Big Hand, Big Pot; Small Hand, Small Pot

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Your stack is a tool.

This is a very simple poker lesson:

When you flop a big hand in poker, you want to create a big pot. And if you have a weak hand, you want a small pot.

Simple, yeah?

A lot of beginner poker players make the mistake of building large pots with one-pair hands only to eventually fold when the pot gets big.

Here's how you can keep pots small when you have a weak-ish hand and build big pots with your big hands.

Why Pot Control is Critical in Poker

The game is $1/$2 No-Limit Hold'em and effective stacks are $200. You're dealt A K on the button.

poker pot control
Pot control makes river decisions easier.

The two players in the blinds are solid TAGs. It's folded to you and you raise to $8. Small blind calls, big blind folds.

The flop comes down K 3 5. Your opponent checks and you bet $15; your opponent calls.

The turn comes 6. Your opponent checks and you bet $35. Your opponent calls.

The river comes 6. Your opponent bets $100 into you.

This hand is ugly. You have a strong hand and your opponent is showing massive strength on the river. Both folding and calling are bad here.

This is a tough spot because the pot is now very large and your hand, while strong, is not the kind of monster that would make you confident about getting all-in here.

If you had practiced pot control, your river decision would have been much easier.

Have a Big Hand, Build a Big Pot

When you flop a big hand, you want to win your opponent's stack.

"Big hand," however, isn't easily defined. It could be a set or a straight or two pair or even top pair. I define a big hand as:

  • A hand that you're willing to play for stacks against a certain opponent

This is a sliding scale. Against one loose player it may be correct to play a big pot with one pair. Against another, tighter opponent it may be a huge mistake.

The only way to tell is to observe the table rigorously and know your opponents. Your stack is a tool. You use it to win the other person's chips. You cannot win their stack without putting yours on the line.

You can, however, decide when you put your stack on the line.

Related Reading:

Practice Pot Control in Free Poker Games on PokerStars

Only Risk Your Stack with a Big Hand!

You should only risk your whole chip stack if you have a big hand. And you should seldom find yourself in a big pot having to fold.

To do that you have to maintain control of the pot size - meaning if that pot is big it's your fault and you'd better have a big hand.

Otherwise you need to look back and see how this big pot was created. Did you initially have a big hand and the situation has changed? Or had you been slowly building a big pot all along with a hand you weren't committed to?

Rather than building pots with all sorts of hands and then folding when the action gets too big, plan your hands. Know from the beginning how much action you can take with your hand and, if it's not a big-pot hand, then take a different line.

Related Reading:

pot control poker
Know how much action you can take.

Have a Small Hand, Play a Small Pot

Now that we've defined a big hand, pinpointing a small hand is easy:

  • A small hand is a hand you don't want to play a big pot with

As a general rule you should avoid playing for stacks with one-pair type hands.

If you are called you're normally behind. So when you have a hand like top pair you should exercise pot control.

Remember you are in charge of the hands you play! You build big pots when you have big hands and when you have smaller hands you actively control the size of the pot so you're not put to a tough decision.

If you're always in control of the pots you're in it makes it extremely difficult for your opponent to win your stack. This is why many players can employ a loose-aggressive strategy successfully.

They may appear to be playing crazy but that's only when the pots are small. If they play a big pot, you can rest assured they have a big hand.

Use Pot Control on the Turn!

Pot control can and should be used when you have a hand that isn't good enough to play for stacks. This hand could be second pair, it could be top pair; it could even be an overpair. It all depends on who you're playing against.

Let's look at an example of keeping the pot small by checking the turn:

Game is $1/$2 No-Limit; effective stacks are $200. The players in the blinds are both solid TAGs. It's folded to you on the button with K Q. You raise to $6; the SB folds, the BB calls.

The board comes Q 3 7. Your opponent checks and you bet $9; he calls. The turn is the 3. Your opponent checks and you check behind.

Related Reading:

control pots poker
Stay in control of the pots you're in.

A Win-Win Situation

This is a very good use of pot control. Your hand - top pair, good kicker - is strong.

Nonetheless, it's not a big hand, meaning you wouldn't be willing to play for stacks against your TAG opponent. You know this player is not going to call down three streets with a hand you beat.

Let's say for example he did flop a set here. If he check-raises the turn you may have to lay down the best hand or fold with money invested.

So you can check behind now on the turn to keep the pot small in case you are behind.

If he now decides to bet the river, the pot will be small enough you can justify a call. You'll be able to see a showdown for what it would have cost you to bet the turn!

Checking the turn may also cause him to bet or call with a worse hand on the river, so it's a win-win situation.

Play in Super Soft Games at Tiger Gaming Poker

When Shouldn't You Use Pot Control?

Pot control should only be used when the board is dry. It's never advisable to not protect your hand. So if your hand is vulnerable to draws, you must continue your aggression. You do not want to allow draws to get in cheap!

build big pots poker
Save your big pots for big hands.

An example that shows why it's crucial to be know when your hand is vulnerable to draws:

Game is $1/$2 No-Limit; effective stacks are $200. You raise to $6 from middle position with A K. Everyone folds to the big blind, who comes along for the ride. The flop comes K 6 7.

Your opponent checks and you bet $10. Your opponent calls. The turn is the 2 and your opponent checks again. This time you bet $25.

Bet Now to Protect Your Hand

This board is far too wet to allow a free card here. There are quite a few draws in his range and the river could bring a number of less-than-stellar cards.

So bet now to protect your hand. It is rarely advisable to give free cards when your hand is vulnerable.

Pot control, like most poker tactics, is not a gambit you can use all the time. It is situation-dependent.

If you know your opponent is going to call three streets with hands you beat, then by all means value bet relentlessly.

By now it should be evident that pot control should be used when your hand isn't strong enough against a given opponent to play for a big pot. You are control of the pots you play.

So save your big pots for big hands and when your hand isn't big, play to protect your chips.

Related Poker Strategy Articles

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Arty Smokes 2011-08-17 05:41:39

I kind of learned this pot control strategy by trial and error, but I still get caught out when playing an overpair, with AA being the classic example. When I read Doyle's 'Super System' and he said something like "I don't like aces. I either win a small pot, or lose a big one" I thought "Aces are simple to play. You just try and get it all in on the flop, by betting out, check-raising, or re-raising" but then I found myself getting stacked by sets, 2 pr, a straight or flush. It wasn't always just bad luck. It was from being complacent and being so in love with my pair (which had won 80% of the time in the past without any great thought on my part).
Now I recognise that even with the best possible overpair, there are good flops and bad flops. 722 is a good flop if you have aces in a raised pot, as only 77 or the unlikely quad deuces or A2 is beating you. If you lead out with aces on a QJT flop with two flush cards and get raised, however, you could be in big trouble. Sure, you have the overpair and a gutshot Broadway draw, but AK (or even 89) already has the straight; QJ, QT, and JT have 2 pairs; a flush draw has 9 outs twice; someone could have AKs for the combo straight/ flush (or even royal flush) draw. Another Q,J or T on the turn (just as likely as an ace) will give someone trips.
It's just really hard to keep the pot small if you DO have aces in bad situations like that. If you check and villain bets the pot, you can't just fold, but you also can't check-raise for "information", as the pot will become so big that you'll both be committed. Checking will keep the pot small, but give villain a free card to help him draw out on you and you still can't put him on a particular hand, so you might have to call his river shove. If you make it to the turn without being all in, even a non-flush rag is no good for you if villain bets/raises. I just wish I could be disciplined to fold on those occasions where I let the pot get out of control with such a vulnerable hand and end up calling on every street when I sensed it was over on the flop.

BENJAMIN HASSEL 2011-07-15 17:33:07


Uzelezz 2010-06-14 17:03:35

I play at tables with some tight guys and if they bet pot on flop and turn and river i knew they always have a good hand like set or something like that. When they bet flop and check turn i know they are weak or bluff. They NEVER check turn if they have a set. Quite predictable. So i just push allin on river and see them fold all the time becuz i know the fishes are too weak to call.

Sean Lind 2009-08-01 21:20:00


although you can take many lines, the simplest one here to control the pot would be checking the turn. That 6 on the turn is an innocuous card which didn't really change anything in the hand. If you were ahead on the flop, you're still ahead on the turn, same if you were behind.

Since your opponent called on the flop, you can assume they're most likely calling if you bet the turn. You gain no more information, and add $70 to the pot going to the river.

jay 2009-07-31 22:59:00

so what were you supposed to do in the first example?

ALEX 2009-06-01 07:28:00

I am writing for the first time today,so thank you.
I assume this articles are most intended for on line playing,live you find many different situations which may change a bit the direction to take. My experience (about 1000 tourrny so far) showed me to bet big even with small hands if your opponent is capable of folding a big hand.I play about 10 tourny at one time all day and betting big when I have a good understanding of the table, is for the most, the best profitable way to get your opponent's money,when you bet big ,even with rag,your opponent first need to have a good hand to call and if he/she does,still must have the guts to call,but you still have two live cards which usually have at least 30% possibility,so you have the bet,two live cards plus the fold equity against only a big hand,3 to1.
This is not a general rule for every time as you may understand but betting relatively big most of hands you choose to play has being far more profitable to me than betting little.Small bet only invite some players to re-steal from you or in the attempt, out draw you,if you believe your hand is not good to bet it ,don't play it because even when you hit the flop it will be stolen from you most of the time if you are playing good players.
I respect Daniel's writing and I have learn a lot from you,and if allow I will still learn a lot more from you,just that I have my own experience and some time it is a little different than it looks.My opinion should be understood as reflections only not contradictions,my intention is good .

Carlos R. 2008-04-03 18:49:00

check raising is when a player out of position (acting first) checks, hoping that you would bet, so he can come over the top and re-raise with a strong hand or a strong semi-bluff (like a draw); either way it is ussually a great sign of strenght.

George 3 2008-03-22 07:53:00

What does it mean to check-raise?


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