Understanding Outs in Poker and How to Calculate Them

Players of Texas Hold’em poker are pictured during a big private game. AFP PHOTO STEPHAN AGOSTINI

As Q (played by the late, great Desmond Llewelyn) said to James Bond while making his final appearance in The World Is Not Enough, always have an escape plan. There will be countless times at the poker table where you’ll try to get your opponent off a hand by bluffing, but they’ll refuse to fold; when this happens, chances are you’ll have to outdraw said opponent to win the hand. That’s very hard to do when you’re bluffing with complete garbage.

Ideally, you’ll instead have a drawing hand with plenty of outs, meaning plenty of cards left in the deck that can save your hide if your opponent calls (or raises) your bluff. And if Texas Hold’em is your game, it’s actually quite easy to count the number of outs you have – and to figure out your chances of completing that draw.

Paddling Outs

The first step in this game of incomplete information is to consider your two hole cards, and any community cards on the board. Let’s say you’ve been dealt the King of Hearts and the Ten of Spades, and the flop comes Qh-Js-3c. In this scenario, you will make a straight if the next card is an Ace or Nine. There are four of each in the deck, so you have eight outs to complete your open-ended straight draw. Now let’s say the flop is Ah-Js-3c. The only way you can make a straight this time is if you spike a Queen, which means you have four outs to complete your gutshot straight draw.

Here’s another flop: Ah-Jh-3h. You’ve still got those four outs to a gutshot, but you can also make a flush with another Heart on the turn. There are nine Hearts left in the deck – ah, but you’ve already counted the Queen of Hearts as an out, so you have eight more outs, for a total of 12. Counting outs like this can be done with pretty much every hand of Hold’em you’re dealt. If you’ve got a pocket pair pre-flop, you have two outs to make a set; if you have a pair on the flop, you have five outs to make two pair or better on the turn. The more you play, the more quickly you’ll see how many outs you have – but don’t be ashamed for now to pin a chart to your wall for easy reference if you’re playing online.

The Answer Is 4-2

Once you know how many outs you have, you can estimate your chances of completing by remembering the Rule of Four and Two. If you’re on the flop with two cards to come, multiply your outs by four, and that’s your chances in terms of percentage.

For example, an open-ended straight draw has eight outs, so you’ve got about a 32% chance of getting there. If you’re already on the turn with just one card, multiply your outs by two, and you get about 16%. With this information, you can make educated decisions about whether you should bluff – or whether you should call (or raise) if you’re on the other side of this scenario.

Give it some practice, and it will become second nature; in the meantime, this exercise demonstrates how dangerous it is to run “naked” bluffs with no outs to save you, and how valuable a good “semi-bluff” can be. Now, if we can only get a Bond film where they play a realistic session of Texas Hold’em.