Odds in Poker Tournaments
The following concepts can also be directly applied to no-limit cash games, but since many of you play no-limit strictly in tournaments I'll keep it in that context. A great aspect of no-limit is that as the player taking control of any given hand, you have the opportunity to manipulate the odds that your opponents are getting. As the player reacting to a bet, you'll need to figure out if you're getting the proper odds to play your hand.
Pot Odds and Implied Odds
Firstly, let's discuss odds briefly. Pot odds are the odds that you're getting to play your hand in relation to the size of the pot. For example, let's say that you're in a tournament and the blinds are at 50/100. You're dealt pocket deuces from the button, or "Hammer" as I prefer it to be called. Two other players call the minimum bet and you want to know what your pot odds are to play this hand. You can do a quick calculation at the table, and many online poker rooms will give you the option to display the active pot at all times. Two callers (2 x 100) plus the blinds (100 + 50) puts the pot at 350 right now. You're getting 3.5 to 1 odds on a 100 chip bet. The approximate odds of you hitting a third deuce on the flop are 7.5 to 1. In limit play, I wouldn't recommend you calling in this situation.
However, in no-limit play, implied odds enter the equation. Implied odds are the amount you expect to make from your opponents if you hit your hand. If you hit your set on the flop, you think that you might be able to get one of you're opponents all-in. This would potentially give you much more than 7.5 times your initial investment of 100 chips. Implied odds are such an important concept in no-limit play because you can play hands against the odds at times if you know your opponents and it isn't costing you much to do it.
Manipulating Odds in Tournaments
Now that you know what the odds are, how do you manipulate them? In no-limit play, you can use the size of your bet to manipulate the odds that your opponent will be getting. Let's say that you had pocket Kings and are in early position. Even though you don't know it, another player has pocket 3s and is sitting one off of the button and the blinds are still 50/100. If you raise to 500 chips, your opponent with pocket 3s has to call a 500 bet to win 650 in the pot. That's barely over 1 to 1 odds, and he's getting about 7.5 to 1 odds of making a set on the flop. He shouldn't make that call, and you don't want him to do it and hit that miracle 3 on the flop. Sometimes he'll still call, but you'll cut the amount of times he does at least in half. You've manipulated the odds by making it a drastic mistake for baby pocket pairs to call in this situation. You'd rather have a couple of loose opponents with K-Q or J-10 to call you and hit top pair in this situation.
Another important time to manipulate the odds is on the flop when there are two suited or connected cards showing. If there are more than a couple of people in the hand with you, you can almost be sure that someone has a draw to the straight or flush. If one of your opponents has 4-to-a-flush, they are a little less than a 2 to 1 favorite to make that flush by the river. They're about a 4 to 1 favorite to make it on the turn. If you have top pair and lead out with a bet that is about the size of the pot, your fishy drawing opponent will be getting 2 to 1 odds to see one more card for his draw. Since he is a 4 to 1 favorite to make it in one more card, you're making him go against the odds to call your bet. He'll be making a poor play, and statistically making a mistake. If the draw doesn't hit on the turn, bet the pot again to make him go against the odds. You might even consider betting more than the pot to deter multiple opponents on draws. Betting the size of the pot is a common play, and a smart one. Learn to use it often to discourage your drawing opponents.
On other side of the draw, you also need to pay attention when you're on a draw. First of all, you should almost never play a draw out of position. There is nothing weaker then checking and calling with a draw. You might as well tell your opponents what you have. If you are in position, look at the odds before calling a bet on your draw. Both open-ended straight draws and flush draws are about 2 to 1 to hit that one extra card by the river. If you plan to fold after the turn if you don't hit your draw, you might as well calculate it as 4 to 1 to see that one additional card.
Ideally, you get a chance for a free card against unobservant opponents. If your opponent makes a very small bet, it probably makes sense to play the draw. If you're getting the proper odds to play, but it's a tough call, I suggest that you probably through your hand away. Many poker authors will suggest that is profitable to play draws with the proper odds in the long run. I don't think that you need to play every draw just because you're getting the right pot odds. More often than not, you're not going to hit your draw. You might not want to play in terms of the long run when your tournament life is on the line. If you find yourself playing too many draws, try to employ a "flop it or fold it" strategy for at least a little while. If you don't hit your hand on the flop, then throw it away to any bet.
Poker is largely a mathematical game of odds with a little luck thrown into the mix. You're constantly going to be facing draws and figuring out when to play them yourself. Remember that you want to make your opponents go against the odds when you believe they're on a draw by betting at least the size of the pot. When you're on a draw, be in position and don't play against the odds unless you think you can really crush your opponent if you hit. Even then, don't pay too much to draw. Basically, it all comes down to betting enough to discourage draws and knowing how much you can pay for your own draws. Don't chase straights and flushes too much or I'll be nipping at your heels. I don't really think you want 'ole Hammerhead to be taking too many nips.
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