Poker Outs and Odds
written by: John
Most new poker players tend to start out playing poker the same way. They play too many starting hands, which only gets them into trouble because these hands turn into lucrative drawing hands on the flop. There is no way a new player is turning down the possibility of hitting one of 4 outs to complete their gut-shot straight draw, so they are more than happy to pay to chase. Most times often than not, they miss their draw and waste many chips in the process that could have been better used in more ideal spots.
If only new players had a firm understanding of poker outs and pot odds before playing poker for the first time.
'Outs' in poker refers to the cards that are left in the deck that can better a poker hand. For example, if you had A-K for hole cards and the flop was 7-10-J, then any queen would be an 'out' to a straight and the remaining aces and kings would be 'outs' to make a pair or better. You would simply count the remaining cards in the deck that can help you, and that is the amount of 'outs,' or help, you have to better your hand. So, in our example above, you would have 4 queens, 3 aces and 3 kings left in the deck for 10 outs.
Before going any further, we should answer a commonly asked question. "How do you know all of those outs are available?"
Well, you don't. It is impossible to know exactly how many of the cards you need are actually 'live' in the deck or how many are 'dead' in the hands of your opponents. Also, it is very well possible that some of the outs that you think you have, are really not outs that will better your hand enough for you to win. When you subtract these outs from your total amount of outs, this is referred to as 'discounting outs' which should only be done if you have a history on your opponents and just know for a fact that these outs are not available. As a rule of thumb, count all outs.
So, why are outs important? Outs are important because you need to know how likely it is that you will better your hand on later streets. To do this, you will take your outs and turn them into odds.
Turning outs into odds is very simple to do. All you have to do is take the amount of outs you have and compare that to the amount of unseen cards that are left in the deck. So, using our example above, if you had A-K on a 7-10-J board and you needed a queen for a straight, you would have 4 outs. You have seen the flop and your hole cards for a total of 5 cards seen out of 52 which leaves 47 unseen cards. Then take your unseen cards and outs and divide those both by the number of outs you have to calculate your odds (47/4) (4/4). This would equal 11.75:1 but to make things easier for you just round up to 12 to 1.
Again, a similar question to the one above arises. "47 unseen cards? What about all the cards dealt to my opponent's?"
To make things easier for yourself, only use the cards you can see. So, when figuring odds the flop will always have 47 unseen cards and 46 on the turn. Just remember that these are estimates to help you make a more educated decision. It is not precise by any means.
Now, before we move on to pot odds and how outs and pot odds work together, there is one common mistake to discuss that you want to be sure to avoid. In some cases, you may be drawing to a hand that can result in a flush, straight or straight flush. When counting your outs here, you will want to be sure to only count outs that help both hands only once. So for example, if you had 9c-8c and the board was 5c-6c-Kh, you will want to be sure to only count the 7c once for both straight and flush outs. Many people would make the mistake of counting 4 outs for the straight (7's) and then 9 flush cards for 13 outs. But, the 7 was already counted in the flush outs so you have 9 flush cards and 3 non-flush 7's that will better your hand for only 12 outs. Not a huge difference, but this will affect your odds which of course can affect your decisions.
Poker Pot Odds
Pot odds are much easier to calculate and are equally important as calculating poker outs. Quite simply, pot odds are the return that you are receiving in relation to what you have to spend to get that return.
For example, if there were $800 in the pot and your opponent bet $200, the pot would now be $1,000 and for you to potentially win this pot, you would have to invest $200. This would translate into $1,000 to $200 ($1,000:$200) or when simplified, 5 to 1 (5:1). As you can probably see, pot odds are very easy to calculate and necessary to understand so that they can be compared with your poker outs/odds to make an educated decision.
How are Pot Odds and Poker Outs used together?
Pot odds and Poker Outs are used together so that players can figure out their expected value. Now, expected value is an article all on it's own but in a nutshell, expected value will tell you whether the play you are making has a positive or negative outcome over the an extended period of time.
Another way to look at it is to ask yourself, "Am I getting enough money (pot odds) to offset the risk of drawing to a better hand (outs/odds)?"
For example, 5:1 odds are not sufficient to chase our example above which carries odds of 12:1. This is because you will pay $200 13 times (12:1 = 12+1) and lose that $200 12 times (12:1 = -12x$200) for a loss of -$2,400 and win once and gain only $1,000. When added together, this play would leave you -$1,400 in the hole (-$2,400+$1,000).
On another note, pot odds can be used with other odds as well. For example, if you hold a small pocket pair, the odds of flopping a set are 8:1. If you are getting better than 8:1 pot odds pre-flop, then you are mathematically correct in set mining. If you were getting less, then it is mathematically incorrect to do so and you should fold.
Poker Outs and Pot Odds
Having an understanding of outs and pot odds is essential for a player to understand simply because a player can then make a decision based on how likely it is they will improve to a better hand in relation to how much they hope to receive for the risk in attempting to do so. In short, this translates into understanding how to chase draws and more importantly, when not to chase them.