Controlling the pot size – Keeping it small.
There are two reasons why we want to control the pot size which will enable you to play the best poker.
The first is to keep the pot small. In this situation we are not sure how good our hand is and we are playing with thin margins. In this case we need to try and keep the pot as small as possible, in case we are behind.
The second is to make the pot as big as possible. In situations where you are clearly winning the hand by a long way we need to get as many chips in the middle as possible and win as much as we possibly can.
So let’s examine how we can realistically try and control the pot size, minimizing our losses and maximising our gains.
So, let’s start with the trickier issue of keeping the pot small.
Keeping the pot small is directly related to the position you are playing. Although many players realise that playing in position is a fundamental skill you need to learn, what they don’t understand is that position is directly related to pot size and pot size is related to the type of player that you are whether weak, tight or anyone of the myriad of combinations.
Understanding how position, pot size and aggression work together is the key to unlocking the door to online poker tournament success. Not just in the six seat SNG but in all tournament poker.
First of all, playing out of position means calling a raise from the blinds or raising from one of the open positions with a less than stellar hand for the number of players seated at the table.
For example let’s take the middle stages of an SNG where there are four players left. You are in the big blind with A 10 and call a 3x raise from a player on the button. You both have 2000 chips.
In this situation you are not controlling the pot size. The correct way to control the pot size here is to FOLD.
You have 100 chips invested in the pot (you are the big blind) but you have no need to defend your blind here. Making the call is a high risk strategy that doesn’t fit our model. The raiser could have junk or AK, you just don’t know and so folding is the option to take.
The alternative is to re raise – but do you really want to re raise in this spot? You are going to be first to act after the flop and you are making the pot bigger than it needs to be in this situation.
In addition if you miss the flop (as you most likely will), what are you going to do now? You are first to act and out of position.
Of course if you were short stacked you may elect to push here in which case you don’t care about pot size.
You call anyway.
The flop comes A 5 2.
Now you have to exercise pot control.
You could be way ahead or you could be drawing to the three tens left in the pack. You don’t know.
You don’t know because you haven’t got any other information to work with and the reason you don’t have that information is because it’s your turn to make a move. That’s why playing out of position makes your decisions so much harder.
So what to do? We called a raise out of position and now we hit our hand on the flop but we could be way behind to AK, AQ, AJ, A5, AA, 55, 22.
The likelihood is that we are ahead in the hand. But we certainly don’t want to commit large portions of our stack to find out we are not.
If you lead out here for half the pot you may well get raised. You’d make this play if you had 55 or 22 to get more money in the pot. When you get re raised you have to decide if you really want to play for all your chips with this hand.
This is the opposite of what we want to achieve here (keeping the pot small) and so we check.
The original raiser now continuation bets a third of the pot and it’s back to us to make a decision.
Calling here is not an option. If you call here you are simply making the pot bigger and the next bet is going to be bigger in relation to the pot size.
If you call the bet thinking that you are only committing a smaller amount to the hand then you are going to achieve exactly the opposite of pot size control. The pot is now starting to grow rapidly on you.
In addition if you call then you are not giving your opponent any information he needs to make his next move. Remember, poker is a game of incomplete information and it is making sense of the small fragments of information that you do get that decide how good you will be at the game.
Let’s say you call and the turn card is a 7. Now your opponent can either bet into you big style or check. The most likely scenario is that he makes a nice two thirds pot size bet.
Are you going to call again? And what happens when we get to the river? Are you going to call again?
The correct way to exercise pot control here is to check raise or hope your opponent checks behind you.
Raising has all the advantages that calling does not.
By raising you are committing a smaller amount of chips to the pot to get the information you need to continue in the hand. You raise to gain information and an additional benefit of this raise is that it keeps the pot smaller on future streets than if you simply call.
Once you have raised your opponent makes his decision. He either has an Ace with a great kicker in which case he’ll most likely push here and you can easily fold.
Or he has a smaller pair or Ace with a weaker kicker in which case he will call.
Even if he has KK here then he will make the call.
Then what happens is usually that the hand gets checked down to the river. You have no need to invest any more money in the pot. The raiser has no need to put any more money into a pot that he could be losing.
Now of course, this strategy means that you are leaving yourself open to giving away free cards which enable your opponent to make a bigger hand. But keeping the pot small and losing it to a suckout on the river is far more preferable than building a massive pot and finding that you were beaten all ends up too late.
This is of course a totally different strategy to a limit or cash game where we think we have the best hand and don't mind playing for the chips.
This is why it is always preferable to be the pre flop raiser and not a caller. In fact you should be able to win the SNG’s without ever making a call. If you never call then you exercise exemplary pot size control.