every dollar you are required to commit, and winning odds as your actual chance of winning the pot.
Pot Odds and Expected Value
Another way to think about the two ratios between the size of the pot and the size of the bet is to express them as a single number: expected value. Expected value, or EV, is simply a measure of how much you stand to win (when EV is positive) or lose (when EV is negative) on average. Typically, EV is used in call or fold scenarios. The EV of a fold is always $0, because however many times you run that same scenario, you are always going to win $0 when you fold. This, of course, is preferable to actually losing money, so the rule of thumb here is simple: when EV is negative, fold the hand; otherwise, make the call.
How to Calculate Pot Odds
To calculate pot odds, you simply divide the amount of money you have to put in to make the call by the total size of the pot.
We can illustrate this with an example. There is $200 in the pot, and an aggressive early-position opponent bets $100 on the turn. The pot size at this point is $400 ($200 + $100 bet + $100 call), and the price for your call is $100. Your pot odds are simply $100 divided by $400, or 25%.
Remember, the money you had previously contributed to the pot is sunk cost that no longer belongs to you, and should not be subtracted from the total pot in your calculations.
How to Calculate Winning Odds
Figuring out your pot odds in isolation is not tremendously useful—they have to be compared to your winning odds to help you decide whether or not to call. In Texas Hold’em, the first step in calculating your winning odds is counting your number of outs.
Think of an out as a card on a later street that, if dealt, gives you the best hand. Here is a nifty trick to remember: your winning odds are approximately four times your number of outs on the flop, and 2.2 times on the turn.
Consider the following examples:
- Your hole cards are A♠️K♠️, and the dealer deals a flop of 2♠️7♠️Q♥️. You are drawing to the nut flush, but to make it you need the turn card or the river card to be a spade. Let’s assume as well that making the nut flush would give you the best hand—which, the vast majority of the time on a board like this, is a reasonable assumption. In this example, you have nine outs left in the deck (3♠️4♠️5♠️6♠️8♠️9♠️T♠️J♠️Q♠️) that will make your flush draw. So if you are drawing to the flush as above, you simply multiply your number of outs by 4 (since we’re still on the flop), giving you winning odds of 4 × 9, or 36%.
- You’re holding 8♦️9♦️, and the board on the turn reads 3♠️4♥️7♣️T9♦️. You need a 6 or a Jack on the river to make your straight (6-7-8-9-T or 7-8-9-T-J.) At this point, you have eight outs (6♠️6♥️6♣️6♦️J♠️J♥️J♣️J♦️) to make your open-ended straight draw. Again, your winning odds are 2.2 (since we’re on the turn) × 8, or 17.6%.
In both our examples, you held drawing hands which made counting odds slightly easier, but imagine you were playing heads up and your opponent was the one with the draw. You can still calculate your outs by subtracting their outs from the remaining cards in the deck, so if they had a flush draw on the flop, you would have 38 outs (52 cards in a deck - your 2 hole cards - 3 flop cards - their 9 outs), and if they had an open-ended straight draw on the turn, you would also have 38 outs (52 cards in a deck - your 2 hole cards - 4 flop and turn cards - their 8 outs.) As you can probably guess, this many outs makes you the favorite to win the hand in both instances.
How to Use Odds to Inform Decision-Making
Once you have both winning odds and pot odds numbers calculated, you can use them to figure out what the most profitable play—the play that yields the greatest positive EV—is. Simply put, if your winning odds are greater than your pot odds, it is usually profitable to make the call. If your winning odds are less than your pot odds, folding is usually the right move. In the very specific situation where you know that there can be no more action after yours (for example, in No Limit Hold’Em when your opponent is all-in), you can use pot odds to reliably determine your best course of action. Because this is a fairly common scenario for poker players to find themselves in, being able to utilize pot odds is a powerful tool to have as part of your general poker strategy.
When Do Pot Odds Not Work?
Unfortunately, poker games often involve far more complex situations than heads up scenarios where one player goes all-in. In multiway pots with several streets left to play, it can be hard for the human mind to process and calculate pot odds on the fly. There are also specific situations where your pot odds look dire in comparison to your winning odds, but because both you and your opponent wield massive chip stacks, it can be profitable to make the “incorrect” call in the short-term in the hopes of taking their entire stack on a later street—a concept known as implied odds.
Still, understanding your poker odds is critical in improving your game in both live games and online poker. Remember to always count your outs, and be sure to constantly ask yourself how your pot odds compare to your winning odds. It may sound daunting at first, but with some practice these calculations will soon become second-nature and help you to become a winning player at whatever table you take a seat at.
Learn more winning poker strategies from Daniel Negreanu’s MasterClass.