Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stupid/System 005: Managing Pot Odds

Here's a common situation in poker, and one you will face often if you play according to this book:

It's about halfway through the second hour of a large-field live tournament. You're in early position with Qd8h and have limped to see a cheap flop with a solid hand. One other player has also limped after you, when a player from the cutoff raises it four times the big blind. The blinds fold to you. What do you do?

A lot of people immediately fold here. If you've been reading this book to this point, you feel nothing but pity for these people. In spots like this, you have to be a courageous, smart poker player, and remember the two most important rules of solid play: (1) Use of the ATC strategy through the guidance of the Gap Principle, and (2) managing your pot odds.

We've already covered the Gap Principle, which states that if you call a raise you have a stronger hand than if you just call the big blind. This is a very basic point, which was made by noted freak and Famous Math Guy Derran Sklansky, but it bears repeating: There is no easier way for you to make your hand strong than to call a big bet.

Remember, what do weak hands do? They fold.

What do strong hands do? They call.

What do bluffers do? They raise.

OK? So now, you should see your situation clearly. You face a raise. Raise = bluff, therefore your opponent is bluffing. If you fold then you have shown weakness and are 100% to lose the hand. If you yourself re-raise, then you are the one bluffing and must be called. But if you call, you have shown strength. The key of poker is to be the one to call, and thus according to that math guy, to have the hand of greatest strength.

So, you must obviously call. The more savvy reader may have noticed that this seems to go counter to earlier instruction. "Hold on a minute, you baffling turkey!" you may be screeching, "If you call, won't you see an out-destroying FLOP???" Very good! But remember, even more important than hitting the outs is making sure you have the strongest hand! You know how good Queen eight is if you've learned to count your preflop outs, and now by calling you can ensure that your hand is the strong one, while your opponent's is an obvious bluff. This is known in poker-pro-speak as 'defining your hand.'

[Brief aside: Use poker-pro-speak whenever possible. For example, call your Queen-eight 'the gay snowman' as often as possible, if you want to impress your table with your insider knowledge. If they know they're dealing with a pro, they are more likely to accord your bets with some respect. See the chapter on Table Image for more information.]

The other factor that insists on a call here are the pot odds. Nothing in the great sport of poker is more important than pot odds. Tattoo "Pot Odds" on the insides of your eyelids. Name your first six sons "Pot Odds." Airbrush a valkyrie in chain mail underwear on the side of your van, and name her mystical flaming sword "Pot Odds." Do not forget the pot odds. Dream about the pot odds. Carve your name and "Pot Odds" into a tree. Compare pot odds to a summer's day. Buy a farm, grow wheat, turn the wheat into cereal, box the cereal, distribute it, and name the cereal "Pot Odds". Eat that cereal every single day of your life, with organic milk.

There are two pot odds.

(1) The first pot odd is the amount of money you need to put into the pot to make sure that you have to play the hand. This pot odd is called "pot commitment.' If you aren't committed to playing, you are doomed to failure.

(2) The second pot odd is the odds that you will win a given pot. If you fold, the odds are zero. In this case, there are two of you in the pot, so your odds to win are 50%.

Having called, you see a flop of QsJsTs.

Excellent! This is a very favorable flop for you, and your only question is how to get all your chips into the pot without pooping yourself.

OK. OK. OK. This is totally awesome.

But before you make a move, run through both pot odds.

First, you need to bet enough to be thoroughly committed to the hand. A good rule of thumb here is ten times the size of the pot, or half your chips, whichever comes first.

On to the second odd. You need to consider your chances to win the pot. Since you have hit a straight draw and have top pair also, there's no way you can lose. Your pot odd has leapt from 50% to 100%. Note that your opponent raised, so he was bluffing, and you called, indicating the better hand, so even if the flop had missed you entirely, you'd probably have a pot odd of about 55% to 70%.

You bet half your chips and your opponent thinks for nearly a minute until you call the clock on him. FINALLY he pushes all in.

If you don't call in this spot, I'll personally come to your house to have you eaten by a yak.

You call (obviously), and your opponent tables 9s9h. A couple more cards come and you take the pot.

Your opponent tells you 'nice hand.' He says it in a weird kind of way, but whatever. You have lots of chips! Everybody at your table is laughing pretty hard, which means they've been drinking (This is known as a 'tell.') You should be able to win this thing easily.


BWoP said...

Now I get it!

jjok said...

total and complete sense. please post more analysis and teachings.


Bodog players

Buddy Dank said...

I need MORE! MORE!! Teach me oh wise one!

Astin said...

Thanks Goat. Thanks a WHOLE FRAKKIN' BUNCH. Now everyone will see right through my Mookie stragedy for tonight and I won't get as many chips as I could!

Will there be a chapter on implied pot odds? These are very valuable to my game, because I often imply I have the best hand, which implies I'll be taking the pot.

Zerbet said...

Please stop telling everyone how to beat everyone else!

Soon all the good games will dry up and we will have to go back to that rigged Full Tilt site!

Cake Poker players

Dr. Pauly said...

Sensational fodder. I like what you are doing over here. Keep up the good work.