Counting Outs in Poker
Most poker players understand that in order for a call to be correct you have to have correct pot odds. They also know that to arrive at those pot odds, you take total cards left in the deck compared to how many actually help you. Those cards that help you are called "outs". The tricky part that many players do not do correctly is getting an accurate count of their outs. There are several online poker tool programs available that will run alongside your poker software and give exact counts, probabilities, etc. Here are some tips for counting your poker outs on the fly.
Know what you have to beat!
Before bothering with counting outs, you have to have a general idea of what you are up against. Putting your opponent on a hand is a skill that takes a little logic and a lot of experience. If you want to fast track this ability, then try to guess what the other players hold during hands that you are not involved in. Most players (and even very profitable players!) pay little attention to the hand once they have folded their own cards. They do not practice this hand reading skill except during the hands they actually come in and see a flop. Most profitable players see only about 20% of their hands in a full ring game, so as you can imagine they are missing out on loads of practice time, readily available to them.
Another nice thing about putting players on hands that you are not involved in, is there is no pressure. When we're sweating out a big bet in the heat of the moment, the pressure can cloud our judgment. Honing this hand reading skill when you are not involved will not only sharpen your senses for times when it really counts, but also allow you to pick up tells that you may have missed when your attention was focused on the cocktail waitress!
Practice, practice practice. As your hand reading skills get better, your ability to count outs accurately will go up tremendously!
Basic Outs Counting
Here is the simplest calculation that get's quoted the most. You hold AK of hearts and the flop comes Jh, 7h, 2d. You have a 4 flush. There are nine hearts left in the deck so you have 9 outs. Simple enough right? WRONG! What are you putting your opponent on? If you put him on QQ, then you have 6 additional outs if an ace or king hits. If you put him on JJ, then he has a set, so you could make your flush and still lose to a full house if the 2 of hearts comes, or the board pairs in another way. If you figure him for just top pair, then you are in great shape with your nut flush, 2 overcard hand. Oh, and don't forget your backdoor outs. If the turn comes a ten or queen, you've got even more outs for a straight, depending on what you put your opponent on. The point here is, there is nothing basic about 'basic counting outs'. There are a lot of things to think about when you start looking at it critically. Thankfully, counting outs does get a lot easier the more you do it, to the point of becoming very natural after awhile.
Counting an out as a Half Out
Even though you will get much better at putting your opponent on a range of hands, it will be impossible to always know what he holds. For that reason, there are times when you should only count certain outs as "half outs". A good example is when you flop a straight draw, but there is also a flush draw on board. With your typical straight draw, you have 8 outs to hit your straight. However, if there is a chance that your opponent is on a flush draw, then you really can't value the cards that would make his flush as full outs. In those cases, count them as half outs. So in the example of the straight draw vs flush draw, two cards make his flush, so instead of 8 outs, consider your hand as only having 7 for the straight (6 outs, plus two half outs that would potentially complete a flush draw). Counting some outs as half outs will give you a more conservative estimate of how big the pot needs to be for you to call a big bet, and will help you avoid those negative expected value situations a bit more.
Considering Hidden Outs
This is a frequent situation that arises. It most often occurs when a big overpair to the board is against a flopped two small pair. An example would be when the button limps with AA, and the big blind checks his 72o. A wonderful flop comes 7K2, and now the big blind has two pair vs. the aces single pair! However, that 72o can't start counting his chips yet. If the turn comes another card higher than a 7, the pair of aces can win by either making a set or the board pairing something other than the 7 or 2, and making a bigger 2 pair hand. Example: The turn comes a jack, and now the board reads 7K2J. Now the pair of aces can catch one of the last two aces for a set, or any king or jack. A total of 8 outs. Keep these hidden outs in mind anytime you get a couple of small pair on the flop or if you are a big overpair and you suspect your opponent might have flopped two pair.
In conclusion, counting outs is another one of those skills that take practice and experience to get good at. The more you do it, the better you will be at it. The important things to remember are twofold. First, get good at putting your opponents on a range of hands. Second, make an accurate count of your outs, taking into consideration half outs, hidden outs, overcards, etc. After that, calculating pot odds and shoving more chips into the pot will be a much easier decision. Never lose a chance to practice! It's the small edges that separate the good from the best.