Sunday, October 12, 2008

What are pot odds?

At a spread-limit hold'em table in Biloxi in 2004, a player got check-raised on the river in a large pot. I don't remember the hand at all, but I remember what the player said.

"The pot odds say I've got to call," he said.

He put in the bet, and sure enough the opponent who check-raised showed the nuts and raked the pot.

Then a snooty dealer felt the need to open his mouth.

"Those aren't pot odds. Pot odds are something else entirely," the dealer muttered with a sigh, as if he was finally fed up with listening to people speak like they knew what they were talking about.

I had only been studying poker for a few months at the time, so I didn't speak up.

More than four years later, I'm still convinced the dealer was wrong.

There are two primary uses of the term "pot odds," and both are valid:

1) "The amount in the pot weighed against the amount invested to continue playing," according to the PuntingAce poker glossary. Similar definitions can be found here.

In this sense of the term, pot odds are used to determine whether you should call a bet based on the chances of your hand improving before the river. For example, if you have a flush draw with one card to come and you only have to call a bet that's less than one-fifth of the pot size, it could be said that you have "pot odds" to continue.

2) "Pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of a contemplated call," according to Wikipedia.

This broader definition can be used to make a decision on the river. When you have to call $10 into a $40 pot, your pot odds are 4:1. If you believe you're good more than one in five times, you should call the small bet.

The second meaning is the one the Biloxi dealer objected to, but I can't see how his more limited interpretation of "pot odds" can possibly be the only correct one. Pot odds apply both when you're likely behind with a hand that could improve, and on the river when there's no further chance to hit.

I should have realized that dealers don't always know what they're talking about.


Rake Feeder said...

"Pot Odds" is perhaps the most often used excuse for a poor call. I hear it all the time at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

Regardless of the "Pot Odds", a bad hand is still a bad hand ...

spritpot said...

I agree with you, the dealer is wrong. The only difference is that on earlier streets you're dealing with both objective and subjective probabilities (i.e., uncertainty over both what cards will come out on future streets - objective probability - and what your opponent's cards are - subjective probability), whereas on the river you have only subjective probabilities to deal with. Sure top pair isn't a great hand if you get check/raised on the river, but if you're getting 20:1 on your money, as can be the case in a limit game, you should call if there's even a 5% chance your opponent is bluffing.