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The Delicate Nature of Pot Odds and Implied Odds

Introduction

Pot odds are one of the first things that players learn about in poker, and they’re usually quickly followed by a brief study of implied odds and reverse implied odds. Unfortunately, a lot of what’s considered common knowledge about these topics really sets you up to fail in a lot of ways, and most players don’t come to terms with that until they’re well into the small stakes portion of their career.

This is because, mathematically speaking, pot odds and implied odds are very delicate, and a very small error can cause a big change in your EV.

Our goal here is to re-educate you on these topics in a way that will help you to avoid the common mistakes that put people in bad situations over and over again.

Pot Odds Are Weird

The relationship between percentages and odds means that pot odds are just plain weird in a lot of cases. Odds of 1:1 to 2:1 to 3:1 is a difference from 50 percent to 33 percent to 25 percent. Those are some pretty substantial differences. However, odds of 4:1 to 5:1 is only 20 percent to 16.7 percent, which is hardly anything when you take into consideration how off we can be with our estimations of the ratio of our actual bet to the pot in front of us.

Along these lines, what we want to point out here first is that odds in general are easy to make mistakes with because a small change in percentage can mean a big change in what the odds mean. And when these odds are wrong, we’re much more prone to making big mistakes.

Two Major Mistakes

In addition to the fact that pot odds by themselves are weird and prone to error, there are two other big mistakes that players make over and over again with drawing hands: over-estimating implied odds and ignoring reverse implied odds.

A lot of players have this weird belief where they think hitting draws will always pay off, but they don’t seem to think they’ll pay off their opponents when they hit a second-best hand.

Here’s a quick example. Suppose you have Qs9s on a board of Js7s7dKc, and you’re facing a bet from a single opponent. You may think that having a queen-high flush draw is a pretty good hand, but most players aren’t going to notice how ridiculously weak their hand is overall. No only do we lose to JJ, 77, 44 and KK even when we catch a spade, but we also lose to ace-high and king-high flush draws that are double-barreling the turn (which is a good card to barrel in both cases). On top of that, but you lose to 7x a significant percentage of the time as well.

Quantifying the Bad

Unfortunately, most people aren’t trying to quantify these factors to see how they mitigate the +EV they assume they have from the times they hit a spade and win. Even if you do have this +EV to some degree, the fact of the matter is that it’s hardly ever going to be enough to turn a profit with this much going against you. We’re going to give you an example for you to think about right here.

If you’ve read the EV Calculations Tutorial series from this weekly column, then you’ll know how to calculate the EV of the call in the following scenario:

  • You’re heads-up on the turn. Your opponent bets $4 into a pot of $6.
  • You have a non-nut flush draw.
  • When you miss on the river, you always lose the hand.
  • A total of 90 percent of the time you hit on the river, you’ll pick up an extra $7 of value in addition to the money already in the pot.
  • A total of 10 percent of the time you hit on the river, you’ll lose an extra $18 of value.

I leave this as homework for players in the thread for this week’s post. The goal is to find the EV of the call and to compare that to the more optimistic (and unrealistic) EV calculation someone might make if they were ignoring reverse implied odds and over-estimating their own implied odds.

Compensating for Our Weaknesses

As human beings, we tend to have certain weaknesses, and we need to learn to compensate for those tendencies at the poker table if we want to see much success. I’ve laid out three main weaknesses here:

  1. The math weakness that’s inherent in our estimations at the table.
  2. Almost always thinking our implied odds are better than they actually are.
  3. Almost always thinking our reverse implied odds aren’t as bad as they are.

One way to compensate for these weaknesses and to try to mitigate their effects is to look at math-based explanations and EV breakdowns of scenarios like the above. If you also incorporate the rake, you’re going to get a much more accurate picture of just how favorable you need a situation to be to call down with draws (especially heads-up).

An Important Lesson

Something that’s really important to notice here is that these draws aren’t affected by these weaknesses nearly as much when you’re the player being aggressive. Passive play is where these weaknesses come out the most, and playing aggressively with your draws (as opposed to check/calling) can get you much better results. However, if you do have to play in a passive way, then you should know that you’re losing a lot of value by simply not folding in a lot of cases.

Overall, I hope that players really get something out of this, but I know most of you won’t because it’s too difficult to accept your own weakness. Instead, you’ll try to talk yourself into how right you are, and you’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over while wondering why you aren’t getting any better results from poker.

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