I've watched enough poker on TV to see the players doing math in their heads, and the commentators mentioning that "they're getting 2-1 on their money," etc.
Is there a formula for determining the correct amount to bet on one's hand based solely on the size of the pot?
I realize that the game, position, stack size, hole cards etc. are important factors, but without making it that complicated, I'd like to learn basic betting math.
I sent your letter to best-selling author Bill Burton, the Golden Touch poker expert and Gambling Guide for About.com, for his response:
What the players are calculating is the pot odds based on the amount of "outs" they have to make their hand. You can see the Out Chart here: http://casinogambling.about.com/library/weekly/aa050103.htm.
Understanding the math of the game is very important to playing winning poker. You can have the identical hand and one time it will be correct to call and the next time it will be correct to fold. How can that be? The answer is the pot odds.
Many players have no concept of pot odds and how it can affect their profitability. They only look at their two cards to see if there is a chance that they could win. They don't understand the reasoning for playing drawing hands against a large field of opponents. Some hands that are profitable against many players will be a loser or breakeven hand with fewer players in the hand.
Let's look at an example to see how pot odds can affect your profitability. Every poker player has heard the advice to never draw to an inside straight. In many situations it is truly the correct advice, however not always.
You are playing in a $2/4 limit game. You hold the 10 and 9 of clubs. The board cards are Kd-7s-6h-2c. It will cost you $4 to see the river card.
The only card that can help you is an 8. There are four of them left in the deck. With your two hole cards and the four on the board you have seen six of the 52 cards in the deck so there are 46 unseen cards left. Four times you will catch the 8 and 42 times you won't so the odds are 42 to 4 or 10.5 against you. You get this figure by dividing 46 by 4 and you get 11.5. Subtract 1 and you have 10.5 to 1.
In order to make a call of $4 to try for an inside straight, the pot must contain $42 in order for you to break even and more than that if you want to make a profit. Here is where that figure comes from: You will lose $42 for the 10.5 times you don't catch an 8 ($4 bet x 10.5 = 42). The one time you do catch the 8 you will make money in the long run if the pot contains more than $42 and you will lose if the pot contains less than $42.
Pot odds is the relationship between the money in the pot and the price of a bet you must make to call. If the pot contains $44 and the size of the bet you must call is four dollars, we divide the $44 by $4 and we get 11, which means that the pot odds are 11 to 1. The odds against making an inside straight are 10.5 to 1, so the pot odds are greater than the odds against making your hand. You should call.
In a No Limit tournament it is a little more complex because if you lose the hand you can be knocked out of the tournament even though you were getting the correct odds to make the call. This is why you will see some player fold even when they are getting the correct odds to call. I hope this helps.
As you can see, Bill Burton certainly knows his stuff.
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