Usually the strength of your hand determines if you want to play a big or small pot, and this is especially relevant in no limit Texas Hold’em cash games, where pots can grow to be huge very quickly.
But for a similar reason, the texture of the board and the number of opponents also plays a role, and you need to plan a strategy that takes all these variables into account too.
A good poker player will try to make sure that they are in control of the hand, managing the size of the pot. You want to make sure you win the big pots and get out cheaply if you are losing, and the best way to do this is for your own play to be the determining factor in how big a pot gets.
This is significantly easier if you are in position – another reason that you should always have one eye on the dealer button.
See the following examples:
Example 1: A player UTG1 raises with blinds of $1/$2 to $4, UTG2 calls you call with 7♦7♠ on the button, both blinds call as well. There are $20 in the pot. Flop is 9♥7♥J♣. SB checks, BB bets $20, UTG1 calls, UTG2 raises to $50. You hold a set of sevens and facing a bet and raise. It is possible that you are beaten but your hand is too strong to fold, but with that many possible draws calling is not an option so you should make a big 3-bet here. After 3-betting, you can’t fold if an opponent decides to move all-in, so the action and the texture of the board don’t allow you to control the pot.
Example 2 – In this example pot controlling is a viable option: A player in MP2 raises to $4, you decide to call with 10♥9♥ on the Button. All the other players fold. The flop is J♦9♥7♣ and your opponent checks to you. You can bet your middle pair hand, but you can’t be too comfortable with your holding. MP2 calls and the turn is the 2♣. Again, your opponent checks. This time you can check behind and avoid building a big pot with your vulnerable holding.
In the first hand, you flopped a set and the action and texture of the flop demanded a big pot. With so many players and such a wet board – plus the strength of your own hand – there is simply no way to avoid getting a lot of chips in the middle.
The second hand showed a different situation. With some hands you need to keep the pot small, and middle pair with an average kicker is one of those times. You still have a good enough hand to win a lot of showdowns, but you don’t want to be pouring money in the pot.
You won’t be able to protect your hand against very strong draws every time. But as long as you are able to get your chips in the pot as a favorite you will make a profit in the long run.
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