How To Count Outs When Playing Poker

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How to count outs is one of the first things people learn when they pick up a poker book or are taught the game by a friend. When played properly poker is a game of making good decisions based on the odds you are being offered. Whether or not a decision is a good one often comes down to your equity in the hand or to simplify a little, your chance of winning at showdown.

What are Outs?

In the simplest possible terms, an out is a card that may come on a future street that is very likely to give you the winning hand. For example if you are all-in pre-flop against an opponent and you hold KhKs against his AsAd then your primary outs are the two remaining Kings in the deck, which will give you a set.

Another example would be if you are facing a bet on all-in bet on the flop with 7d8d on a board of 9sTsAh. You can be reasonably confident that you can be reasonably confident that any Jack or 6 will give you the winning hand. There are four of each card still in the deck, so you have a total of 8 outs in this situation, unless of course your opponent has KQ in which case the Jack would give him a higher straight.

How to Count Outs

There are some common scenarios in which you should be able to recall off the top of your head how many outs you have. In the example where we held KK above it’s fairly obvious that there are two Kings left in the deck and so we have two outs, but what about drawing hands. Here is a list of typical drawing hands and how many outs they have:

Flush Draw: There are 13 cards of each suit in the deck. If you flop a flush draw, there will be two in your hand and two on the board, leaving a total of 9 cards in the deck which will give you a flush

Open Ended Straight Draw: In the hand where we held 7d8d above we had an open-ended straight draw where any Jack or six made our straight. As mentioned there are 4 cards of each rank in the deck for a total of 8 outs. Note that a flush draw is slightly stronger than an open ended straight draw.

Gutshot Straight Draw: If we held JsQs on a board of 8d9h2d then we have a gutshot straight draw, where only a ten will give us a straight. As we know, there are four tens in the deck so we have a total of four outs.

Double-Gutshot Straight Draw: Double gutshots are sometimes a little more difficult to recognise. An example would be holding 9s8s on a 5d7dJh board. In this case a six or a ten gives us a straight meaning that, as with the open-ended straight draw, we have eight outs.

Counting Outs in More Complicated Situations

There are a couple of situations in poker where counting outs isn’t so straightforward:

A Set vs. a Flush: If you’re unlucky enough to get all in on the flop with a set against an opponent that has flopped a flush, you still have a pretty good chance at winning. Let’s say you hold 3s3d on a 3h5hAh board and your opponent has KhQh. You can still overtake him by making a full house or quads. In this situation you are looking to hit the lone three in the deck or hoping that that the Ace or the five pair. There are three of each left in the deck giving you a total of 7 outs.

Overcards: Sometimes you’ll be faced with a situation where even making a pair will win you the hand. Say you hold Ah3h on a Th5h8s board and your opponent goes all-in after re-raising you pre-flop, and you have a strong suspicion that he has an over pair. In this case AA is unlikely so you think he has JJ-KK most of the time. In this situation, as well as your flush outs, even hitting and Ace will win you the hand, so you can add the three Aces remaining in the deck to your outs. Of course, occasionally he will have AA, or a hand like TT and your Ace outs won’t be good. This is where counting outs gets a little more tricky. To account for these times you might just take one or two of the Aces as clean outs to account for the times where hitting an Ace isn’t going to win you the hand.

The Application of Outs to Your Play

Now that you know how to calculate how many outs you have in a hand, how can you use this information to benefit you? There is a simple rule for converting outs into your percentage chance of winning the hand.

On the flop, multiply the number of outs you have by 4.
On the turn, multiply the number of outs you have by 2.

So taking an example, if you have an open-ended straight draw which you know gives you eight outs, then on the flop you have a 4 x 8 = 32% chance of winning the hand. If you miss, then on the turn you have a 16% chance of winning the hand. You can then apply this information to the size of the pot and make your decision based on the information available to you. If your opponent bets all-in for $100 in a pot of $100 and you have an open ended straight draw, you can combine the pots odds you are getting with your chances of winning the hand. In this case, you’re being offered 2/1 meaning you need to win the hand 33% of the time to break even, but your draw only has a 32% chance of hitting, so making this call will be a marginal loser of money in the long run. If the pot is smaller and your opponent has bet less, then you can factor in the money you might win on future streets into your decision on whether or not to continue with your draw.