Sucker’s Bet

published on 03/07/08 at 8:48 am

PokerPlasm.comOne of the things that separate poker from other games of chance is our ability to select the odds under which we are willing to wager money. One can encourage action by providing the appropriate odds for a call, as one can also discourage action by “pricing someone out” of a pot. However there seems to be a great misconception as to what “True Odds” are and how they are calculated.

Let look at one hand for example and see if we agree on how many outs a particular player has. The player is holding Kh-Qh.

The flop is Jh-10h-3d.

If you asked three different players this question you will most likely get three different answers.

  1. One answer would be 8 outs on the open ended straight draw, plus 9 outs on the flush draw would equal 17.
  2. Another would answer the same as above but may also include the 3 Kings and 3 Queens as possible outs for a total of 23.
  3. The more skilled players would disregard the over cards and deduct the cards suited in hearts from the outs available for the straight draw and would answer 15.

My answer is a little different. Assuming this is a full table, we have 20 cards that have been dealt out. We also have utilized a burn card and three cards that appear on the board. Thus, 24 of the 52 cards in the deck have already been utilized. So 46% of the cards in the deck are out. It is also logical to assume that 46% of your possible outs are also out. As such you probably have 8 “realistic” outs remaining to improve your hand.

So in conclusion, you have about a 28% chance of catching one of your outs in the remaining 28 cards. So proper pot odds to make the call and continue on to the turn would be something in the neighborhood of 3.5:1. 4:1 is really what you want in order to make this a profitable venture. If you continuously call in this scenario with pot odds of 4:1 or greater, you will do very well in the long run.

Pot odds calculations for a cash game specialist are extremely important, as the odds will always catch up to you over time. Thus, getting the right price when continuing in a hand is critical to one’s long term survival in the game. With that said there are some simple ways to calculate odds without requiring a degree from MIT. Lets look at one example.

You are playing Kh-Qh.

The flop is 10h-4h-2s.

Your opponent bets out. A conservative player. You are convinced that if you hit your flush you will win the hand. What odds to you need to continue with the hand? Well, lets keep it very simple. One out of every four cards is a heart. So, theoretically, you have a 25% chance of catching one. As you have two cards to come in all reality you have a 2:1 chance that one will be a heart. If we can keep our pot odds at about 3:1 we are getting a good price to make the call and continue with the hand.

Where people get confused in hand like this is when their opponent puts out a pot sized bet on the flop and they are assuming that with 2 cards to come they are getting good odds to call at 2:1. That is not the case. If you miss on the turn, you opponent, who is obviously already trying to price you out, will bet again, in which case, after having made the call on the flop with 2:1 you will need 4:1 odds to make the call on the turn, which is very doubtful. So try to keep you odds calculations simple and your decisions even simpler. At 2:1 I do not make the call on the flop. No use rabbit hunting to see if you would have hit. It is of no relevance what cards follow. The only relevance is that you are getting appropriate odds to make the call.

The same holds true when you are dictating the action. Lets look at one example when you want to encourage action. You are playing Ah-Jh.

The flop is Jc-7h-2h.

This is an excellent flop for you. On a good day you opponent would be suited in hearts with the King of hearts in hand. You have hit top pair and have the nut flush draw. You definitely want to bet out here but you do not want to discourage callers, nor do you want to put out a highly suspicious bet. I recommend you bet about half the pot. This gives your opponent 3:1 odds, which are sufficient for him to continue on drawing to a better hand.

In the following example the opposite holds true. You are playing Jc-10c.

The flop is Jh-10d-8h.

You have hit this flop hard with top two pair. But, this is a very dangerous flop for you. There are several other hands that would have called your action pre-flop that may have improved as well, not to mention all of the possible draws that this flop represents. As such pot odds become your prime consideration. You want to fire at this pot and discourage callers, especially multiple callers. I would bet at least 1.5 times the pot in this scenario. Offering less that 2:1 odds should be enough to discourage calls from players desiring to draw to a better hand. The hand that might call that bet would be someone perhaps playing A-J. With top pair top kicker they may want to continue in the hand and this is clearly the call that you want as you have that hand completely dominated.

Another situation I would like to discuss is multi-player hands. You find yourself pre-flop in late position. 4 people limp ahead of you and the blinds don’t look all that interested. You are getting over 5 to 1 to simply call here and there are very few hands you can have that are worst than 5:1 pre flop. So you make the call, as does the small blind. The flop comes and you get a small piece of it. There is a bet from early position with two callers and once again you are getting ample odds to continue with the hand. So you go ahead and call.

What happens in this hand and how this hand plays out is not important. What is important is that you don’t find yourself getting into the routine of calling every hand based on the sheer justification that you have the odds to make the call. In the above example, with 4 limpers and disinterested players on the blinds I prefer to raise and take the pot down. In the event I get a caller, I will continue my aggression post flop and see where that takes me. At the very least I will be guilty of playing poker and making a play at the pot rather than becoming a calculating calling station.

One last bit of caution I would like to point out is that you should not assume that because you have made a substantial raise at a pot and have clearly priced your opponent out, that they are going to lay the hand down. They will call and call and call you and you will hear every possible justification for the bad call. “I had a feeling” is my favorite. “It’s the best hand I’ve seen in an hour” is another classic. “I did not put you on that strong a hand. I thought you were making a play at the pot.” You will hear this one more times than you care to, especially whey they crack you. And the all time classic excuse “It’s my favorite hand”. So you get called and you get cracked. This is when pot odds become critically important because over time the odds always balance out and if you continue with this course of discipline you will find yourself well ahead of the game as the proverbial calling stations playing their favorite hand regardless of the odds, will find themselves driving a cab for a living.

John “The Greek” Leontakianakos is a professional poker player with 27 years of experience. He is currently in the process of publishing a book on poker and runs his own website called JohnTheGreekPoker.

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