How to calculate poker odds and why it's important

poker odds
Author Adam Hampton
Adam Hampton
Posted on: June 28, 2021 19:11 PDT

Many players are unsure how to calculate poker odds, but it's an important part of playing winning poker. When they say poker is a game that combines skill with luck, part of that skill is understanding - and making - your own luck. Learning how to calculate odds in poker helps you understand when the odds are in your favor, but it’s not always as simple as understanding whether you’re the favorite to win the pot or a long shot.

If you're making mathematically incorrect decisions consistently, it’s going to be tough to win.  But don’t worry: learning the math behind poker doesn’t require a gift for numbers or a genius IQ. We have some easy and valuable tips to quickly improve your game and overall poker strategy .

What are pot odds?

If you were to place a sports bet - on a horse-race, for example - you would see the odds of the different horses’ winning at the point you place your wager. A favorite might be something like 3-1, paying you three times your wager for a win, while a long shot might be 20-1 or more.

It’s a similar story with poker pot odds: the amount you can win versus the amount you are betting. Let’s say there's $100 in the pot and the bet to you is $50, you're getting 2-1 on your money. It's a very simple calculation to figure basic pot odds: take the amount that's in the pot ($100) and divide it by the size of the bet you need to call ($50), which comes out to 2-1 odds (two times your bet).

If the pot had $150 in it and you were facing a $50 bet, the pot odds would be 3-1 ($150 divided by $50). Simple enough? It is, but determining if you're getting the right pot odds, or ‘price’, depends on the chance your hand will be good at showdown.

Are you getting the right price to call?

Now that you know the pot odds, you need to figure out if those odds reflect the actual probability of you winning the hand. If the pot odds are shorter than your winning odds - for example, the pot odds are 2-1 but you estimate your chances of winning as 5-1 - it’s not going to be the right price. But flip that on its head - the pot odds are 5-1 but your chances of winning are 2-1 - and you’ve got the right price to call.

Of course, even when you are the favorite to win a pot, that doesn’t mean it will always happen; a 2-1 shot will only win 33% of the time, after all. But by making sure you always get favorable odds, you will be a winner in the long term.

Let's go back to that $100 pot example above. Say you have on a board of . All you have is a small flush draw, which means you have nine outs to hit your flush (the nine diamonds left in the deck). You have approximately a 36% chance of hitting that flush (each out should be multiplied by four on the flop to determine the approximate percentage chance of hitting), or odds of very close to 2-1.

So, is it a profitable move long-term to call that $50 bet at 2-1 odds? The answer is yes, because you only have to hit that draw 1 in 3 times to break even, and we've already determined you'll hit it just over 1 in 3.

How did we figure that out? If you played this out 100 times, you'd lose your $50 64 times ($3,200) but win the $100 that was already in the pot 36 times ($3,600) for a profit of $400.

Determining outs

In the example above, we counted the remaining diamonds in the deck to arrive at our number of ‘outs’. When you have a drawing hand, the number of cards that don’t help you, versus the number that do (i.e. your outs) give you your winning odds. For a quicker way to determine your odds, multiply your outs by 4 on the flop, or 2 on the turn, to get a winning percentage.

But poker is a game of incomplete information. To properly calculate pot odds, you must know exactly what poker hand you're up against. But that isn't possible, because you can't see your opponent's hole cards. You may think you know your opponent has hit top pair, or a set, but until you see those cards you won't know for sure.

This complicates things when trying to calculate pot odds. So what good players do is to put their opponent on a range of hands, based on their history with that player and how that player has played the current hand. In the above example on the board, you could conceivably have more than nine outs; if your opponent has just ace-high with no pair, you'd also win the hand if you missed your flush but hit a or a .

What we're saying is, you can't always be sure you're getting the right odds to call with a drawing hand. For example, let's say your opponent is also chasing a flush, but their flush-draw is bigger. In this case, you'd only be drawing to a or to pair up (six outs), and hoping to avoid hitting your flush.

That's why it's important to pay close attention to your opponents in how they bet and act. That way, you can make informed guesses as to the type of hand they're holding. If you have a pretty good idea of what you're up against, it'll be far easier to calculate pot odds.

Poker odds chart

Here’s a quick guide to your approximate odds of hitting your outs with various drawing hands in Texas hold’em (we've rounded some of the numbers to make them easier to work with).

Drawing Hand Number of Outs On the Flop On the Turn
Open-ended straight and flush draw 15 54% (5 to 6) 32% (2-1)
Inside straight and flush draw 12 45% (5 to 4) 26% (3 to 1)
Flush draw 9 36% (2 to 1) 18% (4 to 1)
Open-ended straight draw 8 32% (2 to 1) 16% (5 to 1)
Two overcards 6 24% (3 to 1) 12% (6.5 to 1)
Two pair to full house 4 16% (5 to 1) 8% (11 to 1)
Inside straight draw 4 16% (5 to 1)
8% (11 to 1)
One overcard 3 12% (6.5 to 1) 6% (14 to 1)

Betting pot odds

Now you know when the pot odds are giving you the right price to call, you can use that information to your advantage - and not just when you’re drawing to a hand. What about when you’re confident your opponent is drawing? With your knowledge of odds, you can do your best to make sure you’re giving them the wrong odds to continue with their drawing hands.

Let’s say you’ve made a hand, such as top pair, on a board that’s showing lots of potential flush and straight draws (known as a ‘wet board’). You should bet bigger than you would on a ‘dry board’. The reason for that is, you need to give your opponents the ‘wrong’ price to continue with their drawing hands.

Back to our example above, but this time you've got the in your hand on that board, and your opponent is holding , you need to give them the wrong price to chase that flush. So if there's $100 in the pot, if you bet another $150 you would deny them equity and make it an unprofitable decision to call.

This time they have winning odds of 36%; if it played out 100 times, they’d lose $150 64 times ($9,600) and win $250 36 times ($9,000) for a loss of $600.

Those who make mathematically correct calls, and force others to call off without getting the right odds, will win in the long-term.

Implied odds in poker

There are certain times in no-limit Texas hold'em poker when you aren't getting the correct odds to call, but making a call is still the right play. This is because of ‘implied odds’, which take into account any additional chips you can win if you hit your out and make your hand.

Let's say, once again, that you have the flush draw above and the pot is $100, but this time you're facing a $75 bet on the flop. In this case, you're only getting pot odds of 1.3 to 1, which isn't good enough odds to call with a flush draw that has a 2 to 1 chance of hitting.

But in some cases, you actually should still call because of implied odds. If your opponent has a big stack behind and so do you, if you do hit your flush you may have the potential to win enough to make up for the poor odds you were facing on the flop. When you’re confident your opponent will put more chips in the pot, even if you do hit your out, these additional ‘implied’ chips will make the initial call worthwhile.

But remember: implied odds don't come into play when you're facing an all-in bet, because there are no additional chips to be won. When you're calling off an all-in bet on a draw, your only thought should be whether making the call is profitable long-term, based on the current pot odds. Similarly, implied odds are much less important in limit games where the additional chips your opponent might contribute to the pot are limited.

The takeaway

From longtime players to beginners just learning how to play poker , and whether you play online or live, familiarizing yourself with pot odds is a great way to improve your chance of winning.

For more helpful odds-related information, be sure to check out our poker hands ranking chart . This helpful, easy-to-ready, and downloadable cheatsheet should be your next study-buddy before your next big poker game.

Featured image source:  Flickr