BY RUSS SCOTT
SEPTEMBER 15, 2009
NEW CARD ROOM PLAYER SHOULD AT LEAST KNOW BASIC HOLD’EM ODDS
This week, a newcomer to card room poker asks how important math is in playing Texas hold’em. Let’s crunch some numbers.
Q: I’ve been playing poker in home games for years, but just started playing hold’em in a local card room about a month ago. I hear players talking about odds and outs at the table, but just how important is that stuff? — Brian H. in the Illinois Quad-Cities.
A: For a player stepping up to live play in a formal setting against strangers, knowing hold’em math might be the most critical factor.
As a card room rookie, you shouldn’t be overly worried about results. However, you do need a solid game approach rather than just playing without a strategy. Your opponents’ experience puts you at a disadvantage if you don’t have a plan.
Two key elements for solid play are knowing the odds and “reading” the opposition. One month’s playing time isn’t long enough to get a good feel for your opponents’ tendencies, so a strong grip on the game’s math is especially vital for you right now.
The good news is you don’t have to be a math whiz to play a solid game “by the numbers.”
There are situations that repeat regularly in hold’em, Brian. Knowing the math of these circumstances at least provides a reasonable basis for deciding when to call, raise or fold for someone new to card rooms.
You should memorize the odds for these starting-hand situations:
* Pair against an opponent’s two lower cards: The pair is about a 5-1 favorite.
* Pair against two higher cards: The pair is favored about 55 to 45. This is known as a “race.”
* Higher pair against a lower pair: The higher pair is about a 4.5-1 favorite.
* Two higher cards against two lower cards: The higher cards are favored about 5-3.
* Improving a pocket pair to three of a kind on the flop: 12 percent.
* Improving a no-pair hand to one pair on the flop: 32 percent.
* Improving suited cards to a flush draw with two cards of your suit on the flop: 11 percent.
After the flop, unless you’ve hit a monster, you’ll need to calculate your number of ”outs” — community cards yet to come that would improve your hand into a likely winner.
Each card that’s a true “out” for you has about a 2.1 percent chance of hitting on either the turn or river. Here are some common situations:
Improving two pair to a full house or hitting an inside straight — 4 outs; hitting a pair with two overcards in your hand — 6 outs; hitting an open-ended straight — 8 outs; hitting a flush draw — 9 outs.
Since you won’t know the strength of your opponent’s hand, you can use math to help decide whether to continue playing a drawing hand which you think will win if you hit.
For example: In general, when you flop an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw, if the bet you must call is no more than one-fourth of the amount of chips already in the pot, then you have the correct “pot odds” (4-1) to stay in the hand for another card.
There are many online sites that offer in-depth lists of hold’em odds (just search “calculating poker odds”). You don’t have to memorize every number, but make a “cheat sheet” of the most common situations and study that. Take your list with you to the poker room for reference as needed.
Playing by the numbers should keep you afloat, Brian, until you’ve got a good handle on your opponents and know when to trust your gut in making decisions at the table. Even then, you still should also do the math!
E-mail your poker questions and comments to email@example.com for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
COPYRIGHT 2009 RUSS SCOTT
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