Poker Odds for Beginners

Four Aces Cards and Casino Chip Background

I’m sure if you’re someone who has never played the classic game seen in most gangster films known as poker, or much less someone who has never heard of the game, learning how to play poker can be somewhat overwhelming.

Learning the game is one thing, but then getting to understanding the odds in poker (something necessary to understand for the sake of winning) can seem even more overwhelming.

So, in the most basic and simple-to-understand way, I am going to quickly delve into some of the basics regarding poker odds

Calculating Poker Odds

Learning to calculate poker odds is absolutely, without a doubt, something that’s crucial to success at poker. And to be honest, as someone with poker playing experience, I can tell you that this stuff can sound a little confusing when reading an explanation of poker odds and how to calculate them.

I’ll sometimes use one of the most popular poker games – Texas Hold ‘Em, as a reference when explaining this. Having a reference like this that is basic will make trying to understand a little less difficult.

So why are poker odds so important? Knowing poker odds is important because it gives you an idea when you are playing a hand if you are going to win or lose.

To illustrate, let’s say you and another player are flipping a quarter and he gives you 1:1 odds that the next flip will land on heads. You already know that it will land on heads 50% of the time, and it’ll land on tails the rest of the other 50% of the time.

In this case, you would call the presentation that the other player is giving you an even event, because neither player has a statistical advantage.

A different example: you’re playing and your opponent offers you 2:1 odds that the next coin flip will be heads. Would this be a bet that you should take? Absolutely. Because the chances of heads or tails coming up are still 1:1, while he’s paying you at the 2:1 rate.

Your opponent is hoping to ride his luck and stay on this winning streak, but if you both continue to play, it’s inevitable that he is going to lose and make a poor decision out of over confidence.

These examples are a very basic way at explaining a pattern that happens during Texas Hold ‘Em very often. Calculating hand odds are your chances of making a winning hand during a game of Texas Hold ‘Em poker.

For example, if in your hand there are two hearts, and there are also two hearts on the table, or the flop, your odds for making a flush are about 2 to 1. This means that for approximately every 3 times you play this hand, you can expect to hit your flush one of those times.

Two Men at a Poker Tournament Table

If your hand odds were 3 to 1, then you would expect to hit your hand 1 out of every 4 times. I know this is confusing, so I’am going to use another example that uses Texas Hold ‘Em as a reference.

This is will be helpful when trying to decide how much to bet, or if you should even bet at all.

For example, if there’s $80 in the pot and your opponent bets $20, that makes a total of $100 in the pot. That $100 is the pay out that you would receive if you win and are willing to risk $20 to call the bet.

Pot odds are about risk and reward. In this case, you’re having to risk $20 to win $100, so your pot odds are 100-to-20, or 5-to-1.

That’s a common scenario. This is important for a player when deciding to place a bet or fold. You take the amount of the bet plus what is already in the pot to calculate the reward, the bet you need to call represents the risk, and so if a player adds $20 in the pot, calling would be adding $20 to the pot when your turn comes just to be able to stay in the game.

The pot odds “being given” to call is that reward-to-risk ratio. Of course, you can also talk about pot odds after a player raises. Say you decide not just to call that $20 bet described above, but to raise to $80. That would mean your opponent has to call $60 to have a chance at winning what is now $180 in the middle, 180-to-60 or 3-to-1 pot odds.

Probability and Betting Odds

Betting provides the player with the chance to predict the outcome of a certain event, like who is going to win the round and who has the cards with the highest value.

If your prediction is correct, then you win. In a given event, there are always a certain number of possible outcomes. I’ll use dice rolling as an example.

When a player rolls a die, there are always going to be 6 possible outcomes. So if a player bets that the die will roll a 3, there is a 16.67% chance that the player will win.

So all betting odds really do is show how likely it is for a certain event to happen. I know it seems repetitive, but I needed a lot of repetition with different examples to have a more clear understanding of betting odds.

Whenever you see 2 numbers separated by a slash, like 10/1, this is known as fractional odds. This is an important concept to understand and another very helpful example. From this, you can calculate how likely it is for a given event to occur by using a simple calculation.

Probability (%) = B / (A+B).

  • 7/1 can be calculated as  1 / (7 + 1) = 0.125—There’s a 12.5% chance that the event will happen.
  • 4/1 can be calculated as 1 / (4 + 1) = 0.20—There’s a 20% chance that the event will happen.
  • 1/1 can be calculated as 1 / (1 + 1) = 0.50—There’s a 50% chance that the event will happen.
  • 1/4 can be calculated as 4 / (4 + 1) = 0.80—There’s a 80% chance that the event will happen.

When Should I Call?

The difference between raising and calling can be thought of as being aggressive or cautious. The act of raising shows confidence and strength against opponents. If you are confident enough and show no signs of bluffing, raising can be used to scare off players during one-on-one situations.

Knowing when to raise is a key skill to learn and be able to properly execute during a game of poker.

Let’s look at an example. You’re at the poker table, and there are odds of 4/1 to win the hand. Deciding whether or not we should call our opponent’s bet really comes down to the amount of money that’s in the pot.

Closeup of Cards Spread Out on a Poker Table

That doesn’t mean if the pot is crazy full of cash that you should just go for it. What matters is the ratio of money that you could win compared to the size of your opponents bet.

So let’s say there’s $90 in the pot, and your opponent bets $10. With simple math, we know that makes $100 total in the middle of the table. You need to match you opponents bet in order to see the next card, so we can say that it will cost $10 to see if the next card will be the one that you’re going to need to win.

In any poker game, to stay in the game, you have to keep up with the amount of money that is being added to the pot by each player. Any time a player raises the bet, you have to match that bet if you want to stay in the game.

Always know that even if you make that call to stay in the game, there’s always a chance that you are going to lose. So going back to the calculated odds example of 4/1, most experts in poker would say that you will lose four times for every time you win.

So it’s important that a player is given the chance to win four times as much as their bet is, so in the long run the player can eventually break even.

Counting Your Outs

So the last key piece of information I will go over is counting your outs. Before you can begin to calculate your poker odds you need to know your “outs.” You’ll also need to understand poker hand rankings forwards and backwards before any of this will fully make sense.

An out is a card that will give you a playable hand. For example, if you are on a flush draw with 4 hearts in your hand, then there will be 9 hearts (outs) remaining in the deck to give you a flush. Remember there are 13 cards in a suit, so this is easily worked out; 13 – 4 = 9.

Be careful not to count outs that will give your opponents a better hand. When counting outs, you will need to first make a guess, hoping it’s a good guess, about what cards your opponent is playing.

The cards that your opponent is holding will greatly impact the number of outs you may or may not have.

Conclusion

This stuff really doesn’t start making sense until you sit down and start playing. It takes a lot of practice to be able to know the probability of what players have in their hands, when you should call, when you should keep betting.

Do you have any tips on poker odds that I left out? Let me know in the comments.