Many players make the mistake of assuming that if they improve their hand they will win. For example, they hold AK with a flop of T95 and decide that the pot odds justify drawing to an ace or kingMatthew Hilger is a professional poker player and respected author. In addition to the many articles on his own website, he writes columns for CardPlayer magazine, PokerPages.com and PokerinEurope.com. Matthew's next book, Texas Hold'em Odds and Probabilities: Limit, No-Limit and Tournament Strategies, will be released in June 2006. Matthew's website is www.internettexasholdem.com
which is approximately 7 to 1 to improve on the next card. The problem with this reasoning is that your opponents might already have you beat or the card that improves your hand could improve your opponent’s hand to an even better hand.
For example, in this particular hand, you are in trouble if your opponent holds TT, 99, 55, T9, QJ (the king gives them a straight), AT, A9, A5, KT, etc. Note that all of these are hands that opponents typically play. If you are against any of these hands, you either have practically no chance of winning or a very slim one. Although you are 7 to 1 against improving your hand, the odds are much worse that you will actually win. Drawing to outs that won’t help you win is our 2nd major mistake of online players (as well as players in live games). Let’s elaborate a little on applying odds in a poker game with some definitions.
An out is an important concept when discussing probability and odds. An out is a card that improves your hand. For example, when you hold two hearts and there are two hearts on the board, you need one more heart for a flush. There are nine remaining hearts or “outs” to improve your hand. If you have Ah Th and you think another ace would also win the hand, you now have 12 outs: the nine hearts and the three remaining aces.
An out is counterfeited when a card that improves your hand gives an opponent an even better hand. For example, you could be hoping for a flush card only to lose to a higher flush or maybe even a full house. You could hit an overcard only to lose to two pair, three of a kind, a straight, or a flush.
When applying odds, you should discount an out whenever there is a chance that you could improve but still lose the hand. Once you know the number of discounted outs that can win the hand, you can calculate the odds against improving to the winning hand to determine your best strategy. [Determining the number of discounted outs and calculating the odds is outside the scope of this article but is discussed in detail in my book Internet Texas Hold’em.].
How much you discount an out is dependent on how many players you are against and your read on your opponents’ possible holdings given the betting sequences in the hand. For example, you have three outs to an overcard ace and feel that you might win about 2/3 of the time against a lone opponent if you hit the ace; therefore, you would discount your three outs to two outs. However, against two opponents you might feel you will only win about 1/3 of the time, so you discount your three outs to one out. If you are against three or more opponents, you might feel that even with another ace, there is a high chance that you will not be able to win the pot. In this case, you should disregard the outs to the ace since you are drawing dead.
Drawing dead is when you cannot improve to the winning hand. This occurs when your opponents counterfeit all of your outs or already have a hand better than the one you are drawing to. For example, you might be drawing dead to two overcards if an opponent already has three of a kind, two pair, or your outs would give your opponent an even better hand.
Realize that the probability that your outs are counterfeited increases with the more opponents you are against. There are also different flop types which make it more likely that you need to discount or possibly even disregard your outs. For example, flops that contain two of the same suit or contain two-connected cards. In these types of situations, you might improve your hand only to see your opponent improving to a flush, straight, or two pair.
Another consideration when determining your outs on the flop is the possibility that you could improve on the turn only to see an opponent improve to an even better hand on the river. When drawing on the flop, you should discount your outs a little, and maybe a lot, for the probability that your opponents could draw to an even better hand on the river.
There are very few hands that are a lock to win on the turn. Nut flushes can lose to a full house if the board pairs on the river. The nut straight can lose to a flush on the river. Your two pair could lose to an opponent hitting a set. When the flop is two-suited, these types of situations occur often since there are a lot of river cards that could hurt your hand.
Most players complain about their bad luck when they improve on the turn only to lose on the river. Good players recognize that these types of situations occur a lot and include this possibility in their decision-making process. Borderline draws on the flop which on the surface appear to be close to break-even should often be folded for the possibility that you will lose on the river.
Understanding how to apply odds is critical to your success in Texas Hold'em
. Be sure that you are not drawing to outs that won’t help you win. We’ll look at an extension of this concept in our next article which is another common mistake when determining odds and one that I have received many questions about. How do you calculate and apply odds on the flop when there are two cards to come?
Mistake #3…Miscalculating Odds with Two Cards to Come