Poker Lesson 34

Pot odds, part I: What exactly is meant by pot odds?

Having come this far, it is time to examine a concept which at first confuses many beginning players: that of pot odds.

Since it forms such an important part of successful poker-playing, and at the same time is not readily explained in one paragraph or two, I will cover it step-by-step in a number of succeeding lessons here: what exactly is meant by the term pot odds, and how it ought to effect your smart decisions at the poker table.

In order to come to terms with the concept of pot odds, one must first have a clear picture of what the game of poker is in practice, namely a complex series of bets which you may accept, decline or propose to your opponents. Every time you "make a bet" (= call, raise or bet out), you are in effect taking part in a bet – and during every hand of poker, there are usually many such bets to consider. EVERY TIME you consider whether to call or perhaps raise, you must ask yourself this question which in essence defines poker: Is the economic risk I take right now outweighed by the money I might win?

Or, to put it as a practical example: if there is already 100 units into the pot and it will cost you 25 to call, is it worth risking 25 of your money for a possible win of 100?

This situation above may also be expressed in terms of the pot offering you odds of 4 to 1 (= 100 to 25). If you accept this bet by calling, you may so to speak win 4 times your stake.

If the pot instead had contained 160 and it would have cost you 55 to call, the pot odds offered would have been 160 to 55, which are the same as 2,9 to 1.

Note that you can also "set" the pot odds for the next player to act behind you If you in the first example above had called for 25, there would now be 125 in the pot. The next player who is thinking about calling for 25 may now win a total of 125: your preceding call, which added to the size of the pot, now gives that next player pot odds of 125 to 25 = 5 to 1.

But what if you instead of calling for 25 had raised to 75? In that case there would now have been 100 + 75 = 175 in the pot, but the player acting behind you must now call for 75 instead (if he or she chooses to call). This is equivalent to pot odds of 175 to 75, which corresponds to 2,3 to 1.

Just a moment ago, that next player behind you had the theoretical chance of winning five times her stake, if you had merely called. Your raise however had two effects: (a) She must now risk a bigger portion of her gambling capital in order to call, and (b) her potential win ratio in this situation has worsened, from 5 times her stake to less than half of that, only 2,3 times her stake. For both reasons, it is now much less attractive to her to call your raise in this situation.

There you have the bare basics for calculating pot odds. More on this subject in several following lessons!