Poker Coverage: Poker Tournaments Casino News Sports Betting Poker Strategy

A Beginner’s Lesson In Counting Outs

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Aug 12, 2020

Print-icon
 

Card Player Magazine, available in print and online, covers poker strategy, poker news, online and casino poker, and poker legislation. Sign up today for a digital subscription to access more than 800 magazine issues and get 26 new issues per year!

Jonathan LittleAs many poker hands progress, it will be clear that you either have a strong made hand or a draw. A draw is a hand that is almost certainly behind at the moment, but could improve to a hand that can beat all or almost all other hands. For example, when you have 10-9 on the Q-7-4-J turn, if an eight or three comes on the river, you have the best possible hand.

But just because you have the potential to improve your draw to an effective nut hand does not mean you should continue with it every time when facing a bet. You have to compare your pot odds to the odds that one of the cards you need to complete your draw is the next face-up community card.

Suppose your opponent goes all-in for $100 into a $100 pot on the Q-7-4-J turn and you have 6-5. Knowing you probably need to improve to a straight to win, you can figure out if you can profitably make the call.

To figure out how often you need to win to justify calling, divide the amount you have to call (100 in this case) by the current pot (100) plus the bet you are facing (100) plus the amount you have to call (100). 100/(100+100+100) = 33%. So, if your draw will arrive on the river 33 percent of the time or more, you can profitably call.

Next, you have to figure out how often an eight or three will arrive on the river. There are four unseen eights and four unseen threes remaining in the deck (including the folded and burn cards, because you have no way of knowing which cards are in the deck, folded cards, or burn cards). There are 44 unseen cards remaining in the deck (52 card deck minus the four on the board minus the two in your hand minus the two cards in your opponent’s hand). You then take the number of cards that let you win (8) and divide it by the number of cards remaining in the deck (44) to tell you how often your draw will complete on the river. 8/44 = 18%.

A shortcut to figuring out how often your draw will arrive on the next card is to take the number of outs you have (8) and multiply it by two. Make that number a percentage, and that is roughly the percentage of time you will improve on the next card. 8 × 2 = 16% (which is close enough to the actual odds of 18 percent). Multiply the number of outs you have by four to get roughly how often you will improve on the turn and the river. 8 × 4 = 32%. While these numbers are not as precise as dividing your outs by the number of unseen cards, they are close enough.

So, you need to win 33 percent of the time, but you will only win 18 percent of the time. Since 18 percent is less than 33 percent, you have to fold. If you were instead facing a $20 bet into a $100 pot, you would now only need to win 20/(20+20+100) = 14%, making a call profitable because you will improve 18 percent of the time but you only need to improve 14 percent of the time.

If you are facing a non-all-in bet, meaning there is still money remaining in the stacks to be bet on the next betting round, you do not necessarily need to be getting the correct immediate pot odds to call. For example, if your opponent bets $50 into a $100 pot, you need to get there 25 percent of the time 50/(50+50+100) = 25%, which an eight-out straight draw will not do. However, if you can get on average another $150 to go into the pot on the river, you are effectively risking $50 to win a $250 pot, making a turn call profitable 50/(50+50+250) = 14%.

It is important to also realize that sometimes you will not need to improve to a nut hand to win. Sometimes improving to a one-pair hand will be good enough to win the pot. This increases the number of outs you have. For example, if you have an ace-high flush draw, you have nine outs to make a flush, but also three outs to improve to a pair of aces, which will often be the best hand. While a pair of aces will not always be the best hand, it should still be accounted for, perhaps counting those three outs as 1.5 outs or so, depending on how confident your opponent seems in their holding.

Of course, make sure you recognize that when you make a strong, but non-nut hand, you could still lose. For example, if you improve to a low flush, you could lose to a better flush. If your opponent makes a substantial bet, it is often best to not raise, opting instead to just call with your strong, but non-nut hand.

When there is money remaining in the stacks to be bet on the river, you may be able to bluff your opponent off the best hand when you fail to complete your draw. In general, you will find that the best cards to bluff are those that complete other draws besides your draw, such as when you have a missed straight draw but the flush draw comes in.
Make sure to practice counting your outs so it becomes second nature when at the poker table.

When you have AHeart Suit KHeart Suit on a board reading 7Heart Suit 5Heart Suit 3Spade Suit 2Diamond Suit you have…

• Nine outs to the flush. If the 9Heart Suit, 8Heart Suit, 6Heart Suit, 4Heart Suit, or 3Heart Suit comes, you could lose to a straight flush. If the 3Heart Suit or 2Heart Suit comes, you could still lose to a full house.
• Three outs to the straight. The 4Heart Suit gives you a flush, not a straight. If you make a straight, you could still lose to a bigger straight.
• Six outs to top pair. If you make top pair, you could lose to a better made hand.

When you have QHeart Suit 9Heart Suit on a board reading JHeart Suit 7Heart Suit 6Spade Suit 2Diamond Suit you have…

• Nine outs to the flush. If the 6Heart Suit or 2Heart Suit comes, you could still lose to a full house. Even if you make a flush, you could still lose to a bigger flush.
• Three outs to top pair. If you make top pair, you could lose to a better made hand.
• Three outs to middle pair. If you make top pair, you could lose to a better made hand.

When you have 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit on a board of 7Heart Suit 5Spade Suit 2Diamond Suit 3Club Suit you have…

• Four outs to a straight.
• Six outs to top pair. If you make top pair, you could lose to a better made hand.

Some players enjoy figuring out how many outs they have against their opponent’s specific hand, but in reality, you never know what your opponent has, so that exercise is not too useful.

Here is a chart that shows how often a draw will improve on the turn, river, or turn and river combined.

Outs Flop to Turn % Turn to River % Turn and River %
20 43% 44% 67%
19 40% 41% 65%
18 38% 39% 62%
17 36% 37% 60%
16 34% 35% 57%
15 32% 33% 54%
14 30% 30% 51%
13 28% 28% 48%
12 25% 26% 45%
11 23% 24% 42%
10 21% 22% 38%
9 19% 20% 35%
8 17% 17% 28%
7 15% 15% 28%
6 13% 13% 24%
5 11% 11% 20%
4 9% 9% 17%
3 6% 7% 12%
2 4% 4% 8%
1 2% 2% 4%

Jonathan Little Jonathan Little is a professional poker player and best-selling poker author with over $7,000,000 in live tournament earnings. If you want to learn how to play fundamentally sound poker and increase your win rate, check out PokerCoaching.com. Click here to try PokerCoaching.com for free.