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Controlling the Pot in Hold'em

Tips and Strategy for Controlling the Pot in Texas Hold'em

When playing Texas Hold'em there are plenty of times when a player does not have the "nuts," or the best hand possible. Many times, it is possible to have top pair on a flush or straight heavy board or even a middle pair on a board that has over cards.

Now, just because a hand can be beaten does not necessarily mean it is. A player with a pair of 8's in the hole can easily have the best hand on a board of 4-9-J. But at the same time, if those 8's were compared to what the best hands on a board like that could be, such as a pair of 9's, J's, 2 pair, or 3 of a kind, then the 8's are easily dominated. In situations like these, a player would like to go to showdown holding a possible winner without having to spend a lot to do so.

On the other side of the spectrum, if a player were holding a pair of 9's or J's in the hole on a board such as 4-9-J, then the problem at hand is not how to go about keeping the pot small. The issue is how to go about building the pot so that the most value can be extracted for having the best poker hand.

What both of these situations have in common is an action or strategy known as controlling the pot. When a player controls the pot they are trying to control how much money is put in it so they either they can win a lot when desired, or lose less if they happen to feel they are ahead but are actually behind.

The purpose of this article is to provide a few tips on how to control a pot so that in either scenario outlined above, a player can make the right moves thus controlling how much they win or lose.

Controlling the Pot - Keeping the Pot Small

The purpose or reasoning behind keeping a pot small with mediocre hands is simply because there are going to be more spots where suited connectors or medium pairs end up being second best. And why would a player want to commit chips to finding that out?

So, there are a few things that players can attempt to do to try and control the pot and keep it small so that if they are the best, they win a pot and if not, they lose a small one.

The very best tip to keeping a pot small is simply be skipping a betting round, or "checking." This should save plenty of chips as each betting round generally increases by 60% to 100%. There is absolutely nothing wrong with checking each street and picking up what little may be in the pot at showdown.

Now, checking it down while in late position is much easier as player have a little bit more control in LP. But what about early position; it would make sense that a player who checks in EP would only get bet into by a player in LP. And to be honest, many times this will be the case and a player who may have the best hand in early position will not know where they stand.

In situations like these, a great thing to try is lead out with a bet. The size of the bet will vary on your history with the opponents, flop texture, and how many players are actually in the hand. But a good place to start is a "probe bet," which is a bet about 1/3 to ½ the pot. This will accomplish two things: 1) It throws a small bet out there to deter your opponent from maybe making a larger bet that you could not call, thus allowing you to control the pot and 2) If your opponent decides to raise your bet, then you can safely assume that your hand is no good and let it go.

Using the above tips will help a player keep a pot small when necessary, but what about building a pot up when you have a monster?

Controlling the Pot - Building a Pot

Many players who flop monster hands have a tendency to want to slow-play their hands in hopes that their opponents will lead out in betting. However, a player who decides to employ this tactic must be sure that their opponent is aggressive enough to do so; not to mention that it is ideal if the opponent connects with the board somehow. And above all, if a player who decides to check and slow-play a hand is in early position, they cannot be sure that their opponent will bet into them and if not, they potentially lost money on one betting round.

Although slow playing can be a great way to mix up your game, the best way to build a pot is by putting money in it. And obviously, if a player has a great hand they do not want to scare their opponents by betting large so when making a bet, it is a good idea to be a bit smaller; say about ¼ to ½ the pot or so to give your opponent odds to call and chase hands. Of course this will depend a lot on the flop texture and if there are draws on the board that can potentially beat you, you of course would want to bet much higher; say ¾ to a pot size bet.

And last, it is important to keep in mind that knowing whether to raise or flat call is important too. A flat call can show weakness or a draw and of course a raise can show strength. Using one of these methods will of course depend on your opponents and how they react to such plays.

Benefits of Controlling the Pot in Hold'em

Although it can be difficult to do at times, it is very important for a player to learn how to control the pot so they can keep the pot small or the pot big depending on what they are holding. When a player has an understanding of how to do this, they can control the pot, not to mention their opponents, into making or saving the most money possible.