As many will tell you, Texas Hold'em poker involves plenty of know-how, and those who play often enough can assure you it takes a little skill to be consistent. But understand there is a bit of probability and statistics involved that some would refer to as luck. Understanding these statistics, such as “pot odds,” “hand odds” and “outs” can help give you that slight edge at the table.
Over the past months, I have discussed the basics of Texas Hold'em, starting hands and positioning and the art of bluffing. Feel free to refer back to any previous column to brush up on a particular topic. In this installment, we will look a little closer at the odds as a means to determine how you play.
The likelihood of something happening versus how much you get paid off if it does happen is the structure of all gambling propositions. This likelihood is referred to as the odds. Understanding the math behind your odds will help you make your decision based on the number of “outs” or the number of cards left in the deck that will improve your hand.
Hand odds typically come into play on drawing hands – say, if you are trying for a flush or a straight. Most of the math involved with odds revolves around division and the knowledge that there are 52 cards in the deck.
Say, for example, you have a Jack and a Ten in your hand, and the flop comes out: Three, Nine, Queen. You now have an up-and-down or open-ended straight draw, where an Eight or a King could improve your hand to a straight. Since there are four Eights and four Kings still left as unseen cards in the deck, there are eight out of 47 remaining cards that could improve your hand. In other words, you have roughly a 17 percent chance that one may hit on the turn.
Let's say your Eight or King does not hit on the turn. Now, we're left with just the river. We still have our eight outs, but now, there are 46 unseen cards, giving us an 8/46 probability, or a 12.5 percent chance that our card will come out on the river.
The same diagnostic can be worked with flush draws. From the Two to the Ace, there are 13 cards in each suit. Say you have the Ace-Nine of diamonds, and you hit two more diamonds on the flop. The chance that you will hit one of the remaining nine diamonds in the deck on the turn to make your flush is roughly 19 percent, or about one in five. If that diamond doesn't come, your odds of getting it on the river haven't changed much – they remain just shy of 1/5.
One common argument in poker is that your opponents' or the muck cards may be the value or suit you need to complete your hand. While this is true, you do not know for sure that someone is holding that King for your straight or that diamond for your flush. Being the case, you can only calculate odds with the knowledge that is available to you, i.e. your pocket cards and the cards on the table.
Knowing your pot odds, or the odds you get when analyzing the current size of the pot versus your next call, is vital. If your chance of winning the hand is significantly better than the ratio of the pot size to the bet that's being made, you are said to have good pot odds. If it's lower, you have bad pot odds.
Let's return to our open-ended straight draw hand. If we were playing a $5/$10 (blind) game and our sole opponent in the hand bets $10 into a $190 pot, you be getting $200 for a $10 call to make that straight. When you examine the odds, $200/$10 is 20, meaning you can stand to make 20 times more if you call. As noted before, our straight draw is 8/47, or just above 1/6, which is higher than 1/20. Therefore, the pot odds say that calling would be in your best interest.
Now, let's look at our flush situation. Say we're still in a $5/$10 game, and we hit four-card flush draw on the flop. The player before us bets $10, making it a $100 pot. As mentioned above, our flush draw has 9 outs, yielding us a 19 percent, or roughly a 1/5 chance of hitting that suit. Our 1/5 chance is higher than our $10/$100 call-to-payout ratio, so again, it is in our interest to make the call. Making an “all-in” call can put a fiercer gamble on the wager. Sometimes, aggressive players reap the benefits of those playing the odds a little too close.
Obviously, there will be more to poker hands than straights and flushes. One commonly used probability in poker is the pocket pair versus two overs, or unmatched hole cards, i.e. a pair of Sevens verses Ace-King. Before the flop, these hands are often referred to as a coin-flip. The pocket pair typically holds a slight 54-46 percent advantage. When you break it down, the player holding Ace-King has six outs that he must make in five different cards to hit a higher pair, plus holds the likelihood of hitting a straight. Not surprisingly, if the Ace-King is suited, it holds a better chance, as a flush or a royal flush becomes a (still rare, but) more likely option.
A hand such as Queen-Jack-suited starts with the advantage against pocket Sevens or lower, as the paired cards do not interfere with the Queen-Jack's ability to make a straight. An over-pair against a weaker one, such as AA versus KK, will undoubtedly have the edge pre-flop, being favored 80 percent to 20 percent.
With this being said, the topic of pot odds and hand odds can get very intricate and mathematical. Some pros take a mathematical approach to the game, while others rely on tells, reads and patterns. Feel free to pick up a poker magazine or check out some articles online to see which you approach you might want to emulate. As noted in previous columns, how you play is entirely your call. I'm only here to inform. Best of luck on the felt.
If you're up for the challenge, test your card-playing abilities at the Millville Volunteer Fire Company's Texas Hold'em Poker Tournament this Saturday, Feb. 28, at the firehouse on Route 26. The entry fee is $100, with two $25 rebuys available. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., and dealing starts at 7 p.m. Up to $8,000 in prize money could be paid out, depending on player participation, with $2,000 for first place.
Beer, sodas and food will be on sale, and 50-50 drawings and peel-off instant winner tickets will be available, too. Players must be 21 years of age to participate. For more information or to pre-register, call (302) 539-9535.