This week we will continue our discussion about poker math with the final piece of the puzzle – poker implied odds.
Last week we talked about how to calculate your bet percentage and compare that to the odds of making a winning hand. This is the most fundamental poker calculation you have to make. It, however, has one shortcoming. It does not really account for what happens after you hit your winning hand.
Let’s revisit an example from last week. You have a flush draw after the flop, the pot is currently $120, and you are facing a bet of $20. In that situation, your bet percentage (pot odds) calculation is based on a total of $140. But is this all you can win? No, not really. After you hit your flush on the turn there is a new round of betting where you have another chance to swing some of your opponents’ chips your way. With a strong hand like your flush, this could mean taking their entire stack.
That’s where implied pot odds come into consideration. They are the same as your bet percentage (pot odds), except they factor in not only the money that is currently on the table, but all potential (implied) money that can be won after the hand is complete.
One very good practical example to illustrate implied pot odds is small pocket pairs like 22 or 55. The odds of them improving to a set (which is usually the only way a small pocket pair would win) are roughly 12%. So in pre-flop betting, just considering regular pot odds, you need a bet percentage lower than 12%, which is equivalent to 7 people limping in. That rarely happens, but his doesn’t mean small pockets are unplayable. A set is one of the most stealthy, profitable hands you can hold and your opponents will rarely know what hit them. Since you can reasonably expect a lot of chips to be committed before play is complete, your implied pot odds are much better than 12%.
The problem with implied odds is that they are just an estimate. You never really know exactly how much they are. They depend on the nature of your opponents, on the hands they hold and on how you play. Because they are not precise, people often tend to overestimate them. They imagine that they will take all their opponents’ chips with every monster hand that they complete, so it is always worth chasing big draws. Consider the following example:
You hold Qs-7d and the flop comes Kh-10s-9c. There are two other players and $100 is already in the pot. One of your opponents bets $20, the other calls and action is to you. You have a gut-shot straight draw that you can complete with a jack and that seems to be the only way you can win this hand. Obviously your pot odds don’t work out – your bet percentage is 14% ($20 into a total pot of $140), while your hand percentage is about 8% (4 outs). However, you assume you’ll be able to take all the chips of at least one of your opponents if you complete your straight. Then the $20 you need to call becomes a very small fraction of the total (if your opponents are not severely short stacked, of course) and your implied odds improve dramatically. You should be careful here, though. A board with a king, jack, 10 and 9 is likely to make other players wary and it will take an incredibly loose play to commit significant chips with anything smaller than a straight. Your assumption is very likely to be wrong.
We said that poker is half art and half science. Poker implied odds are probably the meeting point between the two. You need a solid understanding of poker math to do the betting calculation. You also need to read your opponents and carefully observe betting patterns and table behavior to get an indication of their future actions (and ultimately the chips they are willing to commit in any given hand). This makes it a difficult concept. It also makes it fun and profitable once you master it. For a further introduction to implied pot odds, check out our Pot Odds poker flash cards.