Poker Lesson 42

Pot odds, part IX: When should you ignore the pot odds?
In several previous lessons, I have stressed the importance of making decisions, in a great number of situations, based to a high degree on pot odds. This is because of a fundamental truth which should always be foremost in your mind: that winning poker rests heavily on sound mathematical grounds.

Having stated this, the following two questions are worth pondering: Are there ever situations where it is wrong to call, even though the pot odds are correct? And are there instead situations where it is right to call, even though the pot odds are incorrect for it?

The first question deals mainly with correctly evaluating the mathematics of the current situation; the second, however, instead deals with correctly evaluating the actions and behavioural patterns of the opponents you are up against at the table.

The answer to the first question is almost always NO. If the pot odds are attractive enough to motivate a call, AND you have evaluated the situation correctly, it is not wrong to call. This assumes that you really have taken into consideration the possibility that your opponent may have the best possible hand right now, but that you – if you hit your draw – can expect to get an even higher hand that has a high probability of winning a showdown. If you have the pot odds on your side, you as a rule do the correct thing by calling... or sometimes even raising.

(There are however exceptions, when you for example risk being busted out of a tournament close to the money or close to the real high payouts at the final table – then it may be better to avoid a call which will cripple your chip stack if you do not hit your draw.)

The answer to the second question is however YES: there ARE situations where it is correct of you to call, even though your pot odds may, on the surface, not motivate it. This assumes that you correctly can "read" your opponent as in fact having a weaker hand than what his or her actions right then are trying to represent: or in other words that you have reason to suspect a bluff, or that he or she is "overbetting the hand" (= pushing more money into the pot than what the hand really is worth right then).

So, if you correctly can put your opponent on a weaker hand than the trips or the two pair that you would fear in another, more conservative and solid player's hand, it will be correct of you to call even if you right then only hold the top pair or a mediocre second highest pair, if you at the same time estimate that you can beat the other in a showdown.

In poker, there is NO tactical rule that you should not sooner or later ignore, if the situation dictates it – and that also goes for the rules governing pot odds. Poker IS a game that rests heavily on sound mathematical grounds, but there are also plenty of situations when your actions instead should instead be dictated by how you evaluate, or want to manipulate, your opponents.