To be a winner at Texas hold’em, you must learn how to count and use your outs. Outs are the unseen cards (presumably still available in the deck) that will complete your drawing hand after the flop. This applies when you need to catch a card to give you a strong hand – a made hand. The best examples of this are when you catch four-to-a-flush (preferably including a high card in the hole) or four-to-a-straight open at both ends. Playing poker certainly is not the same as playing slots, in which luck plays the primary role. Knowing some simple mathematical calculations, like counting outs, can take you far in poker!
How Do I Use My Outs?
After you count your outs, you can use that information two ways. With a relatively large number of outs – 6 or more – you might decide to call a bet to see the next card provided it is a multiway pot (three or more opponents) and there are no raises. (I label that the Hold’em Caveat.) Note: with fewer outs, you would be chasing. Chasers are losers!
Better yet is to estimate your card odds using the number of outs, and then compare it to the pot odds. For example, suppose you were dealt Jc-10d in the hole and flopped 9h-8h-5s giving you four-to-a-straight open at both ends. Your outs are four Queens and four 7’s – a total of 8 outs, any one of which will give you your straight.
Using the 4-2 Rule, with the turn and river cards to come, multiply your 8 outs by 4. Then, 8 x 4 = 32. That is the approximate percentage of the time you will connect. You can expect to miss 68% of the time (100 – 32), giving you card odds of about 2-to-1 against it (68/32). Let’s assume there are 40 chips in the pot and it will cost you 8 chips to call to see the next card. So, the pot odds are 40-to-8 = 5-to-1, well above your card odds. When the pot odds are higher than your card odds, the law of probability favors you; in the long run, you will win that pot. (That is often called a “positive expectation” or “+eV.) If you miss on the turn, then multiply your 8 outs by 2 and go through the math.
With all of that said in the above example, just also be aware that the heart flush could come in, which could in principle make a straight you catch a good, but second-best, hand. I’ll explain this a bit more in depth below.
Value of Outs Can Change
There are two kinds of outs: good outs and questionable outs. As the hand progresses, you may find that some of your good outs have lost value and are now questionable. They could be of greater value to an opponent. On that basis, you could reduce their value to ½ a full out in estimating your card odds.
In the above example, a tight player open bets on the flop. With that information, you assume he may have caught a draw to a heart flush. (That is certainly well within his range.) Now then, should a Queen or 7 of hearts fall on the board, you would make your straight – but your opponent now has a flush. On the showdown, your hand is second-best to his flush. As the dealer pushes the chips to him, all you can do is to shake your head and grieve. As you can see, as the hand progressed from the flop, 2 of your 8 good outs on the flop became questionable.
Yes, you lost that hand; you played it almost perfectly. You could have revised the card odds by using the reduced values of two of your outs, the Queen and 7 of hearts. The results may have been different…