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Matthew Hilger

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Effective Implied Pot Odds
By Matthew Hilger
(All Rights Reserved)

Many people like to throw around the term "implied pot odds". The problem is that there is sometimes confusion with the definition. Implied pot odds should include the amount of bets you expect to win from your opponent. Some say, or at least act in such a way, that implied pot odds include the amount of bets you could win from your opponent. Expectation and potential are two very different things. To clarify and to ensure you have the correct mindset when making strategic decisions, a much better term to use in your poker vocabulary is effective implied pot odds.

The effective implied pot odds is simply the relationship between the amount in the pot and the amount that you expect to win from your opponent(s) should you hit your hand compared to the bets required to play the hand. This is similar to the definition of implied pot odds but "effective" ensures that you are considering the amount you expect to win, and not the potential. Drawing to a long shot, betting, and then watching your opponent fold does not have a positive expectation if you based your decision on the expectation that you would win your opponent's entire stack.

For example, in the early rounds of the World Series of Poker main event, you start out with $10,000 in chips and $25-$50 blinds. If you face a $100 bet on the flop, you have the potential of winning $10,000 which would give you 100 to 1 implied pot odds. If you face a $1000 bet, these implied pot odds are now 10 to 1. Many players make the mistake of making decisions based on the potential win rather than the average win they expect to make in the long-term. The potential win is part of the equation but you cannot make decisions expecting this to happen all the time.

Determining the effective implied pot odds in Limit Hold'em is much easier than it is in No-Limit Hold'em. Most of the time in Limit Hold'em you can expect to win an additional 1-5 big bets after the flop depending on the number of opponents in the hand and the strength of their hands.

In No-Limit the effective implied pot odds are not so clear. For example, even though a bet of $100 might represent 100 to 1 potential implied pot odds given your stack sizes, the effective implied pot odds are probably much less. Your opponents will often back down on the turn in No-Limit. On the other hand, if he has top set you will most likely win a large portion, if not all, of his stack. Your decision should be based on the average expectation given all of the different scenarios that could play out given the range of hands you put your opponent on.

Determining your effective implied pot odds in No-Limit is dependant on the type of opponent you are up against and the range of hands you put him on.

The effective implied pot odds in No-Limit have a big impact on strategy when comparing No-Limit to Limit. In Limit Hold'em, you need a large pot to justify drawing to a gut-shot straight. In No-Limit, the pot does not need to be very large at the moment if you think there is a good chance you will get paid off handsomely should you hit your hand. This same concept can be applied to starting hand strategy. Some players will play many hands in hopes of hitting a big hand since the implied pot odds are so great. On the other hand, you might not get paid off at all.

For example, with a flop of 9 6 4, you will not have very good effective implied pot odds if your opponent is sitting on a hand like A Qor even a hand like 8 8 . Even if your opponent has a large stack, your opponent won't give you very much action so your effective implied pot odds will not be very high. If your opponent has an over-pair, you will likely get some action but it still may be difficult to get his whole stack early in a tournament depending on the opponent and the situation.

Determining your effective implied pot odds takes experience and a good understanding of your opponents. Weak opponents tend to play their hands too strongly. Players like these are willing to play over-pairs very strongly without worrying about sets. They will push top pairs with a weak kicker. Your effective implied pot odds are much higher against opponents like these than stronger opponents since you have a better chance of winning their entire stack if they have a decent hand.

A good example of this occurred at the 2004 World Series of Poker. We were in the 2nd level and a weak player from middle position made a standard size raise. The next opponent called and I raised from the big blind with QQ. Both opponents called and the flop came out KQx. I bet a small amount and the next opponent made a significant size raise. At this point, the pot was quite large so I just decided to move all-in. My opponent called and turned over AK. Even though this is not a drawing hand, it demonstrates how some players are willing to risk all of their chips with just mediocre hands. I'm not sure what this opponent thought he could beat given all the strength I had shown up to that point but he is the kind of opponent I wish I had at my table all the time. Against these types of opponents you will often have very high effective implied pot odds.

Your effective implied pot odds are generally higher against weaker opponents than they are against strong opponents.

Strong opponents are always playing a game of survival. They might be willing to take a stab at the pot on a bluff or attempt to protect a strong hand but they will bail out if it appears that it is likely that they are up against a very strong hand. They will sometimes bet in a fashion where they hope to lose the minimum if their opponent has a super strong hand. Against these types of opponents your effective implied pot odds will be less than they are against amateur players who will sometimes get married to their hand.

One skill that separates expert players from the amateur player is that expert players do a better job at determining their effective implied pot odds in each particular situation. Occasionally you will see an expert player make a call on a draw that on the surface seems crazy, but in reality, they were probably assessing their opponent and the situation and determined that their was a high likelihood of winning their opponent's entire stack if they hit their hand. In the same situation against a strong opponent they are likely to fold their hand.

When you face a tough call on a draw, always think of your effective implied pot odds. Do not get trapped in looking at your opponent's entire stack, but rather, concentrate on figuring out how much of your opponent's stack you think you could win on average if you hit your hand. It is not always what you could win, but rather, what you expect to win.

About the Author
Matthew Hilger is the author of Internet Texas Hold'em. This column contains excerpts from his upcoming book, Texas Hold'em Odds and Probabilities: Limit, No-Limit, and Tournament Strategies. You can ask Matthew questions and follow the Internet Player of the Year race at his website,
Poker Forum.