How much do Implied Odds apply in NL Holdem poker?
Often you will hear players talk about making a call when the odds don’t seem to add up, claiming that they do it for “implied odds”.  In this weekly tip, I’ll discuss the math behind implied odds calculations, but most importantly I’ll discuss a few considerations you need to make in determining whether they do apply in your situation in NL Holdem.   I’ll conclude with an expert strategy tip.

To make this discussion simpler, I’m going to make the generalization that we are considering only our odds when faced with calling a bet on the flop.  Implied odds apply in all areas of the game except when deciding to call on the river.  But since most people discuss implied odds in terms of a flop call, I’ll discuss that specific situation.  The math and concepts involved apply just as much to other situations.
First, there are four things you need to consider in any implied odds calculation:

1. Pot odds – the ratio of the amount in the pot prior to your call to the amount you have to call.
2. Your actual odds of winning the hand, generally expressed in terms of hitting your draw.
3. Your potential win in terms of money left to be put in the pot by your opponents.
4. Whether your opponents are likely to pay you off if you do hit your draw.

The easiest way to discuss this is in terms of a common draw.  For this example, I’ll use an open-ended straight draw.  You are playing at a typical \$1/\$2 online NL Holdem 6-Max Cash game table.   There is \$12 in the pot heading into the flop and we’ll assume you have one opponent. Both of you have approximately \$200 in your stack.  Your opponent bets \$8, a standard 2/3 pot size bet.  Let’s consider the 4 items one at a time:

1. The pot odds are 20:8 or 2.5:1 (\$12 pot + his \$8 bet compared to the \$8 you need to call).
2. The odds of you hitting your open-ended straight draw are 39:8 or approximately 4.9:1 (there are 8 cards that give you your straight and 39 that don’t out of the 47 cards you haven’t seen).  These are the odds you need in order to make the call.  So, if you subtract your required odds from the actual pot odds, you can see that the pot is \$19 short of giving you the odds you need to make this even money.
3. There’s plenty of money in your opponent’s stack to make up that \$19 if you do make your draw.
4. Before we get to number 4, which is really what I’d like to discuss, I want to make one thing clear – all top players, and most solid players, can make calculations 1 and 2.  If you don’t know your basic pot odds, learn them.  You have to be able to make these calculations quickly, whether it’s a flush draw (9 outs), straight draw (8 outs), or whatever it might be.

5. Will your opponent make the call and pay you off if you DO hit your straight draw?  In my opinion, implied odds are highly overrated in NL Hold’em and they are often an excuse made by losing players to call when they shouldn’t.  Don’t fall into that trap!  In order to call based on implied odds, you need to have an answer to a very specific question:

“How often will my opponent call and how much will I win when he or she DOES call me?”

Some of the factors that go into making this calculation are the following:

1. How far are you from having the correct pot odds to call?  The farther off you are, the more confident you need to be that your opponent will call.  In the above example, if you make the call the pot will be \$28.  If you hit your straight, you need to AVERAGE a \$19 additional win to make up the pot odds shortage.  That is 2/3 the size of the pot you’ll need to win on AVERAGE on the turn or river — often difficult in NL Hold’em, especially against solid players.
2. How well disguised is your hand?  As a general rule straights are more disguised than flushes, especially double-gutshot straights such as 9-8 on an J-7-5 board.  Your opponent is not very likely to fear the 6 or T on the turn that hits your straight and you are much more likely to get a nice payoff.
3. How loose/weak is your opponent?  The looser your opponent, the more likely he or she will pay you off.
4. How likely is it that your opponent will re-draw on you?  It is often possible for your opponent to beat you even if you hit your draw.  Don’t make the mistake of underestimating (or ignoring completely) the possibility that your opponent will sometimes end up stacking you.  And I say stacking because when you make a big draw, most of the time you will have the best hand and you WANT the money to get into the pot – but sometimes that money will go the other way.  The more likely it is that your opponent may beat you even if you hit the draw – watch out.

Those are just some of the factors to consider, but you must consider them.  Don’t fall into the losing trap of relying on false implied odds to justify a bad call in NL Hold’em. It’s one of the top ways losing players donate their chips.  Against a good opponent who might have redraws, you might have little to no implied odds.

As a final expert consideration, I sometimes like to think about implied odds outside of the current hand.  This really only applies in cash games, but it can also apply to some degree in tournaments.  Have you ever been playing at a table online where one of your opponents loses to a draw and berates the other player for making a stupid call?  We’ve all seen that many times.  Players like this are prone to tilt badly.  If I know I’m playing against someone like that, I’ll often play slightly worse drawing hands against that opponent.  The reason I do this is because my future-hand implied odds are outstanding.  If I hit my “bad” draw against a player prone to tilt, this fool is very likely to make the very poor decision to go on tilt against me.  He becomes a very stackable opponent, and I love stackable opponents.  So if you are playing against someone who you know is prone to tilt, consider those future-hand implied odds in the decisions you make playing against them.

If you would like to test your skills at measuring pot odds and implied odds, be sure to take our free 50 hand NL Holdem Poker IQ test at http://www.testyourpoker.com/members.  Our test analyzes your play in over 30 specific areas, and our members receive a detailed report that provides an assessment of your abilities at many of these skills, including your ability to understand pot odds, in addition to an array of Detailed Analysis Reporting Tools (DARTs) that help them target their poker training to the areas they need it most.