Poker Tips By George: Understanding Outs

By George Epstein
December 01, 2020

Playing hold’em, starting-hand selection is your most important decision; on average, only 25% are playable. Next is whether to invest further in the hand after the flop is opened on the board. At that point, you will have seen over 70% of your final hand. If your starting hand does improve, most often it will be to a drawing hand that still needs further improvement to win the pot. Your outs are important.

poker outs

As longtime readers of my columns surely know, poker’s mathematical components are critical and you’d do well to not only remember that, but also work on your poker math. Calculating outs, pot odds, etc. is so important to making the right plays. If that’s too much work for you, then there are plenty of other casino games you can try that are purely luck-based. No matter what corner of the globe you’re based out of, if you just want to get your gamble on you can find the right place to play. For instance, Indian gambling guides can be found at Sure, poker does also involve luck, but the game’s skill is in ensuring that luck plays as minor a role as possible.

Anyhow, back to outs. Outs are the unseen cards that can improve your starting hand. Peeking at your hole cards on the flop, note which cards you would love to catch. Using those outs, you can estimate the probability of improving your hand so that the card odds become higher than the pot odds – the size of the pot vs. how many chips you must risk to see the next card dealt.

Recently, while studying the 4-2 Rule, I realized a mistake many of us make in using outs. Often it occurs when you are one of the blinds and get to see the flop because there was no raise; and the flop is three medium/small cards. Both of your hole cards are higher. You think to yourself that these two overcards represent six outs – three for each of your two overcards. That is not always the case…

Good Outs; Bad Outs

There are two kinds of outs: GOOD outs and BAD outs. The good outs will give you a made hand. With bad outs, your hand may improve but not enough to gain a likely winner. I had always advocated calling to see the turn when the flop leaves you with two overcards to the board; that is six outs. Based on my analysis and with the help of Linda Johnson (“The First Lady of Poker”), I now realize my error.

Example: In a $4-$8 limit game, you are one of the blinds, and saw the flop with Jh-8d. The flop is 7d-4h-3s. You have two overcards, giving you 6 outs – 3 Jacks and 3 eights. Using the 4-2 Rule, you multiply your 6 outs by 4. Then, 4 x 6 = 24 is the approximate percentage of the time you will connect. You can expect to miss 76% of the time (100 – 24), giving you card odds of (76/24) = 3.2-to-1 against.

Assume there are 32 chips in the pot, and it will cost you 4 chips to call to see the turn. So, the pot odds are 32-to-4 = 8-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.”)

More likely you will fail to connect on the turn; then the next step is to multiply your 6 outs by 2 and go through the easy math once again. 2 x 6 = 12. Then (100 – 12)/12 = 7.3-to-1 are your card odds to see the river.

Two opponents bet 8 chips each; the pot now contains 52 chips; so the pot odds are 52/8 = 6.5-to-1. That is lower than your card odds. That is a -eV; so you muck your cards rather than chasing. But it still cost you needless chips.

Your mistake in this case is that you assumed two overcards gave you six GOOD outs. But, in this case, Jack-8 does not yield good outs. Had you used the Hold’em Algorithm or one of the many starting-hand charts available, you would have avoided investing in that hand after the flop.

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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