by Lou Krieger
Even first-time players knows that poker is a game of odds, and while newbies might not be able to figure them, at least they realize that there’s a relationship between the chances of making a winning hand and how much money is in the pot.
But they probably don’t know much about the twin concepts of implied odds and reverse implied odds—which sound complex and foreboding, but are really nothing more than opposite sides of a slightly more sophisticated way of thinking about risk and reward at the poker table.
Implied odds offer a comparison of what you think you’ll win—including all the money in the pot right now, along with any additional money that figures to come into the pot through bets and calls on future wagering rounds—compared to the cost of a current bet. If this sounds somewhat less than a precise measure, you’re right. Unlike mathematical odds, implied odds involved estimating—or guessing—about the future action of your opponents. When you base a bet or a call on implied odds, you’re wagering not only on the odds related to making your hand, but also on your ability to forecast your opponents’ behavior when your hand comes in.
Suppose you flopped a flush draw, and with two cards to come, the odds against completing it are 1.86-to-1 against you. But without knowing how much money you figure to win if you have to call a bet to draw to your flush, you can’t tell whether it pays to stick around or not. After all, with the odds at nearly 2-to-1 against you, if all the pot offered was even money—you’d win as much as you contributed—it wouldn’t pay to keep drawing.
In poker, whenever the pot odds exceed the odds against making your hand, keep playing. When the cost to play is more than the money you figure to win, you should generally fold.
But implied odds can change that equation, and here’s why. While the current size of the pot might not be sufficient to make it worthwhile to take another card or two, if you reckon that the pot will grow substantially on future wagering rounds, your decision might be a different one.
Flush draws are pretty obvious, and most opponents will at least stop and ponder when an opponent who has been calling all along comes out betting when a third suited card hits the board. In other words, unless your opponent is a very loose and unthinking player, or figures you for bluff, implied odds with flush draws tend to be smallish, because that third suited card can put a serious damper on any forthcoming action.
Things are different when your hand is hidden. Because hidden hands are more deceptive, your opponent might not realize the strength of it and pay you off with a second-best hand.
Betting structures are important too. Pot-limit and nolimit games offer larger implied odds than fixed-limit games because of the potential for bigger wagers on subsequent betting rounds. But structure alone is meaningless without an understanding the playing style of your opponents. Passive opponents—the kind of players who call but rarely raise— increase your implied odds because you can draw inexpensively against them and count on getting paid off handsomely whenever you make your hand.
Players have to guard against self-deception when figuring implied odds. Because there’s a certain amount of subjectivity associated with them, some players get into trouble when they use implied odds to justify weak calls. You’ll learn what we mean next time.
Visit Lou Krieger online at www.loukrieger.com, where you can read his blog, and check out all of his books. Write directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.