There is a good deal of luck in online poker at least in the short-term. If you look at a small series of hands you might feel that any two cards can win at any time. But the beauty of poker is that in the long run the correct way to play will reflect in the results. The aim of poker, very simply, is to avoid making incorrect wagering decisions while inducing as many wagering errors from your opponents as possible.
In order to avoid mistakes and force your opponents to make mistakes you must understand pot odds in poker. If you are getting the right pot odds to make a bet then you are playing well and not making mistakes. If you have the wrong pot odds then you have made a wagering error.
The reason why no one can master poker or always win at it is that you do not always have enough information in any one hand to know if you are definitely getting the right pot odds. For instance, you might think you are 50% to win a hand so when the action is on you and you need to put in $200 to win a $200 pot you might feel that the pot odds are correct. You are 1-1 to win a hand and you’re getting even money odds as well on your bet. But, what if your opponent was slow-playing a monster hand and your true pot odds are nowhere near 50% because you have been outplayed?
Analyzing hands is more of an art than a science and it takes instinct and skill to become good at it. However, you can make an educated guess in many situations as to what your opponents have. When you get it wrong and are induced to bet into a pot that you cannot win you have simply made a mistake and your opponent has played it well. By misreading a situation you make an error. So, we refine the aim of poker to say that if we have all information available to us we must avoid errors while inducing other players to make errors.
Let’s look at how pot odds work, and why no-limit hold’em is the greatest poker game because it enables players to force others to make tough decisions based on pot odds. If you flop a flush draw you will hit it 1 in 3 tries. That means your odds of making the hand are 2:1 against. As long as you are getting equivalent odds in terms of the chips you could win when you bet then you should chase that flush, but if you aren’t you should fold that hand.
Of course hardly any poker player folds that kind of draw, ever, and we’re not even talking about the nut flush draw. In fact, in our example we assume that if you hit your flush your hand will win, which isn’t always the case. Your flush might arrive but be beaten by a bigger flush, or the board could pair and give someone quads or a full house.
But if the pot contained $100 and you were asked to bet $45 into the pot to stay in the hand with your flush draw then you should chase. However, in no-limit your opponent can change those pot odds dramatically. He can make you bet $1000 to stay in a pot that only contains $1100 (the original $100 plus his bet of $1000). Now your pot odds are 1,1:1 and you should fold. But players convince themselves that the implied pot odds justify a call, or that it would just be good gambling fun to catch that flush and double up.
A lot of poker players are gamblers deep down and they love the chase for those big pots. They don’t really care about pot odds and other mathematical abstractions, but that’s also why most poker players lose in the long run. Play smart and think about the pot odds!