Are you really making the right calls and the right bluffs? Are you sure? So many players play lip service to the idea of pot odds and bluffing odds, and don't really use them like they should. Are you sure you know to fold an inside straight draw and not call off all your chips on a flush draw? There is so much more to it - and so much more money to be made.
The concepts of pot odds, implied odds, bluffing odds, and future table image, can all affect the way you play a hand, and a mistake with one of these concepts can throw off all the others. A mistake that seems small can grow to the point where you can be making a significant mistake, even though the hand looks correctly played at the time. We can look at each piece individually and then do a hand example to put them together.
Pot odds seem like a simple thing, and most players read a quick article and figure they know everything they need to. You just calculate the odds of making your hand (I won't go into that, there are lots of articles on the subject) and compare it to the odds of making your hand right. Of course actually using that knowledge can be tough in no-limit games because you are never sure exactly what might happen on the next round or with players yet to act.
Most players, even pretty good ones, overplay their draws in NL Hold'em. Once you evaluate the pot odds, evaluate the real strength of your draw as well. If you hit your draw will you have the nuts? Does one of your opponents seem like they may have a hand that would redraw well against your hand? Will you make more money if you hit your draw, or will it be obvious to your opponents that you just made a hand? And most important -
"If you play a big pot when you hit your draw, are you definitely going to win it?"
Because people often play draws that will win a small pot or lose a big one, which is a huge mistake. Drawing to the second nut straight with four opponents is a good example. If you hit your straight and the pot gets big, you will either lose it or chop it, and anyone without at least the same hand as you have will get out of the pot once it starts to get expensive.
When you flop a straight draw, think about how many cards make you the NUT straight? If you like your hand enough to call even a bet of half the size of the pot, your answer needs to be eight cards. If the flop is Q-T-9 and you are thinking about calling a bet with J-9, you need to remember that K-J has you drawing dead, and any other jack is at least even with you. If the king falls, A-J (a hand that a lot of people play) will have you drawing dead, and will cost you your whole stack. You want to be in position to control the pot size, and you had better be facing a very small bet here. Playing a big pot in this case is a huge disaster, whether it's before or after you hit your draw, because your opponent would really have to be terrible to pay you off in a big pot when he can't beat, or at least tie, your weak straight.
If you are playing 6-7, instead of J-9, then your straight is a little safer because you are not as likely to run into a hand that makes a bigger straight unless you are foolish enough to chase the ignorant end of the straight with a flop like 8-9-Q. In that case J-T has you drawing dead, and you won't be winning a big pot unless your opponents are truly clueless, and very few players are that bad these days.
A flush draw is even tougher to play than a straight draw, because it is so obvious when you have hit it. Everyone who has a strong enough hand to play a big pot will be terrified of that third suited card hitting the board, and if you don't have a big flush, then making sure you controlling pot size relative to your respective hand becomes key because your opponent may have a higher flush.
I recommend as a general rule that you don't chase a flush draw for more than half the pot, even when you think your opponent may pay you off when you hit the flush draw. All too often you are wrong about that, and he may just have a flush draw that is bigger than yours, costing your whole stack when you hit. Against multiple opponents who have called bets on the flop I hate to have any flush draw but the Ace-high, because running into a bigger flush can be expensive.
The concept of implied odds costs players money almost as often as it helps them, because it is so easy to misuse. Unfortunately implied odds can be easy tied to hopes and wishes, and hoping for things in poker is usually expensive. A rough definition of implied odds would be "more money that you might win if you hit one of your outs". As we talked about with flush draws, even weak opponents these days are afraid to play a big pot with you when it appears that your draw has come in, so implied odds are usually not as good as you think they are.
Implied odds aren't all bad, in fact they are great and can be a big money maker if you know how to use them. If you are almost getting the right price to chase a draw, implied odds may be the thing that makes that draw profitable. Try to judge the likely strength of your opponents hand, and how many more chips you think you can get from them if you hit your hand, to figure out your implied odds, and then cut them in half, they aren't as good as you might think.
Reverse Implied Odds? Yep, there is such a thing, and you should know about it. If you hold A-K and the flop is K-T-9 all hearts, then you may have the best hand, but how are things looking for future rounds? Any heart (unless you hold the ace of hearts yourself) is going to ruin your hand, there is probably at least inside straight draws or potentially two pair or a set. You aren't far ahead, but you may be far behind, and if you play a huge pot here, especially if it is built in later rounds, you won't win it. This means your implied odds are negative and you may not want to commit a lot of chips to this pot.
And last but not least - bluffing odds. Some players choose to bluff with no particular intentions. They may do this for a variety of reasons including: they enjoy bluffing because its poker, they think their opponent will fold or because you have nothing. However, these are not valid reasons to bluff even though they're commonly used. There is a simple mathematical principle, and once you learn it well it becomes second nature. I call it "The Bluffing Formula", and I teach it to all my students. I wrote a whole chapter on it in my upcoming book on bluffing, and this little excerpt will not only explain the formula, but it will save me the trouble of doing any more writing.
"The basis of bluffing strategy is a simple pot odds calculation. It gets more complicated, but understanding the basic formula is the key to understanding the rest of the material. The formula can be presented in two different ways, as odds or as percentages. It is the exact same formula either way. If you find one way of looking at it works well for you, then ignore the other completely."
Looking at the formula as an odds calculation -
For a bluff to be directly profitable (not counting table image or future rounds) you need to consider your pot odds and the chance of any particular bluff winning the pot right there.
P = The size of the pot.
O = The odds of winning the pot with the bluff.
B = The size of the bluff in relation to the pot.
For the bluff to be profitable the ratio of P to B must be greater than O.
The best way to remember this formula, as well as to simplify it, is to think of it this way:
"In order for a bluff to be profitable the chances of your bluff must be higher than the odds you are getting from the pot."
This means that if you bet $50 into a $100 pot, you are getting 2 to 1 odds on your bluff. If your opponent will fold more than twice as often as they call, then your bluff is profitable. If you are getting 1 to 1 odds on your bluff, (meaning that you are betting the size of the pot) then you need your opponent to fold more often than he calls to make your bluff profitable.
It is also important consider if you're holding straight or flush draws as those increase your pot odds. This is referred to as a semi-bluff and most commonly players short-handed will bet hard to get on value on the pot if they do make their hand. Since your opponent may be committed by the flop/turn, he likely will call another large bet/raise and make your hand extremely profitable.