Pot Control

This is a concept that is lost on beginners and even some intermediate poker players. Pot control is about dictating the pot size, or trying to, on your terms. This is achieved by the sizing of your bets and relative position in the hand.

What is Pot Control?

It is manipulating the pot size how you wish, factoring in relative hand strength, stack size and opposition in the hand. Never has “big hand, big pot, small hand, small pot” been more relevant. Pot controlling is understanding that there are multiple rounds of poker, and with each round a decision to be made that will increase the pot size, how much is dependent on the sizing of yours and your opponent’s bets.
Playing in position makes pot control far easier as you are closing the action and it is common for players to check out of position. This allows you to dictate how a hand and pot will flow.

Flop Play

Quite often there are multiple people in the hand at this point and controlling the pot isn’t particularly easy. Your ability to understand relative hand strength will be critical as will your position in the hand.
This is where small ball is useful. Small ball is a style of poker that involves making a lot of probing bets. This accomplishes several things; eliminating players from a pot, narrowing hand ranges, keeping the pot manageable, obtaining value and winning the pot inexpensively.

Turn Play

It’s been said for years that the turn is the most important round of betting in Texas holdem. Professional poker players recognize that this is where the hand has almost reached conclusion, there is just one card left to deal (making pot odds and math even more important). The turn is the round where a player will often make a decision ahead of the river.

pot control
Photo by Chris Liverani @chrisliverani

Intuitively you are often thinking one of a few things on the turn card. Let’s take a look at them:

“I have the best hand and want to build the pot for value and protect my hand”

In this situation, you will typically be looking to bet for value and protection. This usually involves a decent sized bet to enforce a mathematical error on your opponent’s part whilst increasing the pot for value too.

“I am on a draw and want to see the river cheaply”

In this instance, out of position, you are at the mercy of those in position. However, in position, you have the option of semi bluffing when checked to or taking the free card. A luxury not afforded to you out of position.

“I am not 100% sure I have the best hand and want to see the river cheaply or showdown my hand”

This will usually mean checking or betting small. This is a great tactic to employ when your opponent plays ball i.e. doesn’t raise. By betting small you can often get a check on the river and show your hand down, conversely checking back turn cards often means you can bluff catch cheaply on the river too.

Conclusion on Pot Control

Pot control is a key concept to understand and put into practice. You are quite often employing pot control without thinking about it so it is partly intuitive but also considered and methodical. It is important to avoid being predictable with your lines in hands as well though so please remember to have variety to the lines you take, particularly when you are facing strong players. The underlying theme behind pot control is that you are doing your utmost to control the size of pot how you wish; this is accomplished by playing more pots in position and also understanding how to size your bets appropriately. Please contact us if you need help with bet sizing or more information on pot control.