Counting Outs and Making Profitable Calls

Counting Outs and Making Profitable Calls

Do you understand outs and odds math? Do you use it to make profitable post-flop drawing calls?

There is a huge issue that many players face… they don’t know how to determine whether their draw is worth chasing. Maybe you have this issue: You flop a flush draw and your opponent bets 2/3 pot. Is your draw strong enough to call? Are you paying too much to chase it?

This uncertainty leads to losing calls.

Listen to this podcast episode as you follow along below.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to quickly calculate the chances of hitting your draw and how to use that number to make a profitable call.

Table of Contents

Counting Outs and Calculating the Chance of Hitting

Outs are the cards that can come on the turn or river that can improve your hand into a potentially winning hand. Here are some examples:

  • You have AK on the 962r flop. How many outs do you have to a TP hand? 6 outs (3x Ace and 3x King)
  • You have T9, and the flop is 2JQr. How many outs do you have to a straight? 8 (open-ended)
  • Now, let’s say you’ve got the same, Ts9s, and the flop is As6s3c. How many outs to the flush? 9 (spades)
  • Same hand, Ts9s on the lovely 8s7s3c flop. Wow, you’re open-ended with the straight-flush draw and two overcards. How many outs to a TP+ hand? 21 outs (9 spades, 3 Jacks, 3 Sixes, 3 Tens and 3 Nines)

For some people, counting their outs on the flop can be tough because they haven’t developed good board recognition skills. If this sounds like you, you MUST practice board recognition. Here’s how:

  • Grab a deck of cards and deal yourself a hand.
  • Deal a 3-card flop.
  • Compare your hand to the flop and look for draws.
  • Count the number of outs for a TP+ hand.
  • Repeat this with new hands until you run out of cards.

The more practice you put in, the better you’ll be at spotting your draws and counting outs.

The x2 Rule for the Chance of Hitting

Now that we know our outs, how do we calculate our chance of hitting our draw?

We use the x2 Rule: the chance of hitting one of your outs on the next street can be estimated by multiplying the number of outs x 2. So, flopping an open-ended straight draw with 8 outs, x2, means it hits on the turn about 16% of the time. If you were on the turn with your 8 outs, it would hit 16% on the river.

If you wanted to calculate the chance of hitting your flopped draw by the river, you would multiply your outs x4. Your 8 outs on the flop have a 32% chance of hitting by the river. You use the x4 Rule often in tournaments when you’re considering going all-in on the flop so you’re guaranteed to see the river.

The Math Behind the x2 Rule

8 outs on the flop means that out of the 47 unknown cards remaining in the deck (52 card deck minus our hand minus the board), we have a 17% (8/47) chance of hitting one of these outs on the turn. That 17% is very close to the estimated 16% using the x2 Rule.

Keep in mind that with a 17% chance to hit, we’re missing 83% of the time. Remember this because we’ll use it again.

If we miss our draw on the turn, we still have 8 outs to hit on the river, but now there are only 46 cards remaining in the deck. So, our chance of hitting the river is 8 out of 46 remaining cards or roughly another 17% (which is also an 83% chance of missing again).

We can use the 83% chance of missing our draw on either street to calculate how often we’re missing on both streets. We miss on the turn 83% and on the river 83%, multiply these together to find the chance of missing on both streets. So, .83 x .83 = 69%. We have a 69% chance of missing our flopped draw by the river. This means we have a 31% chance of hitting the draw on the turn or river (100% – 69%). The actual 31% chance of hitting by the river is very close to the estimated 32% using the x4 Rule.

Paying the Right Price for Chasing Your Draw

You flop the open-ended straight draw for 8 outs. You use the x2 Rule and you know you have a 16% chance of hitting your draw on the turn. Your opponent just bet $.50 into the $1 pot. Is it profitable to call this bet size to hit your draw?

To figure this out, you need to calculate the break-even point on your call then compare your chance of hitting to the break-even point.

Break-even Point for Calling = Total Risk / Total Reward

In this example, you’re risking a call of $.50 to win a total pot of $2 ($1 pot + $.50 bet + $.50 call).

Break-Even Point for Calling = .50 / (1+.5+.5) = .50 / 2 = 25%

If your chance of hitting > BE point, then calling is okay. In this example, 16% < 25%, so calling IS NOT a profitable play to make. You should fold or 4bet bluff instead.

Now this should get you thinking,

“If it’s unprofitable to call a 1/2 pot bet with an open-ended straight draw, how good of a draw do I need to make a profitable call?”

Well, if you had 13 outs, x2, gives you a 26% chance of hitting which is greater than the 25% BE point. So, you would need something like an OESD + 2 overcards for 14 outs. That has a 28% chance of hitting and makes for a profitable call against the 1/2 pot bet.

Break-even Calling Cheat Sheet

Figure 91 from Preflop Online Poker: This cheat sheet will help you make profitable calls.

It can be tough to calculate break-even percentages on the fly. But the great thing about math is that it never changes as long as you’re thinking of bets and calls in terms of the pot. Calling a 1/2 pot bet always breaks even at 25%. It doesn’t matter if it’s $.50 into a $1 pot or a $100 bet into a $200 pot.

The break-even calling %’s on the cheat sheet will help you estimate while you’re playing. If your opponent bets about 1/2 pot, your call needs to win you the pot at least 25%. If they bet roughly full pot, your call needs to win roughly 33% of the time.

Write down the calling break-even %’s on a sticky note so you can use it the next time you’re thinking about calling somebody’s bet.

Challenge

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Use the x2 Rule and the Break-even Calling Point when deciding whether or not to call with your draw. If your chance of hitting is > the BE calling point, go ahead and call. If not, fold or raise to bluff them off the hand if they can find a fold.

Also, put the BE Calling Point Cheat Sheet on a sticky note to help you with all future calling decisions.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.


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Sky Matsuhashi is the creator of the Smart Poker Study Podcast. He has authored 3 poker books including ‘How to Study Poker Volumes 1 & 2′ and ‘Preflop Online Poker‘. As a poker coach, Sky is dedicated to helping his students play more effectively, earn more money and be 1% better every day.

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