How to Calculate Poker Outs & Pot Odds

Although poker is a game of facial expressions, intuition and mind reading, it’s also a game largely based on math. You’ll use math in every aspect of the game, from cash to sit n goes to tournaments. So it makes sense to learn some the basic math concepts if you want to get any good. And the first place I recommend you start is learning about outs and pot odds.

What Are Poker Outs?

The best definition for poker outs is that they are the cards left in the deck that will improve your hand.

For example, say that you had 98s on a flop of JT2 rainbow. What cards will improve your hand?

Well, you know that a 7 or a Q will improve your hand to a straight. There are four suits to a deck of cards, so that would mean that there are four 7s and four Qs. There are eight cards that will improve your hand, or eight outs.

So, why not a 9 or an 8? Why not consider these cards as outs?

These cards are not considered outs because with two over cards on the flop it’s very likely that a 9 or an 8 as a pair would not be the best hand. Not only that, but a 9 or an 8 would complete other drawing hands. So we don’t want to include cards as outs that won’t necessarily be to the best hand.

Something else that you don’t want to do is discount outs. In other words, assume that your opponent has cards, such as a 7 or a Q, leaving you with less than eight outs. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t or haven’t seen it (the cards you want to discount), then include it in your outs. Besides, we’re just looking for a good guestimate, it doesn’t need to be perfect.

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Turning Outs Into Percentages and/or Odds

Now, counting outs isn’t all there is to it. Outs are better used as odds or percentages. The reason why is because when we figure out our pot odds using odds or percentages instead of outs will make it easier and faster for us to do our math and make a decision.

There are a couple of ways to do this.

One way is to use the 2/4 rule. Using this rule, you would take the number of outs that you have and multiply it by two if you only plan on seeing one street, and multiplying your outs by four if you plan on seeing two streets. Then add 1%. For example, if we know that we have eight outs, then using the 2/4 rule we’d know that we are 17% to hit our hand over one street and 33% over two streets. These numbers aren’t exact, but if you run them in a calculator you’ll find that they are very close.

The second way to turn your outs into odds is to do some quick math. Now, you know there are 52 cards in a deck, right? If we know that there are eight cards that will improve our hand, then that would leave 44 cards that won’t. We also see three cards on the flop and two cards in our hand. So all in all, we know that there are 39 cards in the deck that won’t help us (or are unavailable). So what we do now is divide the number of cards left in the deck that won’t help us, which is 39, by the number of outs that we have, which is eight, and that will give us our ratio (or odds). This gives us 4.875, which is also read as 4.875 to 1. Doing it this way our percentage is about 17% which is exactly the same as doing the 2/4 rule.

I highly recommend using the 2/4 rule just because you’ll find that faster and more convenient when you are trying to also figure out ranges and pot odds, not to mention figuring this all out while playing on multiple tables.

In this next section I’ll explain a little bit about pot odds, and then I’ll combine pot odds and outs so that you can see how they are used together to make a decision.

What Are Pot Odds?

Pot odds are pretty simple – these are the odds that you get by dividing the amount of money in the pot you stand to win, by the amount of money you need to put up (call) in order to win it. It’ll make more sense using an example.

Okay, say that there is $50 in the pot. Your opponent raises to $150, making the total pot $200. In order for you to win that $200 pot you have to call $150. To figure out your pot odds simply take $200 and divide that by $150, which comes out to 1.3. This is written out as 1.3 to 1. To turn this into a percentage, simply take one and divide it by 2.3 (the total), which would give you 43%.

That’s all there is to pot odds.

Now that you know what poker outs and pot odds are, as well as how to figure out the odds and percentages, I want to show you an example of how you would use both of them together to make a decision.

Poker Outs & Pot Odds Example

So here’s an example of how you would use poker outs and odds. The numbers I use are from my examples above.

Say that you were in the same situation on the flop as listed above. You have eight outs to make the best hand, and any other cards are unlikely to help you. Your opponent just that $150 into a $50 pot, making it $200 total and $150 to you.

We know that we are 17% to hit our hand on the turn. We also know that we have 43% pot odds. As a general rule of thumb, whenever the pot odds are higher than the odds of hitting our hand, it is -EV for us to make the call. Another way to look at it is whenever the odds are higher (or more against us) to hit our hand compared to the odds for making a call (4.8 odds to hit our hand vs. 1.3 to call), then it’s -EV.

So the real question here is, what would make this call break even or profitable?

In order for this call to be profitable, our pot odds needs to be about 15% (or less). The only way we’re going to achieve 15% pot odds is if our opponent bet $10 into the $50 pot. That would make the pot $60, which would mean that we would need to call $10 to win $60 which also reads as 6 to 1. This would give us 14% pot odds. Having to call anything more than $10 would mean that the call is not profitable long-term.

Does that make sense?

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There Are Exceptions

There are exceptions, of course. Going into much detail is outside the scope of this article though. But one of the exceptions is taking implied odds into consideration.

In general, using implied odds is making a guess as to how much you might win off your opponent in the situation that you hit your hand. In other words, if you knew that you could win your opponent’s entire stack if you were to hit your straight, then that would improve your pot odds, which would then mean that it’s worth your time to make what seems to be a thin (or bad) call.

For example, if your opponent has 1000 chips behind him after making that $150 bet then you could make the assumption that your $150 call is to win $1200 instead of only 200. In that case your odds would be 80 to 1, or a little over 1%. In this case it’s clear that making a call at 16% (remember, if your odds to hit your hand is better than your odds to call) is the right choice.

Keep in mind though, that there are a lot of variables that you must consider before using implied odds. Not to mention that this is simply a guess. If you don’t win his entire stack and all that you get is the (200) chips in the pot, then you technically made a bad call on the flop. So there’s much more to it then thinking you’re going to get his entire stack and then inflating the pot (odds) to justify a bad call.