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Implied Odds and Reverse Implied Odds—Go Figure, PART 2 OF 3

by Lou Krieger
[Read Part 1]

Players often find trouble when they use implied odds to justify weak calls. Here’s why. Suppose you call a $10 bet on the turn in a $30 pot. Your immediate odds are 3-to-1 plus whatever implied odds you assign to the final betting round on the river. But unless your adversary is completely transparent or you have a terrific read on him, it’s all too easy to be overly optimistic—and therefore self-deceptive— about how much more money your opponent will be willing to invest in the pot if you make your hand. You might complete your hand on the river and try for a check raise only to have your opponent check behind you. You’ll probably win the showdown, but you would have won more if you wagered an amount your opponent would have called.

 So the checkraise failed. Next time you’re in this situation suppose you bet a large amount instead of trying for a checkraise. You’re hoping your opponent thinks you’re bluffing and will call. But instead, he ponders for a moment and then releases his hand. Would a smaller bet—presumably one sized to easily attract a call—have worked better? Or would this have been the time to try for a checkraise? You just can’t be certain, and this is the part of poker that’s an art, not a science. Let’s back this up a bit. Before you decide to play your draw on those earlier betting rounds, you need to have some idea about what your opponent will do when you complete your hand.

 If your opponent is willing to call big bets on the river, you can take a short price on the turn because you know that when you make your hand, the payoff will more than exceed all those times you drew, failed to get there, and either folded or bluffed the river only to have your opponent call and win the pot. But if your opponent is the kind who hunkers down whenever a scare card hits the board, a better play might be to eschew the draw, and bet for value against him whenever you have what you believe to be a better hand.

 For some players, the idea of implied odds is a fast path to self-deception at the poker table. You’ll see players calling bets with far the worst of it, and if you asked them why, they’ll tell you that implied odds made it a worthwhile bet. While implied odds are a bit of a guess, those guesses need to be fairly accurate to pay off in the long run. Otherwise it’s just self deception—a way of talking oneself into playing hands that really should be folded.

 Players who do this are savvy enough to know they shouldn’t play hunches at the poker table, but they still lack the requisite self-discipline to ensure they’ll beat the game. In order to sound like they are smarter than hunch players and any-two-cardscan- win maniacs, they’ll cloak their desire for action—even when the price is clearly wrong—in the mantle of implied odds. Implied odds are important when you’re the guy on a draw who’s hoping to run down an opponent with a hand that’s currently better than yours—but only right now, not necessarily later. Reverse implied odds come into play when the shoe’s on the other foot—when you’re the guy with the made hand—and your opponent is the one who’s drawing.

 Just to cover all the bases, let’s not think about those fortunate situations when you’ve flopped a monster hand. Maybe you’ve flopped a full house, or top set, or the nut straight and the flop contains three different suits. Reverse implied odds won’t come into play here because you’re not concerned about opponents running you down. In fact, you’re hoping for them to improve… to a second best hand, one that’s good enough to bet on but still weak enough to lose.

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, this will be the second to last appearance of Lou Krieger’s column.

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