Knowing how to count outs in poker is one of the first mathematical principles you must master when starting.
Fortunately, counting poker outs is not too difficult, and there are some easy ways to figure out how many outs you have in each situation.
But what exactly are outs in poker, and how can you use them to be a better poker player?
We will explain all that and more. By the time you are done reading, you will know what outs are, how to count them, and how to calculate your equity based on the number of outs you have.
Outs in poker are cards that help improve your hand.
For example, if you are holding a pair of kings against pocket aces, you have two outs to hit your set since only two kings are left in the deck.
Of course, outs come into play much more once the flop is dealt and you are working with five cards. In this case, you will often not have a made hand yet and will be looking to improve, so understanding this concept is essential.
Any card that will improve your hand can be considered an out, although not all poker outs carry the same weight, so let’s dive into that a bit deeper.
Since you already know what poker ours are, let’s discuss how to count it.
Simply put, you need to figure out which cards will help improve your hand and then think about all the cards in the deck.
In the example of a flush draw, you currently hold two hearts in your hand, and there are two hearts on the flop. Since we know there are 13 hearts in the deck, you have nine outs to make your flush.
However, other cards may also help your hand. For example, if your flush draw contains an ace, which is an over card to the board, any of the remaining aces could make you the top pair.
Since you are holding the ace of hearts, three additional aces could land on the turn or river, increasing your outs count by three.
Whatever your current hand is, you should try to think about all cards that will improve it on the turn or river and count those cards to come up with your total outs count.
As you get better at it, you will immediately know how many outs you have in some common situations.
Here are a few frequent flop situations that arise in poker that you should know by heart:
It is important to know that not all outs are “clean,” so it is important to separate between cards that can turn our hand into nuts and ones that can only make it slightly stronger.
So now you know how to count outs in poker, but you still don’t really know how this will help you be a better poker player.
After all, knowing how many cards will help you is nice, but it won’t help make those cards appear on the turn or river.
Since there is no way to know which cards are coming, all we can do is calculate probability and use it to our advantage.
This probability is known as equity in poker, and it determines how likely we are to improve our hand and ultimately win the pot by simply having the best hand by showdown.
Knowing the number of outs we have is the first step to calculating equity in a poker hand. The next step is to use maths to calculate what percentage of the time you will make your hand.
Let us assume we are holding Ks Qs on a board of As 9s 4c. Our opponent is relatively tight and passive and is now betting into us, which means they are likely holding at least a pair of aces.
In this case, we have nine outs to make our flush, and any other outs we may have won’t really help us, as we will still probably lose if a K or Q comes on the turn or river.
We know that there are 52 cards in the deck, and we can see five of those cards, leaving us with a total of 47 cards left, nine of which are spades.
A simple division of 47:9 tells us that we are looking at a ratio of 4.22:1, which translates into 19.16%. However, it is also important to remember that there are still two cards left to come.
Since both turn and river are going to be dealt out, we need to calculate for both those cards and realize that our equity will slightly improve going to the last card if the turn is not a spade since there will be one fewer card in the deck.
So for the turn, we have 46 cards left with still all of the 9 spades in the deck. Using the same logic and dividing 46:9, we get a 4.11:1 ratio which gives a 19.57% chance of hitting your flush.
When all these calculations are considered, the equity we come up with is 38.73%.
This does not include the runner-runner straight possibility when holding KQ, so the actual number is slightly different, but it is the best way to illustrate this example. That being said, these calculations can take some time to do at the table and are very impractical. Therefore, there is a much simpler solution to calculating your approximate equity based on your number of poker outs.
The equity calculations we did in the previous example are kind of complicated, and it would be tedious to do them in the middle of a hand while facing the pressure of a bet.
Instead, there is a much simpler way to calculate your equity without complicated math.
In the previous example, we looked at an example of a flush draw, and we calculated the equity of 38.73% on the flop and 19.57% on the turn.
If we apply the rule of two and four to this example, we will come up with 36% (9x4) on the flop and 18% (9x2) on the turn.
You can see that these numbers are not perfect, but they are within 2% of the real equity, and they take only a few seconds to calculate.
We also highly recommend remembering the equities of the most common scenarios, such as flush draws, straight draws, and sets by heart, but using the rule of two and four in all other scenarios.
As the number of outs becomes higher, using the rule of two and four will start to deviate from true equity more and more.
For that reason, there is another formula you should remember and use when you have more than nine outs on the flop in a poker hand.
The formula is:
Equity = (Number of outs x4) – (Number of Outs – 8)
Let us imagine we have 15 outs and run the calculation:
Equity = (15*4) – (15-8)
Equity = 60 – 7
Equity = 53%
We would have got 60% using the rule of two and four, while the new formula says 53%.
The true equity of this situation is 54.1%, which means that this formula gets us closer to the exact result than the previous one.
There are many possible situations that can arise in a hand of Texas Hold’em, and our poker outs count can go up and down with every new card that hits.
When counting outs, we should distinguish between outs that make us the nuts and those that simply improve our hand.
For example, let us imagine a scenario in which we are holding Jc Tc, and the flop comes out Ac 9c 8s. In this scenario, we have open-ended straight and flush draws.
Our open-ended straight draw will give us the absolute nuts on both sides, while our flush draw will give us a strong flush, also very likely to be the best hand.
Since this is the case, we can count all our outs in full and consider this as a 15-out situation, a fairly rare occurrence in Texas Hold’em.
On the other hand, imagine holding Ah 7h on a board of Kh 6h 4d. Here, nine outs to a flush give us the absolute nuts and are considered “clean” outs.
We could also hit an ace which would give us top pair, but having top pair in no way guarantees that we have the best hand. In fact, hitting that card could even cost us some money.
Depending on factors such as the player we are playing against and the positional situation, we may still consider the ace to some degree but definitely should not count it as a “clean” out to win this pot.
Outs can get even dirtier than that, as hitting the second or third pair to the board can also win us the pot sometimes, but such cards should never be counted as true poker outs.
When calculating your equity in a poker hand, you should only seriously consider poker outs that guarantee you will have a very strong hand that's unlikely to be beaten by your opponent's perceived hand.
Now that you know how to count outs in poker and turn the number of outs into equity, you can start applying this knowledge at the tables.
After all, knowing you will win a hand 36% of the time is not enough to beat good poker players in the long run, so you should use this information as a starting point. Combine your understanding of counting outs, pot odds, and implied odds, and you will be working with an arsenal that can help you defeat even proficient poker players.
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