Poker is ultimately a guessing game. You do have some information available to you – quite a lot, if you pay close attention. But this is a game of incomplete information, a game where you have to fill in the blanks and make the best decisions possible.
You can’t do this very well without understanding pot odds. Not too long ago in this space, we introduced the concepts of equity and pot odds; equity is your “share” of the pot, based on your chances of winning, and pot odds are the ratio between the size of the pot and the bet you’re facing. If your pot odds are good enough compared to your equity, you know you can at least call that bet. Raising might be the better play, but you’re definitely not going to fold.
Figuring out your equity still requires a bit of guesswork. Pot odds, on the other hand, are something you can calculate right there at the table. Let’s take a closer look at how pot odds work when you’re gambling at the great game of Texas Hold’em.
Round and Round
Again, you always have all the information you need to calculate pot odds when you’re facing a bet in Hold’em: You know the size of the bet and the size of the pot. Just divide the first by the second, and presto, there you have it.
Here’s an example: There’s $70 in the pot, and your opponent bets $30, bumping the pot up to $100. Your pot odds in this case are 30/100, or 30%. Now you can start making some educated guesses about what to do next. Do you have more than 30% equity in the hand? If so, you should continue. If not, you should fold.
Of course, doing the math won’t always be this easy. You’ll often have to work more crooked numbers, like a $37 bet and a $137 pot. But here’s the good news: Rounding off is okay. You don’t need to know your exact pot odds at this moment when you’re going to be making an educated guess anyway. Just pretend it’s a $35 bet and a $140 pot, leaving you with somewhere around 25% pot odds. The actual answer is 27.007% – close enough for government work.
If the thought of doing math like this makes you cringe, well, maybe Hold’em isn’t the right game for you. But you can still make your life a whole lot easier by playing Fixed-Limit Hold’em (aka Limit Hold’em for short) instead of No-Limit Hold’em. The simplified betting structure in Limit Hold’em means you don’t even have to know the dollar amounts in play to calculate your pot odds; you just need to count the number of bets that have been made.
In Limit Hold’em, you’ve only got two bet sizes to work with: the small bet pre-flop and on the flop, and the big bet on the turn and river. The big bet is exactly twice the size of the small bet. Each hand starts with the posting of the blinds, which add up to 1.5 small bets (for example, the blinds are $1 and $2 in a $2/$4 Limit game, where $2 is the small bet and $4 is the big bet). All you have to do from there is keep track of how many more bets have been made; just treat the big bet as two small bets to make things easier.
The other great thing about Limit Hold’em is that you’ll have the pot odds to continue a lot more often than you will in No-Limit Hold’em. That makes it a fun and lively game with lots of multi-way action, and multi-way scenarios haven’t been solved by computers nearly as well as heads-up poker. All this and much lower variance, too. Give Limit Hold’em a try – your bankroll will thank you for it.