If you’ve played online poker for any significant amount of time, you know that poker is about a lot more than just betting when you have the best hand. In Texas Holdem, we bet for a variety of reasons. We may bet to build a pot that we think we are going to win, or to get an opponent to fold if we are afraid they have us beat or will have us beaten by the end of the hand. But another key reason to bet in Texas Holdem is to control the pot.
What is Controlling the Pot?
Controlling the pot means managing the size of the pot in order to make it more or less desirable for players to attempt to win it. In other words, if the pot is very large, opponents will be more likely to call bets with weaker hands because of the expected payoff. If the pot is small, it may be easier for you to get away from a hand that may be beaten.
How Do You Control the Pot?
The only way to control the pot is through betting. This is much more difficult in limit hold’em than in no limit texas holdem due to the fixed amount of the bets. However there are ways to build a big pot early in a limit hold’em game, or to keep the pot small.
Building a Big Pot
The way to build a big pot in limit hold’em is to make sure multiple bets get in the pot on each street. For example: You have Js Ts in middle position. You limp in, the next player raises, and the button, small blind, and big blind all call. The flop comes 3s 9s Qh. This is a fantastic drawing flop for you, and you may be tempted to bet when the action reaches you. Instead, this may be a good time to try and build a big pot. If you bet right away, the player who raised initially may raise again. This will make it two bets to the other three players, meaning they will be getting 6.5 to 1 (2 bets to win 13) for the first caller, slightly more for the second and third callers. These are good odds, but if any of these players fold, subsequent players may decide their odds are not good enough. If they all fold, you will be heads up against one player who clearly has a better hand than you right now, which is the last thing you want. On the other hand, let’s say you check in this situation. Now if the pre-flop raiser bets, each player will be getting at least 11 to 1. These odds may be too good to resist. Once the action gets back to you, you can now raise. Even if the pre-flop raiser raises again, the other players will be hard pressed to throw away a chance at 18 or more bets in the pot for only two more bets. If the pre-flop raiser gets scared of you and just calls, subsequent players will be almost forced to call at 17 to 1. Now you have built the perfect pot. Even if a spade or a straight card comes, multiple players will probably feel compelled to pay you off for a shot at the 20 or more bets that will be in the pot.
Keeping the Pot Small
On the other hand, let’s say you have a big hand that is not likely to improve. You may want to keep the pot small to protect yourself if things take a bad turn. Perhaps you are dealt QQ in early position. You raise and get one caller. The flop comes Ah Ts 9s. In a no-limit game, you might be tempted to put in a continuation bet to see where you stand. However, in a limit game, your bet will often be called by a player with a flush draw, straight draw, or any pair. If you bet and are raised, you will either have to throw your hand away or call and risk being strung along for more bets on the turn or river, which will be especially difficult if a spade or straight card comes. If you check, you leave yourself more options. If your opponent bets, you can call and see a turn card for only one bet. Once that card comes you can determine where you stand in the hand, and if you decide to fold, will have forfeited a relatively small pot. If your opponent checks, you can bet on the turn and still have only lost a fairly small pot if you are check raise. If you are not check raised, you should be able to get to a showdown with a hand that will often win, but which could not withstand the kind of heavy betting that would occur if the pot got large quickly.