Home » Does Pot Control in Poker Still Work?

Does Pot Control in Poker Still Work?

Home » Does Pot Control in Poker Still Work?

Does Pot Control in Poker Still Work?

a man shuffling playing cards above a green felt poker table

Given the many ways in which poker strategy has changed in recent years, many players are wondering whether strategies such as pot control are as effective as they used to be. As with so much in online poker, the answer is “Yes – and no.” It all depends on means, motive and opportunity, as the detectives say. Do you have the poker skills to control the pot? Do you have a reason to control the pot? Is this a good time to exercise pot control? Do it right and you’ll achieve a balance between pot size and hand equity. Do it wrong and you’ll give your opponent the opportunity to crush you with the nuts on the river. Let’s break it down!

What Is Pot Control?

There’s a saying among poker players, “Big hand, big pot; small hand, small pot,” which suggests that controlling the pot means keeping it relatively small and manageable when you have a marginal hand. The last thing you want is to get to the river and to have an overblown pot and a weak pair forcing you to make tough decisions. Keeping the pot small makes your decision on later streets easier.

But, some players ask, are you really controlling the pot, especially in No-Limit Holdem or poker tournaments where a player can go all-in at any given moment? Or is your control only an illusion? A different take on the meaning of “pot control” is that it’s simply an aspect of good, dominating play. Nothing more, nothing less. It comes down to the question, Do you want to be the one driving the action or the one left under pressure?

Control Variables

a man picking up a stack of poker chips on a green felt poker table

Deciding to raise or call-check preflop, on the flop or on the turn depends on three things: your position, the playing style of the other player and the value of your hand compared to the possible hands of the other player.

Checking with a marginal hand does not control anything. In Limit Hold’em, sure; but in No-Limit Hold’em and in tournaments there is no guarantee what the next player is going to do. Checking to manage the pot size does have its advantages in some poker games and depending on the three variables mentioned. But generally, checking translates into passive play, which is the opposite of control.

Control Strategy

So, what do you do? Play according to the strength of your hand, your position in the game and the style of the player you’re up against. Betting is a good start. Small hand, bet small; big hand, bet bigger. This is taking the lead and acting according to the information at your disposal and still having control of how much goes into the pot, even when you’re betting small with a marginal hand.

Imagine you have a weak draw on the flop and you’re out of position. You would like to see the turn as cheaply as possible. What do you do? Do you follow the traditional wisdom and check to keep the pot small, or do you bet? Check and you risk having the other player bet huge, costing you more than you would have liked to see the next card. Your smaller bet and a call from the other player may get you to see the turn for less. That’s if you’re playing against a bad player. A good player will raise a small bet. It’s your call.

Betting Frequency

A man holding up four of a kind aces and two poker chips above a green felt poker table

The frequency of betting is also a way to determine the pot size. This could mean betting preflop and on the flop, shaking it up by calling or checking on the river, then betting, calling or checking the river. However, this could also be an illusion of control. Who is managing the pot size when you’re both checking and the lead shifts from you to the other player?

Ultimately, the advantage of playing to manage the pot is to potentially grow its size to one that reflects the equity of your hand. In the example above, the disadvantage is that, because you’re playing with a marginal hand, you’d be opening the door for your opponent to reveal the nuts, courtesy of the river.

Employ the strategy, taking into consideration the three variables mentioned and, as always, vary your play. You don’t want to be the one who has to adjust your poker strategy to unpredictable players – you want them adjusting their strategy to you.

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Up your game with superior pot control! We discuss the ins and outs of pot control for the contemporary poker player.