Odds: How Strong is Your Hands?
You are dealt A-J spades on the big blind. Someone raises, and you call. The flop comes Qh-10d-9s. What do you do? In an ideal world, the turn card would be a King, giving you the nut-straight. However, an 8 also gives you a straight. How do you figure out the strength of your hand?
The answer is by determining the odds of hitting your ideal cards, the cards that make you win. There are four Kings and four Eights in the deck, so you have eight outs. Outs are cards that give you the winning hand, probably. Remember that you do not know for sure what cards your opponents hold.
Is eight outs good? There are 52 cards in the deck, and you have seen five of them: your two hole cards A-J, and the flop Q-10-9. 52 cards take away 5 leaves 47 cards unseen. 8 cards out of those 47 give you a probable winner; therefore your odds of winning are 8/47 or roughly 1 in 6. At this point, you have to take into consideration the number of opponents who are still in the hand and the size of the pot.
Why? Because right now, even a 9 card beats you, so does any 10 or any Q, also someone may already have a straight by holding any J-8. Plus the person who raised pre-flop could have pocket Kings or some other monstrously large hand. At this point, you need to realize that if a Jack is dealt, you are a sure loser as someone will have a king and make the straight. Additionally, if an Ace is dealt, you will probably still lose to an A-K, A-Q, or A-10.
So is your hand bad? Certainly not, but you are looking for a straight, not Jacks nor Aces. One pair will probably not win. In order to stay in, you have to go back to that number 8/47 or 1/6. Realize that you could put money in the pot for both the turn card and the river card, and still end up losing to a pair of Nines. Now you have to use those numbers to decide what to do next. This is where the strategy becomes advanced.
You believe that if you hit your straight, by getting either a King or an Eight, you will definitely win but you realize that right now you have nothing. Based on 8/47 or 1/6, you need six bets to go into the pot to make it worth your while to stay in and hope for your King or Eight to hit. This could be five other callers or three callers in for a bet and a raise. Under those requirements, no-one would ever call the turn card; but you also get to count the money already in the pot right now. Therefore, based on the size of the pot, you decide to pay for the turn card, even if there was a bet and a raise after the flop.
Forty-seven different scenarios could happen with the turn card. If it is a King or an Eight, you have a likely winner and will bet as much as you can. If it is anything else, you will check. Remember that if it is a Jack or an Ace, you have a problem and if it is a Q, 10, or 9, you have a terrible problem. But what if it is a 7-6-5-4-3 or 2? You just paid for a card, and got no help. Do you pay for the river?
Again, you need to go back to your odds 8/47 or 1/6. If someone else has bet the flop or the turn, they have you beat right now. You need to catch. A terrible mistake that many players make is what is called "being married to a hand". This means that you tell yourself that you have put so much money in already, that you are not folding - no matter what. All this attitude does is cause you to lose more money than necessary. Money you might need later when you have four of a kind! Look at the pot again. Is it five times as large as what you are about to add to it? How many opponents are still in? Are any of them betting aggressively?
In order to call, you need to expect to win five times what you are putting in. For example, to call $12, the pot needs to have a minimum of $60 in it already. Otherwise, calling is a waste of money. The reason is because only one of 46 cards remains to be dealt, and if 8 make you win, then 38 make you lose. You are almost five times more likely to lose than you are to win. Notice how when you decided what to do with the turn card, you looked at how likely you were to win; but with the river card you have to look at how likely you are to lose. Why? Because all you have is Ace High! Again, any pair beats you. Some crazy player in with pocket deuces is still beating you, and believe me, it does happen.
If there are less than five times the bet in the pot, our advice to you, based on the odds, is to fold. But, you shout, you have already put four small bets in the pot! This reaction is the essence of "being married to a hand". The reality is that "the cards play", meaning you have diddley-squat. Hey, you can still try to steal the pot by bluffing and betting into your opponent, but why not save your money for a hand that has a better chance of winning? The purpose of figuring out your odds is to help you decide how much money to wager on any given hand. Right now, the odds are telling you that you are gambling, playing on superstition because you "feel lucky" or simply calling because you are stub-bom. Why not just throw your money into the toilet and flush it?
The wise poker player folds, and the King comes on the river. Arrgh! Take comfort in the fact that 38 out of 46 times or 82.6% of the time, you would be right to fold. Remember that you are learning to play a very complicated game of strategy and luck, and it will sometimes punch you in the stomach.