Pot Control Revisited Part Two – Multiple Goals

No Limit Texas Holdem

February 9, 2009

I’ve touched on this a little bit before in the previous pot control articles, but it probably bears additional discussion.  In situations where you’re engagin in pot control with a top pair/top kicker type hand, you have a large number of simultaneous goals.  The one we’ve spent the most time on is avoiding going broke to a set or other unlikely flopped hand.  This is very important because the amount of money you stand to lose in such situations is very large.  However, implementing pot control is far from your only goal.  After all, the vast majority of the time when you hold top pair or better your opponent doesn’t flop a set or a fluke two pair.  Instead they flop something you have beat.

In such situations the amount of money you stand to win typically isn’t particularly large unless your opponent is either very unlucky or a bad player.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.  Rather it means you need to find a strategy that maximizes your results against weaker hands while simultaneously maintaining pot control.  It turns out, as long as you’re in position, this is typically doable.

Let’s say, for sake of example, that you were dealt KdKs in the cutoff preflop, everyone folded to you, you raised to 4x the big blind, the button folded, the small blind called, and the big blind folded.  You have about 120 big blinds left in your stack, and the small blind has you covered.  The flop is Qh7s5s.  Now this is a classic pot control situation.  You didn’t charge your opponent that much to draw, and now it’s certainly possible that your opponent has flopped a set or two pair (presumably 7s and 5s if he opens at all reasonably).  This doesn’t mean you did anything wrong – the nature of NL holdem is that you usually can’t bet enough preflop to price out draws and still get action.  As a result you’d like to avoid having more than about 40BB go in after the flop.  All the pot control articles here will help you achieve that goal.

Implementing pot control takes care of the times your opponent out flopped you.  But the vast majority of the time (90%+) you will have the best hand here.  In those instances, you want to extract the maximum possible value out of your opponent.  All without sacrificing pot control of course.  In order to do this, it pays to think about what kind of hands your opponent could have that you beat:

  • villain could hold a strong top pair type hand like AQ
  • villain could hold a weak top pair hand – perhaps QJ or QT
  • villain could have a weaker made hand – a pair of sevens perhaps, or a medium pocket pair that missed a set draw
  • villain could be on a draw – a straight draw, a flush draw, an ace, or some combination of the above
  • villain could have air – nothing to speak of

Now, different courses of action will cause you to fair radically differently against these different possible opponent holdings.

  • If villain holds a queen, you’d be best off if you abandoned pot control all together and just kept betting.  You might win villain’s whole stack.  The worst thing you could do if villain holds a Q is adopt a line where you might have to fold.
  • If villain holds a weaker made hand, you’ll probably be best off with a line that bets the flop and checks the turn, leaving villain thinking he might be good which may induce an erroneous river bet or call.  A line that checks the flop and potentially induces action on the turn is not bad either.
  • If villain is on a draw, the best lines all bet the flop, and bet the turn if all/most draws miss but check if a major draw hits.  The worst lines check the flop leaving you no clue where you stand on the turn and letting villain draw for free.
  • If villain holds air, the best lines check the flop to induce a bluff.  The worst lines bet the flop and cause villain to fold.

As you can see, there’s no one best line that will extract maximum value from villain wile maintaining pot control.  This is a balancing act.  But we can do some logical deduction to figure out what the best compromise is.  If villain holds a made hand or a draw, the best lines all start by betting the flop.  Only when villain holds air do you want to check behind on the flop.  So how likely is it villain holds air vs. a made hand or draw?  The presence of two different draws on the board goes a long way towards indicating villain will have something.  If the board had been 732 rainbow, we would expect villain to have air much more frequently.

This leads to a general principle of pot control: when you’re going to skip betting either the flop or the turn for the purpose of pot control, think seriously about skipping the turn when the board is draw-heavy and/or ace high, and skipping the flop when the board is “dry” i.e. there are few draws and the board is not ace high.

As as aside, if you watch High Stakes Poker, look for the better players to check behind on the flop with top pair on dry boards.  They do it a lot.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
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