When playing poker, it’s important to know at least a little basic math. This isn’t meant to scare off beginners or new players – it’s simple math, easy math, the kind almost anybody can process in the quest for taking down the pot.

So, let’s talk a bit about pot odds.

At their simplest, poker pot odds measures the amount of the current pot size compared to how much your potential call will cost. It’s a valuable tool to learn – players can quickly figure out what their chances of victory are compared with the amount all the players at the table have thrown into the middle.

The first trick for you, the player, is to look at your hole cards (duh). That’s two cards. The flop is three more, meaning you now know the identity of five of the 52 cards in the deck – meaning there are 47 yet to be identified.

Now, for the sake of this example, let’s say your hole cards are the Ace and 8 of spades and there are two spades (the 2 and Jack) in the flop. If you’re gunning for a spade flush, there are nine more spades that can help you get there (the 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, Queen and King).

Now what you want to do is put this in ratio form. Of the 47 cards you don’t know, 38 won’t help you hit the flush, but the nine spades you do know will. So, your card odds ratio is 38:9 – which is basically 4:1.

Pretty straightforward so far, right?

Now, we have to figure out the pot odds. This is pretty simple, too – let’s say the pot sits at $40 and your opponent bets $10, pushing it to $50. That means you’ll need to call the $10 for a chance to win the $50 – and again, put it in ratio form. Your pot odds ratio is now $50:$10, so 5:1.

This is where you start to break things down. Your card odds, remember, are 4:1 and the pot odds are 5:1. The traditional school of poker thought here is that you should make the $10 call, as the odds you’re getting from the pot are bigger than the odds you’re getting from your cards. In short, if the pot odds are bigger than the card odds, call away!

The theory is that, in the long run, pot odds evaluations will help you win more money in the long run, as it’s statistically geared to give you the best chance of winning. The rub, though, is that poker is often a game of luck and chance; sometimes, the river and turn can do some strange things, occasionally rendering your math work ineffective.

In the end, try to think of pot odds like this: a nice little tool you should have at your disposal, one that can really come in handy when you’re on the fence about whether to keep betting or fold your cards.