Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Controlling the Pot

Mike Sexton and a few others like to call No Limit Hold’Em the Cadillac of Poker. And, although some very serious high stakes limit players (Doyle, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Jen Harman) can attest to the depth and complex strategy of limit play, No Limit demands a whole new set of tools and tactics when it comes to betting.

As an aside, I would suggest that the ‘Cadillac of Poker’ moniker has as much or more to do with building the brand that the WPT represents as it does with the complexity and difficulty of NLHE.

But there is a concept that is essential in poker as a whole and no limit in particular: pot control. A player controls the size of the pot and to some degree the size of subsequent betting by sizing each bet placed with regard to the overall pot size and relative to the involved stack sizes.

An example of this technique, say the blinds and antes pre-flop add up to 50 and 5 players see the flop. Player A has a stack size of 200, player B has 150 and player C has 700, D has 300 in the SB and E in the BB has 200. The blinds were, say, 5 and 10.

This means there were 3 callers and the SB completed and the BB checked. On the flop the SB checks and the BB likes his hand and the flop. What is an appropriate sized bet if he wants to take the pot here and now??
50, 10 or 30?

I see a lot of bets on a pot like this in the 10 range. I hate this sized bet. Sometimes I see bets in the 100+ range. I hate this bet too, especially if made in early position with others still to act.

But this is my dilemma. I’m struggling in a new poker field (EVE Online Hold’Em) to figure out what is the norm for bet sizes and why it’s the norm and what a particular bet size is communicating. Does this guy bet 10 because he’s building a pot? Is he afraid he’ll look too weak with a check? Does he expect me to take this bet seriously as though he has a made hand?

The overbet can be confusing too. Why are you betting 100+ into a 50 pot with people to act behind you, especially if the bet constitutes almost half your stack?

I don’t expect people to play with their hands face up or to always check with nothing and bet half the stack with top pair solid kicker. But when I’m starting to play in an unknown field it can be a challenge to figure out whether my opponent understands why bet size matters and to appreciate what they’re communicating with a given action.

In yesterday’s post, Continuation Bet, I spoke of Poker as a language that is vital to be fluent in. Imagine trying to have a constructive and engaging argument with someone who speaks an entirely different tongue. You’re not even sure they’re on the same topic you are. When you both speak the same language the debate you’re having can be very intricate and detailed with a great deal of strategy and finesse. When neither of you understand the other at all the game declines into a series of blows via blunt instruments.

There are times to build a big pot via pot sized bets. There are times to limit the pot size via smaller bets. If you don’t want to offer your opponent pot or implied odds then don’t let the pot get too big relative to their stack size. If you want your opponent to come along then don’t bet double or triple the pot (of course, there are times when this is exactly the tactic to employ).

As in so many situations in poker: It Depends! Perhaps what is most important is to have a reason for every action you take. Know yourself. Know your enemy. I’m workin’ on it.


Mynxee said...

This is for ring games, I presume. Different tactics apply for tournaments sometimes. I might have to try and follow this advice. Maybe I won't lose to Sniper699 so much, LOL. He pretty much managed to recoup his chips from me last night.

Diametrix said...

Mynxee, I watched your heads up match (most of it anyway). You were doing so good. I guess I missed the finale.

I would suggest that pot control is important in tournament settings as well as ring games. Even though every rule has its exceptions, using your bet sizes to dictate the pot size it vital. Daniel Negreanu often refers to it as 'small ball' (using smaller bets to help control the pot and hand pace).