Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pot Odds

I was over at ThinkingMan's blog, blathering on about how I thought his call for his entire stack with J8o was a dumb move. It was barely a correct move as dictated by pot odds, and this got me thinking a bit. I'm sure this is stuff everyone already knows, but I'm just thinking out loud, so to speak.

We all know what pot odds are. It costs you 500 to win 1500? 3:1. You're drawing with 2:1 against, you make the call, right?

What if the odds are a dead match? Or it's only slightly +EV to call?

Here lies the a key difference in a tournament that I think is often overlooked. In the example above at ThinkingMan's blog, based on his read and a lenient hand range, the odds were almost dead even, with a tiny EV in his favour. In a cash game, it might be worthwhile to take this, but in a tournament, I think you have to fold.

Pot odds can be simply seen as, "if I do this x number of times, will I make money?" 3:1 odds against means that for every 4 times you do something, you'll win once. So if the pot is laying you 4:1, then it makes sense to call. In real numbers:

Pot = 40
Call = 10
Odds 4:1

Your hand is 3:1 against to win, let's say the $10 puts you all-in.

If you can repeat this EXACT hand to this point 4 times, you'll win 4x your money once, and lose it all 3 times. So you'll lose $30, but win $40, putting you $10 ahead of just folding every time.

In a cash game, this makes a case for making the call. If you lose, you can reload. Eventually, you should be ahead if you keep making this play. That's all in the nature of grinding it out, no?

In a tournament though, you're finished if you don't catch. So your reward should be worth the risk. Where this comfort zone lies depends on the player and the situation. Obviously, if you have 1/2 an ante left behind, then you'll very likely call no matter what. If you have a huge stack, you might also call, because the reward is not only the chips, but the knockout of another player, bringing you that much closer to the money, plus the risk is much smaller. What if you're on the bubble? On the bubble of a 150-seat guaranteed WSOP entry satellite? 4 left in an SnG? I'll be careful not to delve into ICM here.

But what if you still have an M of 5 if you fold? Is it worth pushing a tiny edge and risking elmination? How does that factor into the math? 2:1 means that 67% of the time you're going to the rail. I don't know how many times I've come back from a low M to win a game because I was able to fold a losing hand instead of making the crying call. Or what if it's early on and the buy-in was relatively small? Some people are happy to push the small edges early for a chance to build a stack and go deep. Others will fold all day early on, waiting to be the big favourite and play that for maximum profit.

In short, I think that remembering what you're playing is something that is often overlooked. There's a difference between cash and tournament play. There's a difference between a $1 buy-in and a $10,000 buy-in (although there shouldn't be). There's a difference between an average stack, a small stack, and a monster stack. Poker is situational, and if you play every hand the same way, you'll eventually lose.


BamBam said...

Now that Sir!

That was an excellent post. All of it should be common knowledge, but it's well put and everyone could use a refresher once in a while.


ThinkingMan said...

Thanks for the comment and also the post here. Excellent feedback and I appreciate it!