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Outs and Odds - Quiz #1

Not All Outs are Created Equal
By Greg Mallon


I just received my latest poker book from Amazon.com. While I was expecting a book dedicated to OUTS and ODDS, it was actually a book on LIMIT POKER that only addressed outs and odds in few chapters. I did, however, come across an interesting problem from the author and I disagreed somewhat with his answer / explanation. What makes this problem interesting is the idea that "all outs are not created equal".

Before going further, let's be clear what we are talking about when we use the term OUT. If you've read Doyle Brunson's tremendous book, Super System, or Super System 2, you may have read that he defines an OUT as a WAY of improving your hand. For example, improving from one pair to two pair is a ONE OUT... Improving to a Flush is another SINGLE OUT (regardless of how many cards there are in the deck that will get you that FLUSH). This book was written many years ago, and while still considered the Bible of Poker books, that is not the definition that is commonly used today when describing an OUT. Today, the term OUT refers to a SINGLE CARD that will improve your hand (hopefully to the winning hand). Depending on your hole cards, and the flop, there may be a number of cards that would improve your hand. Each distinct card that will improve your hand (again, hopefully to the winning one) is considered an OUT. This is the definition poker players use today for outs and it is the definition we use here at PokerDecision. For more information on calculating outs and the correlation between OUTS and ODDS, please see our Odds Chart page.

The Problem

Consider the following scenario. You've been dealt Queen of Hearts and the Eight of Spades. The Flop comes Jack of Clubs, Ten of Spades, Three of Diamonds. The TURN is the Four of Clubs, and your only remaining opponent CHECKS TO YOU.

Your Hole Cards:
          The FLOP...                                       And the TURN...

How many OUTS do you Have?

Take a minute and think about this. I'll give you the author's answer in a second, but before I do, remember that the value of your hand is ALWAYS RELATIVE. What does that mean? It means that a good poker player must ALWAYS consider what the opponent (or opponents) might have. Now I haven't told you much about your opponents actions up to this point, so just try to answer given what you know...

The Author's Answer

The author tells us correctly that we are on a STRAIGHT DRAW, and that if we receive any NINE on the RIVER, we will complete our straight - and that is 4 OUTS. While he further states that if we get a QUEEN on the river, we will hopefully make TOP PAIR, he cautiously realizes that QUEEN may give us the winning hand ONLY 2/3rd's of the time and therefore assigns 2 OUTS to this possibility (2/3rd's of a chance that one of 3 remaining QUEENS will actually HELP). This is an important concept. He is factoring the LIKELYHOOD that these THREE outs will give us a WINNING HAND. If you were totally confident that any queen would make you a stone cold winner, then you would want to FACTOR IN ALL THREE OUTS. Since he is only 2/3rd's "SURE", he is saying, let's just add TWO OUTS (to be conservative). This give gives us a total of 6 outs.

Our Thoughts

Most good poker books will tell you that calculating OUTS is an inexact science. Some would call it both art and science. What makes it difficult is exactly the idea the author suggested, the idea that while the OUT (a QUEEN in this case) may improve your hand, it may not be to to the BEST HAND. Going back to what I said earlier, the "value of your hand is ALWAYS relative". You have opponents and your hand must hold up against one or more of them. What caught my eye in this example is the fact that the author indicated earlier in his book that the only outs that count are so-called "Live Outs", meaning they must not only improve your hand, but improve you to the winning hand. Think of it this way. You are using OUTS to determine the ODDS of making your hand and you must know your ODDS to make good decisions that have a positive expected value over time. So, you want your calculation of OUTS to be as realistic as possible. By the way, if you are new to calculating ODDS and OUTS, it is not as bad as it might seem. With a little practice it becomes automatic for most situations since you see many of the same scenarios and over and over.

At any rate, while I agree with the author on the concept of "Live Outs", take another look at the scenario we posed. Look again at your hole cards and look at the flop. The author calculated 4 outs for the possibility of getting a NINE to fill our STRAIGHT DRAW. Now the question is, knowing what you know about "Live Outs", how sure are you that that NINE will give you the winning hand? Texas Holdem is known as a "high card" game, meaning that most good players will typically play big cards. If you've been thinking about what your opponent might have, the thing you have to consider is: "Does My Opponent Have KING-QUEEN?"

The idea, of course, is that it may be incorrect to associate FOUR FULL OUTS to the possibility of getting the NINE. This is where the ART comes in. If you've been studying your opponent, you might know for example, if he ONLY likes to play high cards. In any case, you would probably be wise to reduce the number of OUTS associated with this possibility to say, two. By the way, this scenario is also incredibly dangerous. Let's say you get your NINE on the RIVER and your opponent goes ALL-IN. What now? This is why you don't want to make the scenario any rosier than it really is.


Making money in poker is all about making good decisions, and many of your decisions are based on ODDS, which in turn are based on OUTS. There is a term in poker for OUTS that improve your hand but also give YOUR OPPONENT the WINNING HAND. These are known as "Tainted Outs". The purpose of this article was to get you thinking beyond your OWN hand, and to consider the "RELATIVE STRENGTH" of your hand. Doing this, will help you REALISTICALLY calculate your OUTS and improve your game.

If you're interested in reading more on similar ideas, I wrote an article a while back about a mistake I made with respect to "Tainted Outs".  

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