Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Alan Krigman
How To Measure Chance: Odds, Fractions, and Percentages28 October 2003
To find out, count the "ways" you can reach levels of joy. Then figure the chances by accounting for how many cards are left in the electronic "deck" from which you'll draw to replace the four. But, how do you combine the numbers to get probabilities?
Say it's a jacks-or-better game, nothing wild, a 52-card deck. Here are the hands that get you something back, and the number of cards that'll make 'em. The lowest is a high pair: 12 ways (any of the three remaining jacks, queens, kings, or aces). Next, a non-royal straight: three ways (the 10 of hearts, diamonds, or spades). Then comes a non-royal flush: eight ways (deuce through nine of clubs). On top is the royal: one way (the 10 of clubs).
Maybe the game has one joker, a 53-card deck. The lowest winner is a non-royal straight: three ways (the 10 of hearts, diamonds, or spades). Next is a non-royal flush: eight ways (deuce through nine of clubs). Finally, usually, two different royals, with the joker or the 10 of clubs: one way each.
To figure your chances, associate ways to win with either the opportunities to fail or the universe all possible results. And express the relationship as odds, fractions, or percentages.
When a proposition is adverse, odds are stated as "(number of ways to fail)-to-(number of ways to succeed)." Under favorable circumstances, the terms flip and odds are given as "(number of ways to succeed)-to-(number of ways to fail)." You can go further and "normalize" the odds to help reconcile what otherwise might be apples and oranges. Divide the larger number by the smaller to get "quotient-to-1." Take the jacks-or-better non-royal flush as an example. After the initial round you've seen five cards, leaving 47 in the deck. The eight ways to hit leave 47 - 8 or 39 to miss so the odds are 39-to-8, normalized as 4.875-to-1.
The fraction is "(the number of ways to succeed) out of (the total number
of possibilities)." This can also be normalized by dividing the larger
number by the smaller to get "one out of quotient." In written form,
you often see these expressed as (number of ways to succeed)/(total number of
possibilities) or 1/quotient. For the jacks-or-better non-royal flush, the fraction
is "eight out of 47" (8/47) or "one out of 5.875" (1/5.875).
The accompanying chart shows the options for a one-card draw to a single-ended
possible royal in both games, to one decimal place.
The alternatives are equivalent. When using odds and fractions, most solid citizens find the normalized forms more intuitive, especially when contrasting different situations. For instance, in thinking about non-royal straights and flushes in the joker-wild games, 15-to-1 and 5-to-1 are easier to compare than 45-to-3 and 40-to-8. Percentages are toughest to comprehend but provide the most uniform comparisons. With fractions, they also offer the advantage of allowing direct calculations of quantities even more useful than merely the chance of winning. But, that opens a whole new can of worms. Since, as the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, wrote:
Percentages, precise indeed,
Best of Alan Krigman