Are You Ever Really “Pot Committed” in Poker?

Judging by how often people misuse the terms "pot odds" and "pot-committed," many of us could probably benefit from an overview of this topic.

Pot Odds

Pot odds in poker are relatively simple:

  • If you have a hand that hits 30% of the time (and we're assuming when it hits, it's going to take down the pot), then naturally it's going to lose 70% of the time you play it.

Therefore, every time you play this hand you need to be getting the proper odds.

For every $1 you put into the pot of your own money, there has to be $3 already in that pot to make your play profitable. So when you lose the hand twice, and win it once, you make money.

It's never right to draw without the odds. This means that if you go to the flop heads-up it's almost impossible to get the pot odds to chase your draw.

Further Reading:

pot committed poker

Implied Odds

The second type of odds in poker are implied odds.

In basic terms, implied odds refers to the money that will be put into the pot after you act on the current street. These are much more advanced in a No-Limit game than in a Limit game.

In a Limit game you can be sure how many bets you will be able to get out of your opponents. This is one reason why learning to play poker in a Limit context is such a good idea -- it will let you fully grasp the idea of implied odds.

In a No-Limit game implied odds are much harder to calculate.

Further Reading:

An easy example to further understand implied odds is "the calling train."

The Calling Train

If you know that the players left to act behind you are loose-aggressive players who like big pots -- and can't turn down good odds -- then you have the ability to calculate implied odds pre-flop.

The guy to your right makes a small raise; you're next to act with seven live players behind you. When you call, it starts the calling train.

The guy behind you knows about this "phenomenon" as well, so he will make the same play you did - make a call with a marginal hand into a raised pot. Once you call, and the guy to your left calls behind you, the next player is getting 3-1 on a call (not including dead money).

Every player behind him has his odds increased by one. So each subsequent call becomes easier, and thus can be expected, regardless of cards held by certain types of players.

So even though you don't have the pot odds to make the call you have the implied odds.

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Are You Really "Pot-Committed" in Poker?

Pot-committed is a term that is used as an excuse to make poor calls. People will make a bad call and justify it to themselves, and the others at the table, with "I was pot-committed."

This is one of the topics that create the biggest discussions/arguments with other poker professionals. To explain it best, let's look at a simple example.

A player to my left is in a five-way hand. They hold T-J and have an open-ended straight draw on the flop.

pot odds pot committed
Mike Caro, one of poker's great mathematicians.

Action goes all the way to the river with the player third to act. The pot, with five players all still in, is larger than average for the table.

There's around $350 in the pot when the river comes down. The first player goes all-in; the second player does the same.

Now, the board is 9-Q-A-6-7 with three hearts, the last to come on the river. The player has $10 left so the pot is now $420.

That means the player is getting 42-1 on her money. The player looks at the size of the pot, says "Well, I'm pot-committed" and throws in the $10.

Even though the player only has to win this once out of the 42 times to make significant money on that $10, it's still a ridiculous play.

The Betting Story Makes It Impossible to Win

With the betting story, it's impossible for this player to win the hand. Even if the first all-in was a three-high bluff it's not possible that the second all-in was also a bluff below a jack-high. The odds mean nothing when you're drawing dead.

The main point in this argument is:

  • Putting money in the pot when you're drawing dead is always -EV no matter what the odds are.

It's a fine line to walk between when you should be playing the odds and when you should release the hand, ignoring the odds.

This is one of the opportunities where you can help bring up your win rate. Daniel Negreanu talks about having this argument with a poker player who would fold for $10 into a $1,000 pot if he knew he was beat.

Negreanu argues that in such a scenario you would be wrong to fold; you'd actually be good enough of the time to make money (you only have to be wrong once out of the hundred times you play it).

In reality, the odds are rarely this large. The last word on when to submit to being pot-committed is really up to you and how confident you are in your reads.

Further Reading:

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am i pot committed

When to "Jam" the Pot

Another mistake a lot of poker players make is "jamming the pot" as a way of distorting the odds. Example:

You're six-handed to the flop and you've flopped a flush draw.There's $50 in the pot. The first four players check; the guy to your right bets $30, leaving $100 behind.

You raise to $80 and everyone else folds (pot now at $160). The original bettor goes all in for $130 total (pot=$260). So now you have to call $50 into a $260 pot. 

That's just over 5-1 on your money. So you have the pot odds to call.

The error, though, is that your original raise to $80 was a poor play. You can be pretty sure no one would call your raise ahead of the original bettor. They all checked. If they have a monster, they'll raise or they'll fold.

So now you've just put in a raise that forces the other player to fold or move all-in. He moves all-in, forcing you to have to call.

If you had not made the original raise then you would have never had odds to get $130 into the pot on a draw.

If you look at it on a results basis (it's almost never right to look at poker from results) you put 50% of the money into this pot.

Even though, when you called the all-in, it was the correct play at the time, you should never have gotten yourself into that situation. You did not have the odds to chase your flush. Instead you jammed the pot, distorting the odds and forcing your own hand.

People who like to gamble do not want to fold flush draws. A poker player who knows they're supposed to fold will make this play to justify their gambling at the table.

It is not correct - it will lose you money. Above everything else, if you're playing the odds correctly, you're going to make money at poker, regardless of the cards or the other players.

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John Scandiffio
2017-09-25 03:38:50

totally agree here. i mean isn’t folding out equity the point of raising flush draws as semi bluffs? though the general situation holds true stack sizes are relevant so if the other player’s stack is either very deep or very shallow it’s risky. shallow players are more lilely to go all in, and deep might call with any pair or even checkraise to put the pressure back on you.

james lett
2015-10-22 16:04:08

I think your idea of ‘ jamming the pot’ could be flawed. If the original bettor was the original raiser.if he’s cbetting then he’s bluffing x amount of the time. If reraise could get him to fold 60%+ of the time I think it’s profitable in the long run

Morten Hard
2009-08-18 02:53:00

‘Jamming the pot’ was truly usefull reading. Thanks! <:D

2008-04-15 13:43:00

Good refresher on odds Sean.

I especially like the part re “The Calling Train”. This concept is important and realizing that the guys in late position in ‘the train’ can hold virtually any two cards when they enter the pot is crucial for the post flop play.

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