Ins and Outs : Understanding Poker Odds
The reasons for this are multiple and not easy to lay out in simple statistical terms. They include such factors as the fact a player will often bluff when on a draw; i.e. by raising a measly bet on the flop, one can sometimes "buy" a free card (or even a fold) if the raise encourages the opponent to check the turn out of fear they are up against a better hand. You can essentially be paid off here simply on the value of your drawing hand, despite possessing nothing more than Ace high. There is also a significant chance that any flop bet by your opponent is a bluff anyway, so even a bet which is merely called may result in a check by one's opponent on the turn too. Finally, there is the issue of "implied odds". Implied odds are similar to pot odds, only they take into account the possibility of making larger, pot-building bets later should one's flush or straight draw actually hit. For instance, in the above situation, the implied odds are what you need to call at the flop compared to how big the pot will be at the end of the hand. It is for these reasons that the odds of hitting one's flush or straight draw are assessed as the potential outcome over two cards, not one.
Over Cards and Drawing Dead
Odds are not always as clear-cut as the examples listed above suggest. On occasions, one can be drawing to more than one hand, i.e. a flush draw and a straight draw, at the same time. This is a very strong position to be in. Even though one's hand is not yet "made", you are more likely to complete a flush or a straight than to make nothing. One also needs to consider the issue of "over" cards. An over card is any hole card that is higher than the cards already on board on the flop. Take the first flush draw example listed above. You are holding an Ace and 10 of hearts and the flop has provided:
9h 2h 8c
Although our primary draw is toward a nut flush, the appearance of an ace or a ten will give us top pair, which stands a decent chance of winning the hand too. Although a mere pair is by no means as assured a hand as a flush, if you believe you are up against a hand such as King 8 or King 9 you essentially have 6 more outs in terms of becoming leader in the hand. Whether you utilize these odds in conjunction with those drawing toward the flush depends on the read you have on your opponents. Poker is a game of probability but also psychology, so getting a read on an opponent can be just as profitable, if not more so, than knowing one's basic Mathematical outs. If you put your opponent on two pair or trips, then clearly hitting a pair, even top pair, will not assist you. Similarly, suppose the next card out of the deck was the 8 of diamonds so the board now appears like this:
9h 2h 8c 8d
You have not hit your flush, but a pair is now on board. This means someone could potentially have a full house so pursuing this hand, even with the pot odds in your favour, may be an unwise move. If your opponent already possesses a full house, you are essentially "drawing dead", i.e. drawing towards completing a hand that has already been defeated by a better one. Similarly, if you are on a straight draw and the board is paired or a third suited card appears on the turn, you are in a highly precarious position and may well be drawing dead against a superior flush or full house
Poker requires an array of skills, of which an astute awareness of the changing nature of odds is only one. The ability to infiltrate one's opponents mental states and get a read of them via their betting patterns is just as crucial as a sound knowledge of probability. An awareness of odds and the ability to put them into practice in live play will certainly tighten up your game and erase the purely Mathematical errors, but it cannot reveal to you a well-timed bluff or give you the mental astuteness to adapt your table image and keep your opponents guessing.
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