Poker Lesson 37

Pot odds, part IV: The Cardinal Rule
By now, I have taught you how to calculate the pot odds and the card odds respectively. It is therefore time to introduce "the Cardinal Rule for Playing Poker while Respecting the Pot Odds": If the pot odds are better than or equal to the card odds, then you should put your money in.

There are of course dozens of exceptions: when you bet as a bluff, when you can correctly read your opponent as having a worse hand than what he or she is trying to represent, when you use your position to seize the initiative, and so on. I also remind you of what I said in my lesson "Pot Odds part II", that you mainly use pot odds calculations with hands which must improve in order to win the pot.

The most classical situations in hold'em are those where you have a draw to a flush or a straight, AND may reasonably safely make the assumption that if you hit your draw, you will win the pot. Let us say that you have K-Q of hearts in hand, and that the board after the turn is 10-3-J-5 with suits so that no flush is possible. If the river card now is either an Ace or a Nine, giving you a straight, you will win the pot.

There was 175 units (yen, dollars, euros, whatever) in the pot after the flop, and the two players before you have already acted after the turn card: one bet out 50, and the other called for 50. Now it is your turn to act; should you call?

Let us do the calculations. The card odds are 38 (the remaining cards in the deck which will NOT give you the straight) to 8 (the remaining cards which WILL give you the straight, ie. four Aces and four Nines), and 38 to 8 is equivalent to 4,75 to 1.

What are the pot odds? In the pot is 175 + 50 + 50 = 275, and it will cost you 50 to call. The pot odds are therefore 275 to 50 = the equivalent of 5,5 to 1.

Remember the cardinal rule above, that if the pot odds are better than or equal to the card odds, then you should put your money in? In this case the pot odds are 5,5 to 1 and the card are 4,75 to 1: this means you should go ahead and call!

Among the 46 possible river cards which can be turned up, 38 of them will mean your call is money down the drain, while 8 will win you the pot. What is your average net profit from calling in this situation? It is 8 x 275 (the pot you can win right then), minus 38 x 50 (your wasted call when you do not hit your straight), the same as 2200 minus 1900 divided by 46 = +300 divided by 46 = +6,5 units. You will thus average a profit of 6,5 units by calling here!

As I said, there are in practice other factors too which must be taken into consideration, but the cardinal rule stated above should be foremost in your mind. More on the subject in the next lesson!