Counting Combinations in Poker: A Guide To Improve Your Odds

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A player looks at a royal flush in their poker hand
BetMGM May 31, 2023, 9:33 AM

The faces of poker professionals during high-stakes poker tournaments are always intriguing. They all have their tells, but the inscrutable tension is always a dead giveaway of relentless counting of combinations they’re all doing to outsmart each other. 

Regardless of their individual playing styles and poker strategies, all great players have mastered the art of counting combinations even when they play poker online. Here is our guide to what counting combinations is, how it improves your odds and some examples on how to use it to beat your opponents.

What Is Counting Combinations?

Counting combinations in poker is all about figuring out how many different hand possibilities your opponents could have based on the information at your disposal. It’s like doing some detective work to estimate the likelihood of them holding certain hands and making smarter decisions.

Let’s take Texas Hold’em as an example. You get two private cards (your “hole cards”) and there are five community cards dealt on the board (the “flop,” “turn” and “river”.) To count combinations, you need to consider all the different ways the hole cards can combine with the community cards. It sounds like a lot of math and counting, but it will give you an edge.

Imagine you have pocket aces (ace of spades and ace of hearts) as your hole cards, with the flop revealing the king of spades, queen of spades and ten of hearts. To determine the number of combinations your opponent could have, you have to consider how their hole cards can match up with the community cards.

Since you can’t see their hole cards, you must account for all the possible combinations they might be holding. Let’s say you assume they could have any two suited cards. Well, that means there are a whopping 4,020 possible combinations (45 suited combinations multiplied by 90 non-paired combinations) for their hole cards.

By counting poker card combos, you can make some pretty good guesses about the range of hands your opponent might have. It helps you understand how strong your own hand is compared to theirs and make better decisions based on that information. 

How Counting Combinations Improves Your Odds

Here’s a little more detail on how counting poker combos improve your odds of winning

Getting Inside Their Heads

When you count combinations, you can start to read your opponents better. You get a sense of the possible hands they could have based on their actions, the cards on the table and how they usually play. This lets you make smarter guesses about the strength of their hand and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Playing the Odds

Counting combinations helps you figure out the probabilities involved. You can estimate how likely your opponents are to have certain hands. This info guides your decisions on whether to bet, raise, call, or fold. You’ll have a better grasp on whether you’re facing a strong hand, a drawing hand, or a weak hand.

Home on the Range

By counting combinations, you can narrow down the range of hands your opponents might be holding. You’re like a detective narrowing down the suspects. This way, you can eliminate unlikely hands and make better predictions about what they’re up to.

Decisions, Decisions

Armed with the knowledge of possible hand combinations, you can make smarter choices as the game progresses. You can weigh the strength of your hand against what you think your opponents might have. This helps you decide whether to keep going, fold, or even try some sneaky moves like bluffs or value bets.

Risking It

Counting combinations helps you manage the risks involved. You can assess the chances of your hand being beaten and balance that against the potential rewards. It keeps you from making reckless moves that could cost you big.

How To Use Counting Combinations

Now that we understand how counting combinations improves our odds, here are three concrete examples of how to use it. Of course, once you’ve understood these basic examples, you can apply the principle to more advanced analyses and scenarios.

Pocket Aces

You hold pocket aces (ace of spades and ace of hearts) as your hole cards. After the flop, the community cards are 2 of spades, 5 of hearts and 9 of diamonds. To count combinations, you consider the possible combinations of your opponents’ hole cards that could match with the community cards.

In this case, you can eliminate the possibility of them having the same aces as you. Let’s assume your opponent could have any two suited cards. That means there are 12 possible combinations of suited hands they could hold (e.g., king-queen of spades, king-jack of spades, queen-jack of spades, etc.)

Flush Draw

You have two clubs as your hole cards (let’s say 7 of clubs and 10 of clubs.) The flop reveals the 3 of clubs, 8 of diamonds and king of clubs, giving you a flush draw.

To count combinations, you consider the possible combinations of the remaining club cards that could complete your flush. Since the deck has nine remaining club cards, you have nine possible combinations to complete your flush.

Straight Draw

After the flop, the community cards are 4 of hearts, 7 of spades and 9 of diamonds. You hold 6 of clubs and 8 of diamonds as your hole cards, giving you an open-ended straight draw.

To count combinations, you consider the possible combinations of cards that could complete your straight. In this case, there are eight possible combinations (ace, 2, 3, 5, 10, jack, queen and king of any suit) that could complete your straight.

Test Your Skills With BetMGM

The best way to improve your counting abilities is to practice. Register with BetMGM to test and hone your online poker skills before you take on the pros at the tournament tables. Not your cup of tea? Try out our other online casino games, like online bingo and jackpot slots.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.