Controlling the Hand Part 1

Patrik Antonius
Patrik is always in control.

Winning No-Limit Hold'em players all understand that to be successful, it's crucial to be in control of the majority of pots you play.

Controlling the hand will minimize the number of mistakes you're liable to make, maximize the mistakes of your opponents and allow you to manipulate the odds in your favor.

There are four main ways a player can gain control of a hand:

  1. Have Position: If no players have taken the lead as the aggressor, control of the hand falls to the player in position. For more advice on the importance of position, head to this article: Don't Be a Sucker: Play in Position.

  2. Be the Aggressor: The player who's betting and raising rather than checking and calling is the aggressor. By default the aggressor is in control of the hand, and will only relinquish control if his or her opponent qualifies for either of the following two examples.

  3. Be Feared: If your opponents fear you at the table, you will always retain control of the hands you play. Even if your opponent is the aggressor (giving them control by default), you will be able to gain control at will, simply by leveraging that fear.

  4. Have More Information: The player who has the most information in the hand will always be the player in control, regardless of the other two examples. You can be the most feared player in the world, and the aggressor, but if they have the nuts and you don't know it, they have full control of the hand.

As you can see, the fourth example is far stronger than the third, which is stronger than the second, and so on.

Gus Hansen
Gustav, out of control, yet somehow in control.

The most important way to gain control of a hand is to hold crucial information which your opponent is lacking. The more you know that they don't, the more control you have.

The Value of Deception

The more control you have in a hand, the better off you are. But if everyone at the table knows you have control of the hand in play, chances are you're not going to coax any players into playing a large pot.

The real profit in poker comes from allowing your opponents to believe they have control of the hand.

If your opponent believes he's in control, he has no fear of you. Allowing him to believe he's value-towning you, when in fact you're trapping him, is guaranteed to earn you large pots.

Here's an example:

Situation: Live Cash Game, Full-Ring, $1/$2 No-Limit

I'm dealt 8 8 in middle position. I was in the middle of changing gears and stepping up aggression, so I make a standard raise to $15.

I get two callers to the flop. I have the largest stack with a little over $600; the button holds close to $450.

Pot is $48.

The flop comes: 9 4 9

Although this isn't a great flop for me, it's not exactly bad. The only pocket pair above mine I'm worried about is pocket tens, as I'm almost certain the players who called me would have re-raised jacks or better pre-flop.

There are many hands these players would play which include a nine, but statistically there's only a small chance of that happening. The odds are I have the best hand, so I make a c-bet of $30.

The first player folds, leaving me heads up with the button. The button puts on a little show.

"Ahhhh… *sigh*, well ok. I guess I have to call."

As soon as he does this I'm now 100% sure he has a nine, and I would bet large amounts of money he has ace-nine.

There is a chance he has a set of fours, but either way, he has me crushed. At this point I now have crucial information (I know what both of us are holding), while he only knows what he has.

Phil Hellmuth
More information = more control.

I have more information than him, and I'm the aggressor. I'm now firmly in control of this pot. Unfortunately I'm in a horrid situation, and my control is only going to allow me to get out of the pot cheaply.

Pot is $108.

The turn comes 8.

I've just sucked out, I know I've sucked out and I love it. At this point, I now know exactly what he has, and he has no idea what I have.

I know I'm ahead, but I also know that he believes he has the best hand. He thinks he's fooled me and is trapping me into this pot.

In other words, he believes he has complete control of this pot. Along with that illusion of control comes confidence and the feeling of invulnerability.

I'm now in the perfect spot, and would consider winning anything less than his entire stack a mistake.

You might be thinking that him letting me keep control was not a big deal since he has such a strong hand, and I had to suck out to win the pot. But in part 2 I'll explain how him failing to take control of the hand is an expensive mistake.

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