There are many ways to use card odds and pot odds to help make decisions, but let’s keep this poker term simple for now.
Here’s the situation. You have a four flush on fourth street, and you think you must make the flush to win. You know it will cost you one bet to stay for the fifth street card (Because you are last to act.), and you want to know if you should call based on the pot odds compared to the card odds. If the pot has more than 4.11 bets in it, a call would be justified based on the pot odds compared to the card odds. If the pot has less than 4.11 bets in it, a call would not be justified based on the pot odds compared to the card odds. (If you’re wondering why we use “4.11,” it’s because that’s the card odds of making the flush.
That’s the basic concept. However, sometimes there can be a bit more to it than that.
Let’s consider this contrived, simplified situation. You have a four flush on fourth street against two opponents. Your opponent bets, and it’s up to you. The pot contains 6 bets (Let’s not be concerned with why there are 6 bets and how they got there.). Your cards odds are 4.11 to 1, and the pot offers you 6 to 1, so you call. Your opponent behind you raises, the other calls, and it’s up to you again.
Your card odds are still 4.11 to 1, and now the pot offers you 10 to 1 for your call. You liked it when you got 6 to 1, so you’ve gotta love it now that it offers you 10 to 1, right? RIGHT? And you wish they could raise again, because your next call would be getting 14 to 1! You really love these raises. Right?
Not exactly . . .
You would certainly be correct to make the call, because of the pot odds compared to the card odds. But, . . . and this is a big, important but . . . you did not really like the raise. Why not?
Why don’t you like the raise when each time you call you’re getting higher and higher pot odds?
Because in this case you want to get the fifth street card as cheaply as possible, and each raise increases the cost of that card. Even though you got good pot odds on each call, the overall cost of the card was higher, because the percentage of strange money is lower.
Without the raise, you got the fifth street card for 6 to 1. But when that opponent raised, and you eventually called, even though you got 10 to 1 for that call, overall you got 5 to 1 for the fifth street card. That’s because the pot had 10 strange bets, and it cost you 2 bets. Which brings up a concept that’s very confusing to many new players. (Damn! I was afraid this would get confusing. I hate it when that happens!)
Money in the pot belongs to the pot, no matter who put it there. That’s true, except for the exceptions. As you probably noticed above, at one point we counted all of the money in the pot as the pot’s money, and at another point we counted one of the bets in the pot as your money.
So, which is right, and which is wrong? Sorry . . . but . . . they’re both right.
Each time it’s up to you to decide to make the call, you count all of the money in the pot as the pot’s money. However, when you calculate your cost of the fifth street card, you count everything you put in the pot on that round of betting, compared to what was in the pot before that round and everything your opponents put in on that round. That’s how 10 to 1 turned into 5 to 1.
The reason they’re both right is because they each answer a different question. One answers the question, “What is the pot offering me now?” The other answers the question, “What was the total cost of the fifth street card?”
Another kinda tricky concept for new players is “potential” odds. Some people refer to this as “implied” odds, but they’re wrong. Nevertheless, I need to mention it so if you see that term you know it usually refers to the same concept.
The concept of potential odds is simple and intuitive. It means that you can count bets that are not in the pot now as being in the pot now if you’re sure they’ll be there later. For example, if you know opponents behind you will call, you can count their call as being in the pot when deciding what to do. And this concept will come up other places too. If the pot doesn’t have enough to justify a call, but you know your opponents will call after you make your hand, you can consider those calls as potentials.
That’s the basic concept of using card odds and pot odds. However, some players would argue that there are many other considerations, such as the odds of winning with a bluff, etc. And they’d be right. But, remember, we’re keeping this simple.
By Steven James is the author of The Evolution of a Poker Player.