The main thing that separates poker from other casino games is the fact that it is more a game of skill than luck. True, luck has its place in poker as well, but luck evens out eventually while skill gives you a constant edge. Furthermore, poker requires more than one 'type' of skill and know-how. Most people are only aware to the psychological skills of poker such as bluffing, deceptive plays (i.e. playing low ranking hands to throw off your opponents) or counting on your opponents 'tells' (which is barely efficient in online poker rooms). Although these skills are very important and are a vital part of any player's poker arsenal, your online poker bankroll stands no chance without a good understanding of poker mathematics.
The most basic and fundamental concept of poker mathematics is without a doubt pot odds. Pot odds is a method that good poker players use to determine whether or not a certain bet should be called or folded. Of course this is not the only method used, but it is definitely the most useful.
In a typical game of poker you will usually encounter one of the these three situations:
The definite fold: You have gotten to the flop and you have nothing and no chance to form a good hand. In this case you should almost always check and fold. For example: Your cards are Jh10h and the flop is 4d7s2s.
The definite bet or raise: You see the flop and it is clear that you have a strong hand or even the nuts. In this situation you should almost always either bet or raise. For example: Your cards are AcKc and the flop is Ad9c4c.
The drawing hand: You see the flop and you still do not hold a strong hand. On the other hand, it is possible that you will form a strong hand on the turn or the river. For example: Your cards are AsJs and the flop is 8s4sQh. As you can see you do not hold anything at the moment but you have a possibility to draw a flush.
If you played poker before then you probably know that the third situation, holding a drawing hand, is a quite a common sight. You also probably know that the right decision is not as easy when you draw for a hand. In many of this cases you hold absolutely nothing at the flop but you very-well might be holding the nuts on the turn. The decision becomes real confusing when you face a bet or two. Should you call when you hold absolutely nothing and risk losing more money? Or maybe you are throwing away a hand that has a good shot at taking the pot? This is where pot odds come into play. Pot odds is the tool that good players use to determine whether or not a certain hand is strong enough to call a certain bet.
For instance in the above mentioned situation you have a draw for a flush, ace high, which will most likely be the strongest hand on the table. You can see five cards, meaning that there are 47 cards left in the deck. From these 47 cards there are only 9 outs, meaning the spades that will help your hand (13 total spades - 4 spades you already see = 9 outs). Now you know that you have a chance of 9 out 47 to draw a the winning hand.
The next stage in calculating pot odds is to compare the money you need to invest in the pot to the money you might win. Let's say that in our case the pot is already $90 and the bet to you is $10. Now you take the size of the pot including your call, $100 and see your part in the pot. In this particular pot you share is 10/100 or in other words exactly.
The final step of poker pot odds is simply comparing your chances to hit your hand versus your share in the pot you might win. As long as your chances to form a winning hand are higher than the amount of money you need to invest in the pot, you should call the bet. In fact you can call any bet up almost $20, any higher than that and the pot odds dictate you to fold.
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Chris Ferguson, Editor