Building a big pot may be simple in theory, but in reality there's a lot more to it. One of the first concepts that you learn when you start playing poker is there are big-pot hands and small-pot hands.
What dictates whether a hand's a big- or small-pot one depends on the circumstances.
How to Build Big Pots in Poker
Generally, small-pot hands are hands like one pair. Big-pot hands are flushes, straights, sets, full houses - hands you're willing to risk your whole stack with in hopes of winning your opponent's.
The reason building large pots is so much more difficult than it looks is because your opponent is trying to protect his stack. He, just like you, is trying his best to only put his money in when he thinks he has the best of it. He isn't just going to give up his stack without a fight.
Poker isn't like that (any more). You have to trick your opponent into thinking that his hand is better than yours - which is not always an easy task.
When you make that big hand, your ultimate goal is to get it all-in because you can't win your opponent's stack without putting your stack on the line.
The problem is, you can't just bet your stack right away. No opponent will ever call you if you elect to bet $200 into $6.
The pot starts out small, and you need to gradually build it so that by the time the river is dealt it's large enough for you to bet your entire stack.
Bet, Bet, Bet
The most basic method of building a pot is to just bet, bet, bet. Bet all three streets, the flop, the turn and the river.
In No-Limit poker, bets are always made in relation to the pot size. That means that on each street the pot grows exponentially. While the pot may be small on the flop, by the river it could be massive.
Let's look at an example.
$1/$2 No-Limit, effective stacks $200. You raise to $9 on the button with AK and the big blind calls. The flop comes down QJ10.
The big blind checks and you bet $15 into $19. He calls once again. The turn comes 2 and the big blind checks again. You now bet $45 into $49 and he calls again.
The river comes down 6 and your opponent checks.
The river now contains $139 and you have $131 in your stack. You can now get all-in on the river without ever having to make an overbet.
The bet, bet, bet method works especially well against weaker, calling-station type players.
It can also be effective if your image is very bad - i.e. you've been caught bluffing recently or you have recently lost a few big pots and your opponents have reason to believe that you're tilting.
Another way to build a pot fast is to use the check-raise. As you probably know, the check-raise is when you check the action over to your opponent in hopes that he will bet and then you come over the top with a raise when he does.
The check-raise is effective at building pots because it allows you to get two rounds of betting from a single round - your opponent's bet and then your raise. Thus it allows you to build big pots faster.
The check-raise is not without its own faults. Check-raises scream strength and will often blow your opponent completely out of the water.
Furthermore, when you check, your opponent may elect to just check through, eliminating an entire round of betting.
Both forcing your opponent to fold and eliminating a street of betting are counterproductive to building large pots. You need three streets to build a pot big enough to get a 100BB stack all-in.
If you eliminate one of them, you're seldom going to get all-in without having to make an overbet - which is the major reason why slow-playing is not an effective way to build a pot.
You're best limiting yourself to check-raising only when you know your opponent will bet. That way you minimize the risk of losing a round of betting those times your opponent checks through.
If you only check-raise your monsters, your opponent will quickly catch on and just fold everything that you beat.
Another way to build a big pot is to overbet the pot. The overbet can be extremely effective against certain types of opponents.
Many players still believe to this day that any time a player overbets the pot they are bluffing. You can use this to your advantage and punish this type of player with large overbets.
The reason overbets are so effective is for the same reason they say "Fast play is the new slow play." Players think, "If you have such a great hand, then why are you betting so much? If you had a real hand you would bet smaller and hope that I call."
Tom "durrrr" Dwan is a player who makes well-timed overbets regularly. He's such a dangerous player because he balances his ranges so well. His opponents are always left guessing as to what his overbets mean. They can signify a monster or complete air.
If you leave your opponent guessing, they are going to end up guessing wrong more often than they guess right. So start adding the overbet value bet to your arsenal.
Making Your Hand Is Only Half the Battle
Trying to decide how best to build a big pot is a good problem to have because it means you have a hand you're willing to go to the felt with.
Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide which line is the best for the situation. The right decision, like everything in poker, depends on many factors ... your image, your opponent's range, the table flow, etc.
There is no cookie-cutter way to play any hand, and one line might be best against one player but could be completely terrible against a different player.
It's up to you to pay attention to your opponents and use whatever information you have to your advantage to find the best possible line with your big hands.
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