Counting Outs In Poker – How to count the poker cards

Counting your outs is a very basic concept, but still very important.

This should be one of the first things you master as a poker player and the process should become automatic after a little practice. It is necessary to learn how to count your outs in order to apply the mathematical concepts introduced in our implied odds articles.

Here Comes the Flop

Counting outs becomes important after you see the flop, so it’s best we start by reviewing the kinds of hands you will have once the flop has been dealt. There are now 5 cards available to make your poker hand: the two hole cards in your hand and the three community cards sitting face up in the middle of the table.

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At this point, you will have one of three hands:

A Made Hand: meaning a pair or better A Drawing Hand: meaning 4 cards to a flush or a straight. Complete Air: meaning no pair and no draw.

What are “Outs”?

“Outs” are defined as cards that will improve your hand to a stronger hand when the next card is dealt. Being able to quickly determine how many outs you have will help you decide the best course of action to take: whether you should check, bet, call, raise or fold.

Example of a Made Hand

For example, if you are holding 10s 9c and the flop is Ad 9h 4c, you now have a fairly mediocre, one pair made hand. In order to strengthen your hand, you are hoping for one of the two remaining 9s to make trips or one of the three remaining 10s to make two pair. This means you have 5 outs to improve your hand.

But wait, an Ace or a 4 would also give me two pair! While this is true, these cards would actually weaken the overall value of your hand. You should only count cards that will significantly improve the strength of your hand.

The Most Common Drawing Hands

Straight Draw:

These drawing hands can be usually broken into two categories: one-way and two-way straight draws. An example of a one-way straight draw would be if you held 6d 7d and the flop was 8h 4c 2s. In this case, you would have 4 outs, as any 5 would improve your hand to a straight.

An example of a two-way straight draw would be if you had 6d 7d and the flop was 8s 9h 2c. In this case you have 8 outs, as any 5 or 10 would improve your hand to a straight.

Flush Draw:

When you flop a flush draw, you will usually have two cards in your hand the same suit, such as two hearts. The flop will contain two more cards of your suit and a third offsuit card. At this point you have a four flush and have 9 outs to improve to a flush, because there are 13 cards of each suit (13-4=9). An example of this would be if you had Ah Qh and the flop came Kh 9d 4h.

Sometimes the flop will contain three cards the same suit and one of your two hole cards will be of that suit. In this situation, you still have 9 outs to improve to a flush, but your made flush will be much weaker.

Two Overcards – Semi-air:

Quite often when you have two big cards, the flop will contain three cards smaller than the two in your hand. For example, you are holding Ac Kc and the flop comes 2d 4s 7h. In the case, you have 6 outs (3 Ks and 3As) to improve to a pair. In general, when you have any type of “air” hand, you will have 6 outs to improve to a pair, though in many cases improving to a pair will not be good enough to win the pot.

Discounting Outs

Sometimes when you flop a drawing hand, it is possible that your opponent may also be drawing to a bigger hand. This is most common when you have a straight draw, but the flop contains two cards that are the same suit. For example, you are holding 7s 8s and the flop comes Jh 6h 5d. In this example you have flopped a two-way straight draw, but your opponent could have flopped a spade flush draw.

Usually when you flop a two-way straight draw, such as in this example, you should discount two of your outs, the 4h and the 9h. This is because it is possible those cards will give you opponent an even stronger hand than your made straight.

Why Count My Outs?

Counting your outs is important because outs are used mathematically to determine your chances of improving your hand. Simply put, the more outs you have, the more valuable your hand, so it is often correct to bet or raise. The less outs you have, the weaker your hand, so it is usually better to check or fold. Knowing your outs helps you determine your pots odds and your implied odds.

Final Thoughts

If you want to succeed in poker, you will need to be able to automatically and accurately determine your outs whenever you are on a draw. If you are new to poker, a good exercise to help you practise this process involves: studying the flop after you’ve folded your hand, trying to think of hole cards that would have made drawing hands on the flop, and quickly determine their outs. The sooner counting outs becomes automatic to you, the sooner you will succeed at poker.

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