Pot control is the art of manipulating the size of the pot to your will in no limit poker games. The idea of “pot control” has helped me make a lot of money in poker – and it has also saved me a lot of money. Pot control is not an easy art to master, but it is well worth the effort in the long run.
This entire concept may sound a little fuzzy at first, but we’ll get into some concrete examples later on. But think about this: there are times in poker when you feel firmly in control of the pot. You are the one making the bets, the raises, checks and folds and you feel like you are the one choosing how big or small the pot grows.
There are other times in poker when you may feel like the pot is growing out of control. This happens to me sometimes still. It just seems like all of a sudden you look down and realize you’re sitting in a big pot with a marginal hand and have no idea how to escape. The goal of pot control is to make every hand you play look like the first scenario and not the second scenario.
When to Use Pot Control
The first step in implementing pot control is figuring out how strong you think your hand is in comparison to your opponent’s hand. This is easier said than done, of course, but you’ll usually have some sort of an idea of where you stand. When you get that figured out, you can then decide on how large or small you want the pot to be. For example:
If you have a set and you’re up against a calling station, you probably want to make big bets and raises all the way down. In this case, you want to bloat the pot as much as possible.
If you have top pair and you’re up against a tight player, you want to get value for your hand, but you don’t want to get all-in. You’re up against a tight player, so if you find yourself in a large pot with top pair, you are going to be in bad shape a large percentage of the time.
Or if you still have no idea where you stand, you will want to keep the pot somewhat small. Getting into big pots when you don’t know what your opponent has is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, the concept of pot control works even when you have no idea where you stand.
How to Use Pot Control
Choose a pot size you’re comfortable with and stick to it. There are a million ways to actually implement pot control, but you have to first decide on how much money you’re willing to risk with your hand. Once you have that figured out, you can then take steps to manipulate the size of the pot.
One important thing to remember about pot control is that it begins early in the hand. If you make a raise before the flop and make a bet on the flop, the pot is going to grow quickly. By the time you get to the river, a single pot-sized bet just might put you all in. A little advance planning goes a long ways in pot control.
Let’s say, for example, that you have top pair top kicker and are up against an average opponent whom you have never played against before. This opponent seems about average skill-wise but that’s about all you know. In this situation, you may decide that you want to play for a medium sized pot.
If you make pot-sized on the flop, turn and river, you’re going to open yourself up to a big pot. A single raise from your opponent will suddenly change everything and make you lose control of the pot. Instead of firing all three barrels, there are a couple of ways you can play this hand for a smaller pot.
One of my favorite moves with top-pair type hands is to make a bet on the flop, a bet on the turn and then check-call on the river. Small stakes opponents love to catch bluffs, so they will often call with junk on the flop and turn and then bet when you check to them on the river. This simple maneuver nets you a medium-sized pot without ever putting you in a risky situation.
Another move I like to make in similar situations is to bet on the flop, check on the turn and then bet again on the river. This betting line looks like a weak hand that made a c-bet on the flop and then gave up on the turn. When the opponent fails to bet on the turn, you place a bet on the river. You’ll get calls from a wide range of hands because it looks like you’re taking one last stab at the pot.
Remember that these are just a couple of examples of pot control in poker. There are a million different lines you can take when manipulating the size of the pot. But as long as you keep these principles in mind and consciously think about the size of the pot, you’ll figure out the best way to continue in any situation.
Folding for Pot Control
One thing you can never control in poker is what your opponent does. Sometimes your opponents will make big bets and raises that effectively steal control of the pot away from you. If you’re not comfortable with the way the hand is going, you always have the power to fold.