Pot Control & How Players are using it Wrongly

pot control

Pot control is an alien term to beginners, completely lost on them who fail to size bets appropriately. However, it is also used wrongly by many intermediate players and even regulars who churn our a small profit regularly. Whilst a beginner may not apply any pot control, a regular sometimes use it to the nth degree. As such, they’re missing out on lots of value against inferior opponents who pay off lightly than they anticipate.

In this post we’re going to explain what pot control is, show some examples of how its used on the flop and turn but also illustrate how experienced players misapply it in the modern era too.

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. In the past you could sum it up with “big hand, big pot, small hand, small pot”.

Pot controlling is understanding that there are multiple rounds of poker. With each round a decision to be made that can 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. Pot control is a fundamental aspect of winning Texas Hold’em strategy that should be used at every safe online casino.

Flop Play

Quite often there are multiple people in the hand at this point and controlling the pot isn’t easy. Your ability to understand relative hand strength will be critical as will your position in the hand.

Historically, this is where small ball strategy 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.

In todays game though, small ball is less relevant as players are adopting a more GTO brand of poker. Sometimes players are adjusting their bet size randomly to become unexploitable. As such, pot control is almost irrelevant. However, for the players adopting an exploitative brand of poker, pot control can still be used effectively against opponents who are less observant.

Turn Play

It’s been said for years that the turn is the most important round of betting in Texas Hold’em. 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.

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.

How Pot Control is used Badly

As stated in the introduction, even experienced players are pot control poorly. In numerous hand history review sessions we’ve done, we notice players are checking back medium strength hands on the flop or turn and losing out value with high frequency. Against a lot of players, betting these hands and building the pot is absolutely correct.

This cautious approach stems from them not wanting to build a decent sized pot without a nut type hand. The problem with this is that they are very exploitable by similar calibre players and losing out on lots of money against the fishes.

I’m not advocating for a bet all the way down every time method of playing but finding a balance between aggressiveness and pot control is better for your win rate.

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. It is partly intuitive but also considered and methodical.

It is important to avoid being predictable with your lines in hands as well though. 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 best 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 by filling in the form below.

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*This article was originally posted in 2019 and has been updated.

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: info@texasholdemquestions.com