Understanding Pot Odds in Poker: The Key to Making Profitable Decisions

Ashley Adams
Written by Ashley Adams
Vlad Mihalache
Editorial review by Vlad Mihalache
Expert
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icon-calendar Updated on Sep 12, 2023

The winning player must understand the concept of pot odds in poker. They must learn to use it in their decisions about whether and how to play a hand of poker.  

In this guide, we will explore what pot odds are, why they are important, and how an understanding of them can be used to exploit opponents at the poker table.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Let’s dive right in!

What Are Pot Odds?

Pot odds are the ratio of the pot size to the bet you must call to either see the next card or to go to showdown.  

Here’s a simple example of pot odds.

The pot is $100 on the turn.  Your opponent bets $100.  You must call $100 to see the next card.  Your pot odds are 2 to 1.  

Do you see how we got there?

With a pot of $100, when you add your opponent’s bet of $100, you get a pot of $200.  You must call $100 to see the next card.  The ratio of the pot to the bet you must call is 2 to 1.

Simple.  Easy.

Why Pot Odds Are Important

Pot odds are important because they help you answer the most important question in poker.  

Is it a good bet or a bad bet?  Let’s look at that question and see how pot odds help us answer it.

Is It a Good Bet or a Bad Bet?

Decisions in poker ultimately come down to whether you are making a good bet or a bad bet.  

What makes a good bet?  

That would be a bet that rewards you in the long run.  

Similarly, a bad bet would be a bet that costs you money in the long run.  

To understand this best, let’s start outside the world of poker.

Let’s start with a simple coin flip.

coin flip

Assuming an honest coin and an honest toss, you have an even chance of a flipped coin landing on heads or tails.  

On average, over time, for every heads you get, you’ll get a tails.  Pick one, heads or tails, and you have a 50-50 chance of being right.  

That’s called even odds.

Accordingly, if you are a betting person, the true odds – the fair price – the correct betting odds on that proposition would be to pay you an amount equal to the amount you bet if you are correct.  

Bet $1 with me on heads; I pay you $1 if it’s heads; you pay me $1 if it’s tails.  

That would be a fair bet.  

Over time, neither of us would stand to win any money, as the betting proposition is equal to the odds the event would happen.  The gambler in you might ask, “What’s the point?”

But now imagine a casino spreads that game for its patrons.  

The casino, looking to make money, doesn’t offer gamblers even odds of 1 to 1.  They want to take a bit for themselves.  

So they agree to pay you $.75 if you’re right, but they take $1.00 from you if you’re wrong.  

Bet $1 on heads?  Get back $1.75 when the coin is heads – your $1 plus $.75 from the house.  

If tails hits, on the other hand, you lose your dollar.  

That would be a bad bet for you, as you are only getting $.75 when you win, but losing $1 when you lose on an even proposition.  

Over time, if you made that bet repeatedly, you would eventually lose all your money. 

On the other hand, that would be a good bet for the casino.  They get $1 when they are right; and they only give $.75 when they are wrong.  Over time, they will win money on that proposition.

Put another way, the drawing odds of the bet are 1 to 1, but the pot odds only pay out at 3 to 4

Any time the payout is less than the actual odds of something occurring, that is a bad bet – and it will lose you money in the long run.  Any time the payout is more than the actual odds of something occurring, that is a good bet – and it will gain you money in the long run.

Remember

In poker, you should always be looking for bets that are good, while avoiding bets that are bad.

Pot Odds in Poker

In poker, situations frequently arise that are similar to the coin flip.  

There are the odds that an event will happen (called “drawing odds”) and there are the odds that you are offered to be paid if you win.  

Those are pot odds. 

When the pot odds are greater than the drawing odds, you have a good bet and you should take it.  When the pot odds are less than the drawing odds, you have a bad bet and should avoid it.

Let’s take a simple example.  

It’s the turn.  The pot is $100.  You are drawing for a flush. 

You presume that if your flush comes in you will win.  And if it doesn’t come in you will lose.

With the pot of $100, your opponent, who presumably is ahead of you and will win if your flush does not come in, bets $100.  You have to decide whether or not to call.  

You should be thinking, “Is this a good bet or a bad bet?” 

You know the pot odds are 2 to 1 ($100 in the pot plus $100 bet, makes $200 you will win if you win.  And you must call $100 to see the next card.  $200 win to $100 call is 2 to 1 pot odds.)

So you know the pot odds are 2 to 1.  

But what are the odds you will draw your flush?  If they are better than 2 to 1 it’s a good bet.  If they are worse (“longer” is the term that is generally used), then it’s a bad bet.

As it turns out, you will make your flush only about 20% of the time.  

Your “drawing odds” (the odds of you drawing the flush), are roughly 4 to 1 against you.  With pot odds paying you only 2 to 1 and drawing odds of roughly 4 to 1 against you, that makes the drawing odds longer than the pot odds, meaning this is a bad bet. 

You should decline the bet and fold.

But now let’s imagine that the pot was $600 on the turn, and your opponent bet the same $100.  

In that case, the pot would be $700 ($600 plus his bet of $100); and you could call for $100.  

That would give you pot odds of $700 to $100 – simplified as 7 to 1.  The drawing odds would still be the same, at roughly 4 to 1. 

When the pot odds are more than your drawing odds, that makes it a good bet.  

While you might not draw your flush on this particular hand; over time, you will do so one time for every four you miss.  

This means it’s a good bet, you will make money on it in the long run, and you should make the call. 

Not all situations are as simple as that.  But that’s the essence of it. 

You need to know your pot odds in order to know whether calling is a good bet or a bad bet.

Odds and Outs in Poker

I referred to drawing odds above. 

 In the example I gave, a player was drawing for a flush.  I mentioned that the odds of making the flush on the next card were roughly 4 to 1.  

But how do you know what your drawing odds are?

As mentioned earlier, drawing odds are the odds of drawing or making a certain hand.  

You should know how to compute it, as there are many different situations you will face, each requiring you to know or at least calculate quickly what your drawing odds are.

Calculating Drawing Odds

Drawing odds is the ratio of possible cards that will make your hand compared to the cards that will not make your hand. 

For these purposes we consider all unseen cards - whether remaining to be dealt or already dealt but left unseen – to be the same.  

Since we can’t know whether a card has been dealt, unseen to another player, or is undealt and remaining in the undealt cards, we treat them all the same.  

We calculate this by subtracting the visible cards from the entire deck of 52.  

In hold’em, on the turn, there are 46 unseen cards, as we subtract the seen cards - the 2 cards in your hand and the 4 cards on the board --  from the 52 total cards in the deck.  

This leaves 46 unseen cards.

From there, we then compare the cards that make our hand to the cards that don’t.

With a flush draw, we need a suited card.  

From the suit of 13, we have seen four suited cards (two in our hand and two on the board), leaving us with 9 unseen suited cards.  

9 of the remaining 46 cards will help us, 37 will not help us - a ration of roughly 1 to 4.  

This is generally expressed as odds against us making the hand – or roughly 4 to 1 against.

You can do this with any draw.  Think about a straight draw.  With an open-ended straight draw there are 8 cards that help us – 4 each of the two ranks that complete the straight.  

Therefore, 8 cards out of 46 help us; 38 don’t help us.  That’s nearly 5 to 1 against us.  

Shortcut for Calculating Drawing Odds

shortcuts for pot odds

But there’s a shortcut that works faster and easier – and is almost as accurate.  

It’s the 2 and 4 method of calculating drawing odds. 

With one card to come, on the turn for example, just count the cards that make your hand (called “outs”) and multiply by 2 to figure out your odds of making the hand.  With two cards to come, multiply by 4.

  • Flush draw on the turn?  9 outs.  Multiply by 2.  18% chance of making your hand.  
  • On the flop?  Two cards to come. Multiply by 4.  36% chance of making the hand. 
  • Straight draw?  8 outs.  16% chance of making your hand.  On the flop?  Multiply by 4.  32% chance.  
  • Two pair drawing to make a full house?  4 outs. 8% chance.  On the flop, 16%.

This is especially useful when you have combo draws.  

Imagine you hold the Ah Kh with a board of Jh Ts 2h.  9 hearts and 3 additional Queens give you 12 outs (True, there are four Queens, but we don’t want to count the Queen of hearts twice, so we only add 3 straight draw outs to the 9 flush draw outs).  

On the flop, multiply by 4 for a 48% chance of making either a straight or a flush.

Simple and easy.  I use it all the time to calculate my drawing odds.

Pot Odds on the Flop and Pre-flop

We looked at pot odds on the turn.  You could similarly use pot odds on the turn, flop, or even pre-flop in the same way to determine whether you’re making a good bet or a bad bet.  

Compare the pot odds to the odds that you’ll get a winning hand.  

If the pot odds pay you better than the odds of drawing your hand on the next two or three streets, then it’s a good bet.

On the flop, for example, if your opponent bets $20 into a $50 pot, and you estimate, based on your hand and the range you put him on, to have an even chance of winning the hand, then you should call the bet (and maybe raise based on the circumstances).  

You’re getting pot odds of 5 to 2, with a payout of 1 to 1 (even money).  So, since your pot odds are better than your drawing odds, you should surely be willing to take the bet.

Pot Odds on the River

Pot odds are critically important on helping you figure out whether a call is a good or bad bet on the river.  But your calculations are slightly different. 

Here’s what you need to consider.

On the river, there are no more cards to come.  You no longer are calculating your drawing odds.  

Accordingly, you won’t be comparing your pot odds to your drawing odds.

Instead, on the river, you are estimating the chances that you hold the better hand, and comparing that to the pot odds that you have calculated.

Here’s a simple example of that.

For whatever reason, on the river, you have a hand that you estimate can only beat a bluff.  

Your opponent makes a $100 bet into a $300 pot.  You have to decide whether it makes sense to call the $100 bet.  Do you make the call?

First, you calculate that you are getting 4 to 1 pot odds.  If you call and win the pot, you will get $400.  

If you call and lose the pot you will lose that $100 call.  

Then, you need to consider the chances that you will win the bet.  You are not certain that your opponent is bluffing

If you were, you would call any bet he made.  

But you don’t have to be certain of a bluff to call.  You just have to think you have a better than 4 to 1 chance of catching your opponent bluffing. 

That’s 20% of the time.  

If you’re better than 20% sure they’re bluffing then you should make the call.  

While you may be wrong most of the time, as long as you are right that he is bluffing more than 20% of the time, your call will win you money in the long run.

This frequently comes up in limit poker, when the bets and raises are specified and limited for all rounds of betting.  

In a $10/20 limit hold’em game, for example, pots are usually many multiples of the size of the bet.  

Accordingly, a pot could be $300 by the last betting round.  

With players betting exactly and no more than the upper bet limit of $20, you’d have to be almost completely certain your opponent isn’t bluffing to justify a fold, because you’d be getting pot odds of 16 to 1 ($320 to $20) for your call.  

Put another way, if you called and you were wrong about your opponent’s hand, and he won, you’d be making a $20 mistake (the cost of the $20 bet you shouldn’t have called).  

But if you folded, and were wrong about your opponent’s hand, and he won, you’d be making a $320 mistake (the cost of the pot you would have won if you had called).  

In pot limit and no limit games, the final bet is often a very large percentage of the pot, making your decision-making more difficult and less automatic.  

You’ll have to weigh subjective considerations and try to give them a numeric value.  

I have a conversion chart below, for translating your “feelings” about how sure you are to numbers that you can use to compare your pot odds to the odds that you are beaten.

poker odds conversion chart

Absolutely, completely, and utterly certain that your opponent will win 100%
Almost completely sure. Sure beyond a reasonable doubt (but not 100% certain) 90%
Pretty darn sure 75%
A little more sure than not 60%
Completely unsure.  Could go either way.  A coin flip 50%

And then invert the percentages based on how sure you are that your opponent will lose.

Complicating Factors: Pot Odds and Multi-way Pots

It is not always this easy to compare pot odds to drawing odds of how certain you are that you’ll lose on the river.  

There are complicating factors that make it more difficult.  

This is a good thing for you, the thinking poker player; because it will mean that your less skilled opponents will make more mistakes than you, winning you money in the long run.

Implied Odds

Pot odds are the odds that you have at the time the bet is being considered.  

With a pot of $100 and a bet of $100 you have 2 to 1 pot odds on a call.  

That works fine on the river, since you know the final size of the pot.  But that doesn’t tell the full story on prior betting streets, since there may be more money you can win on bets made on future rounds of betting.

On the turn, for example, facing a $100 bet and a $200 pot, a thoughtful player might consider not just the size of the pot then, on the turn, but the money they may eventually win on the river if their hand hits, they bet, and their opponent calls their bet.  

Taking that future money into consideration is called “implied odds”.  

It complicates matters because it is at least a somewhat unknown number.  

On the turn, you really don’t know how much money you can win on the river, if you hit your hand.  

You don’t know, for example, if you hit your flush and bet, whether your opponent will fold or call your bet.  

Take the example above.  

The pot’s $100.  Your opponent, whom you presume is leading you, bets $100.  You’re on a flush draw.  You see that your opponent and you are both relatively deep, with $1,000 stacks. 

Should you call the $100 bet?  

You’re only getting 2 to 1 on your call.  Your drawing odds are a little worse than 4 to 1 against you.  That would indicate that a call would be folly.  But then you think of the implied odds.  

Maybe your opponent will call for their whole stack if you hit your flush and shove.  Then you’d win not just the pot of $200, but another $1,000 besides.  

That would give you 12 to 1 implied odds – meaning a call would be a no-brainer.

But how sure are you that you can squeeze another $1,000 out of your opponent? 

Most of the time, probably, if a third flush card hits on the river, and if you bet your entire stack of $1,000, your opponent will conclude you hit a flush and will fold.  

If that’s the case you’ll win nothing more.

But maybe if you’re seen as a wildman, if your image at the table is one of a raving betting lunatic, who might make a shove on the river with any two cards, you might pull it off.  

But what’s your image really like?  

If you’re seen as even moderately tight, your opponent is going to have to give you some credit for betting when the river makes a flush possible.  

They’re most likely to fold to any serious bet you make.  

On the other hand, maybe a wild shove from you, an otherwise sane looking player, might be perceived as a desperate attempt to buy the pot, being so much larger than the typical bet you’d make with a flush.  

Maybe you might get your opponent to call, after all.  

You should make a few quick calculations to see if the call on the turn makes sense.  

How often does your river shove have to win to provide you with sufficient implied odds to justify the call on the turn?  

You’d need to be confident of winning a little more than $200 more on the river, that would be 20% of a $1000 river shove, to bring those pot odds up to better than 4 to 1, to justify making the draw.  

Do you think it likely that your opponent will call a river shove at least 20% of the time?  

There are other ways of squeezing money out of your opponent on the river if you hit your hand.  

You don’t have to shove.  Maybe a smaller bet will do the trick.  

You’ll need to do the calculations about that as well to see if you have sufficient implied odds.  

Do you think they’ll call a $400 bet more than 50% of the time? A $200 bet 100% of the time?  If not, then your implied odds aren’t sufficient either, and you should fold to their bet on the turn.

As you can see, a consideration of implied odds complicate matters.

Multi-player Pots

The examples above were based on heads up competition.  But not all pots are competed heads up.  

Sometimes there are two or more remaining opponents.  

That also complicates matters, since you cannot be nearly as sure about the eventual size of the pot, or the size of the bet you’ll need to call to see the next card, when then there are players to act after you.  

When the pot is three-or-more-handed, you must do the best you can to estimate the size of the pot you will win, the amount of money you’ll need to see the next card or reach showdown, as well as the relative strength of your hand against two or more villains.

Let’s stick with the example we’ve been using – a flush draw on the turn.  

Against one opponent who has been leading the whole way, we’ve easily calculated pot odds by adding an opponent’s bet to the pot, and then compared the size of our call to that pot.  

$100 pot and an opponent’s $100 bet gave us 2 to 1 odds.  An opponent’s $50 bet into a $100 pot gives us 3 to 1 odds.  That’s simple and easy.

But with a third opponent, acting after us for example, the calculation is more tenuous.  

An opponent bets $100 into a $100 pot, making the pot $200 when the bet comes to us.  

But with a third opponent, who might call or raise after we call, the pot might easily become $300.  

Similarly, they might raise after we call, enlarging the pot and increasing the amount we’ll have to put into the pot to see the next card.  

We need to consider those possibilities as well when we weigh the pot odds.

As you can see, having more than one opponent in the hand can complicate matters.

Conclusion

Pot odds are the simple ratio of the size of the pot and the amount you must call to either see the next card or reach showdown.  

When your pot odds are better than your drawing odds, you have a good bet. 

When your pot odds are worse than your drawing odds, you generally have a bad bet.  

Even so, there are sometimes factors, such as implied odds, and multi-way pots, that make the comparison more complicated than it might initially appear to be.  

This is a good thing for the thoughtful and dedicated player, as they will do better at figuring out the correct action, giving them more opportunities to win money from their less intellectually rigorous opponents.

For more useful information about figuring out and using pot odds to your advantage please check out the Academy guides written by our poker pro, Ashley Adams.

 

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Ashley Adams

Ashley Adams

Professional Poker Player

About Ashley Adams

  • Author of 3 poker strategy books, including "Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day" (D&B Poker, 2020) and Winning No-Limit Hold’em;
  • Over 5 decades of playing poker, starting in 1963 and turning pro in 1993;
  • Prolific poker writer with over 1,000 poker articles to his name for well-known publications like 888 and PokerNews;
  • Has played poker in all 50 US States and 27 countries;
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Vlad Mihalache

Vlad Mihalache

Online Gambling and Slots Specialist

About Vlad Mihalache

  • Accomplished content strategist and editor with over 6 years of experience in the iGaming industry;
  • Specializes in blackjack strategies, slots, and gambling addiction;
  • Online gambling expert with 2500+ articles written and reviewed;
  • Strong advocate for responsible gambling with comprehensive knowledge of gambling trends and addiction.
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