Basic Poker Strategy: Calculating Your Outs

It’s one of the most basic skills for players to learn and yet it’s often overlooked by beginning players who are looking at things like table position and immediate hand strength.

We’re talking about calculating the outs and it’s crucial to moving from being a player that sort of understands the game to being one that can assess a hand quickly and know whether or not they should be invested.

What are “Outs?”

Simply put, an out is what makes your hand better than what your other opponents might have. While you generally want to invest money in good hands, from time to find you might find yourself in a position where you have to invest it, whether it’s just to be active at the table to shake up your image or if you’ve got a gut feeling about another player.

In cases where you’re putting your money in a suboptimal flop, the idea is that you are going to hopefully make a hand on a later street that is better than your opponent’s. The cards that give you that winning hand are known as “outs.”

An Example

Let’s say that you have AhKh and your opponent is holding Jcs9c on a board with TdJh3h. You’re holding two over cards to his jack — this means that there are three aces and three kings that offer you a chance to make a higher pair.

You also have four queens that give you the chance at a better straight and a nine of hearts is floating out there, giving you the chance to get the better flush.

While you can’t count Qh twice (there’s only one of them in the deck,) you still have 18 outs to make a better hand, or over a quarter of the deck. This is extremely good.

Your Opponent’s Cards

You have to remember, however, that you’re not likely to see your opponent’s cards, particularly when you’re playing online poker! What you’ll have to do is to create a “hand range” for your opponent and attempt to approximate what he’s holding by his decisions.

You’re never going to be able to put a finger on exactly what your opponent is holding, but you can play better poker once you place him in a range.

It’s a good idea to overestimate a bit but without seeing them go hog wild on a hand, you can probably place them safely in a range. In an example like the above, I’d probably range them in at holding a pair of jacks (likely diamonds and spades, for argument’s sake.) This would give you fewer outs but it’d let you play more intelligently.