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How important is pot control?

The best online no limit holdem players will tell you that pot control is a weak concept. The idea that you can control something doesnt really fit in with a game like poker that is largely based on short term chaos. This isnt strictly true of course because there are many things that you can control in no limit holdem and the main one is your own betting actions. It is you and you only that dictates whether or not you place any more money into the pot.

So pot control is possible but is it profitable? Well the answer to that question is yes and no or as per usual in poker.it depends! When a player looks to control the pot by checking or making smaller bets then this is a sign of a moderate hand that doesnt want a big pot. We can broadly simplify our opponents hand range into three types and these are strong, mediocre and weak. While this is very simplistic, this shotgun method actually works quite well within the heat of battle just like many shotgun methods do in poker. Another famous shotgun method is the one regarding calculating pot odds of hitting your hand on the turn and river.

Once again it isnt entirely accurate but it gets you close enough and that makes it good enough. The fact of the matter is that it is massively superior to have a shotgun method that gets you pretty close than it is to have no method at all and this is what a lot of players fail to consider. When a player starts out betting and then begins checking or betting smaller amounts then this is not the sign of a strong hand. The hand may have started out being strong but the arrival of further board cards may have weakened it.

An example could be when you raised with Jc-Jd and the flop came 10h-7c-5s. Your hand pre-flop was strong and it can still be considered that way on the flop. However let us say that an opponent calls you and an ace comes on the turn. Now your hand is merely mediocre and doesnt want to see a huge pot. You bet again and get called and the river card is another ten. If you opponent started out with top pair then they have just made trips and your jacks are beaten.

This is where the player with the jacks may bet something small as a blocker to prevent them from having to call a large bet or fold the possible best hand. This is pot control because you are trying to control the final pot size on the river. However trying to control the pot and actually doing so are two different things. A weaker player would call you down with something like an ace or even a ten with a low kicker but wouldnt bluff raise you. However a strong player may ultimately decide to make a move on you on the river because of the weakness of your betting line.

Quite often in games like no limit, concepts seem to contradict each other. You see countless articles and authors discuss how you should only create a big pot with a big hand which means that you should control the pot when you have something that could be the best hand but ultimately may not be. However these betting lines tell an opponent an awful lot about the average strength of your holding and that is vital data that an astute opponent can take advantage of.

The fact of the matter is that when you are playing against lower staked opponents and especially ones that really only stack off with big hands then pot control is more important. Against very sophisticated players then pot control is much less effective. In the previous example this is where if your opponent raises the river and you feel that they are good enough to suspect your pot control tactics then calling down with the jacks on a 10-7-5-A-10 board is warranted.

However that only applies in situations where your opponents are sophisticated and have the nerve to bluff raise the river. If you are playing lower stakes then you are almost certainly better off folding. In fact folding is probably the right play if you are multi-tabling and are struggling to get adequate reads on your opponents then once again folding is the correct play. If you want to reduce variance and your skill level or experience level is low then pot control is the way to go. All you need to remember is that against better players then this tactic may ultimately come up short. Pot control can be a vital tactic when used widely in no limit Texas holdem.



Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and poker ambassador for 888poker

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