Whether you're an aggressive player who likes to dominate proceedings or a more considered participant, controlling the pot effectively is one surefire way to guarantee success at the poker table. Choosing when to play a big pot – and when not to – will go a long way towards determining your progress. Here is a basic guide to controlling the pot.
The notion of pot control is simple: attack a decent-sized kitty when you have a good hand and stick to smaller pots when your hand is more marginal. The difficulty is in knowing when you have a good hand compared to your opponents, also in determining when the time is right to follow a value strategy and when to flex your muscles and exercise pot control.
Managing your chip stack is inextricably linked to good pot control. Of course, there are a few factors that govern this, and the bad news is that not all of them are at your discretion.
All poker hands are defined by the flop, though this isn’t the be-all and end-all. In the purest terms you’ll flop a decent hand or you won’t, but there are ways in which these can be manipulated to ascertain control of the table.
This task is much easier when you are ‘in position’, i.e. the first to make a move. You can cast yourself in the role of dominant force – whether you want to build a pot or keep it relatively small. You can check and hope that your opponents follow suit, and this can be a handy tactic whether you have a strong hand (the red herring) or a marginal one (trying to see the turn).
Your bet size while in position will help you to manage the pot. If you’ve flopped a good hand then take control; this will be a fantastic opportunity to build a large kitty. Calling and waiting for your opponents to follow suit will stand you in good stead, but be warned that raising pre-turn could discourage them, and this is contrary to the principles of pot control.
If you’re not in position after the flop, then ultimately you are relying on the activities of your opponents to help build the pot. But you’ll still have two choices: check-call, as this will enable you to make a more informed decision following the turn, or place a bet and hope your opponent calls or raises if pot control is in your sights.
Being able to read your opponents and anticipate their next move is a crucial tenet of successful pot control. If the player to your left is passive, then you will find yourself value betting more than you would against an authoritative opponent. Value betting is still a useful way of accumulating a decent-sized pot, but betting and raising at the right time are essential for keeping the passive player interested.
Unpredictable players are harder to read. If they are a prolific ‘check-raiser’ or an obvious bluffer, then you will need to control the pot to prevent them from dominating proceedings.
The turn will help to consolidate your position, or blow the game wide open. Predicting the strength of your opponents’ hands is now more crucial than ever, as is identifying their potential for a powerful draw. If you have a strong hand right now then perhaps the time is right for a showdown.
If you are confident that you have the best hand, then call or bet small – you want to be ‘encouraging’ your opponents to hold on for the river. If you have a weak hand but a potential draw, then think smart: don’t let your chip count dwindle for the sake of a long shot.
In the same way that you prefer to play readable opponents than unpredictable sorts, think about how your poker personality comes across. Pot control is about sensible aggression at the right times and paying your dues at others. Vary your game so that your fellow players can’t get a read on you, and avoid adopting any obvious strategies or patterns of play.
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