Saturday, March 13, 2010

Keeping the Pot Small in Hold Em

The following is a poker tip from world-class professional poker player Jennifer Harmon:

Poker is a game of decisions. Some decisions are very easy to make, while others will keep you awake all night if you choose poorly. In my experience, the larger the pot size, the harder the decision you’ll be faced with.

On the other hand, the smaller the pot is, the easier the decision. Which is why, especially in tournament play, you want to keep the pot small when you’re holding a marginal hand. You don’t want to be facing a decision for all of your chips in a situation where all you’ve got is something like top pair with a medium-strength kicker. You want to avoid that scenario as much as possible. It’s better to keep the pot small by checking and calling rather than building a huge pot, even if you do hold an advantage in that hand.

Let me give you an example from a hand I played at a World Series of Poker event last year. We were still fairly early in the tournament, and... -click to read the rest of her article.

I personally agree wholeheartedly with her poker tip as it relates to poker tournaments. I wish I had applied her logic back in the days that I was playing in them. As I look back I realize how lucky I was to have made it to so many final tables in the summer of 2006 here at the Ameristar when it was East Chicago Resorts, and in Tunica; and I even managed to win a few. Poker players have the memory of an elephant and I remember certain situations where I was holding top pair, shit kicker or even top pair, big kicker and I'd go crazy with it just to find out that the other player is holding a set of 9s and bust out the tournament. Making a big pot with a not so big hand is one way to make poker a lot harder for you. Its already a hard living to make, but holding back on the aggression in some instances can be the difference between you making money at poker and working at a telemarketing job for $6.25 an hour. Believe me, I've been there.

Although Jennifer Harmon advises players to keep the pot small as it relates to tournament play, I see a few instances where keeping the pot small can help you in cash games. For instance, let's say that you have shitty position in a heads up pot in a no limit hold em game where you raise in the cut-off position with K-10c suited and the guy who has the dealer button smooth calls your raise and the flop comes 10d 9d 2c. Great, you flop 10s. In this situation. I may make a bet anywhere between 60% - 100% of the pot. If he calls, I might check the turn card no matter what it is just to see what he does. More times than not, the person may also have a piece of that flop or in this case a good diamond draw. I don't want to build the pot to the point where I've bet so much money that if he hits his draw or if he already has a better hand than me that I'm pot committed and have to call off all my money in a losing situation. The range of possible hands that he may call a preflop raise on the button are 10-9 suited, A-10 suited or unsuited, 7-8 suited, Q-J suited, and the flop is a good flop for all of the above hands and a monster if he's holding a pair of tens or a pair of nines. So let's say the turn comes 3h for a board that reads 10d 9d 2c 3h. I'm going to check to the player behind me in this spot and see what the guy does. If he bets I won't necessarily fold the hand, my top pair of 10s may be good here, but I don't wanna be going broke on one hand either.

Most times, people bet about 50 - 60% of the the pot whenever they bet, so if the pot is $20 and the player behind me bets $10, okay, I'll see another card for $10. If I raise him here to $30, he may reraise me and now the pot is big and I have to figure out if he's on a draw, did he flop two pair, or a set and this decision may be for the rest of my money on the table. This part of my game has always been the weakest for me because I'm a very aggressive player in any cash game I partake in and if I think I got the best hand I will pound the flop, turn and river to extract the maximum amount of money out of my opponent. As a result, I win big when I win and I lose very quickly when I lose. And my strategy is fine when I have better than a pair and a shit kicker, but when I'm holding a marginal hand I should learn to hold the aggression so I can better analyze the situation without putting so much of my money in jeopardy. So yes, in this situation, I'd rather see another card and potentially lose the $10 I called as opposed to losing $150 - $200 dollars by juicing the pot with just a marginal hand. Now let me throw out a few scenarios here. Let's say the river brings an inconsequential card such as 2c. Its inconsequential because if he already holds a pair of tens or 9s and flopped the 10 or the 9 for a set of tens or nines, I've been drawing dead since the beginning of the hand, but that only happens 11% of the time. If he's on a straight or flush draw the 2c on the river didn't improve his hand. So I check, and he throws out another $10 bet. I'm going to call here and he flips over Q-10 and I take down a decent pot with K-10 because I have a better kicker and I didn't go crazy. Let's say I had reraised him on the turn and he reraises me out of aggression. I may have ended up folding the best hand to a guy with an inferior hand because I had to put him on something better than Q-10 since he's betting and reraising my raise; and more importantly, I don't want to lose all my money on a pair of 10s with a marginal kicker. In the above hand, I risked $30 in the hand as opposed to a potential $200. Now let's change that river card to a 2d which gives him a flush, I check and he bets $10, I can either fold the hand and assume that he hit his flush, or I can decide that $10 is a small enough bet to call and look him up. In this case I only lose $30 total instead of $200 and in the instances where he's bluffing the made flush I win the pot, which happens more often than you believe.

big pots = big decisions; small pots = a small call