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Poker Fundamentals: Pot-Odds

There’s a lot that goes into making +EV decisions at the poker table. Between finding the best bet-sizing, finding balance in your play, preventing tilt, and much, much more, all of the things that we need to pay attention to can be dizzying or even downright confusing.

Sometimes, it pays to just return to the fundamentals and stick with that. That’s why we need to talk about pot-odds.

At its core, poker is a mathematical game. Though there are some pretty complex formulas out there, you can master some extremely simple concepts that will pay huge dividends down the road.

What Are Pot-Odds?

As the name implies, pot-odds are the odds that the pot offers to you. Wait, what does that mean? Simply put, it’s a ratio that expresses how many chips you can win relative to how many chips you need to call.

Let’s go through an example. Let’s say there are 50 chips in the pot. You’re in position and the player before you bets 50 chips into the pot. Now there’s 100 chips in the pot.

You have to call 50 chips and could potentially win 100. We then divide the number that we could win (100) by the amount we have to call (50) to get 100/50=2. This means that the pot is offering us 2-1 odds.

On the other hand, if the other player bet 25 chips, then there would be a total of 75 chips in the pot. That gives us 75/25=3, or 3-1 odds.

A lot of the time you won’t have numbers that are so easy to deal with, but don’t be afraid to round and make it easier on yourself. It’s more important that you get in the ball-park than calculating to the nearest decimal.

Using Pot-Odds

Now that you know how to figure out pot-odds, you’re going to need to know how to use them. Essentially, pot-odds help us to figure out whether or not calling is profitable by letting us know how often we need to win the pot if we do call.

For instance, if we call a bet with 2-1 odds, then we need to win 33% of the time, or 1 out of every 2 times. By calculating our equity using freely available software tools, we can find out whether we are winning in any given spot at least 50% of the time.

If we had 3-1 odds, on the other hand, then we only need to win 25% of the time, or 1 out of every 3 times. This means that, in general, smaller bets are easier to call, especially with drawing hands, because we can call with lower equity hands.

This means that we also need to consider pot-odds when making bets, not just when calling. After all, we don’t want to give our opponents such good odds that they can call with any draw, but we also don’t want to price all weaker hands out of the pot.

It’s all about finding the right balance.

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