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Size matters after all

    • Puschkin81
      Joined: 14.04.2006 Posts: 4,786

      Besides having fun, most of us try to make a profit out of playing poker. There are two options to achieve this: First, you can win more pots, and secondly, you can try to make the pots you are winning big, while keeping the pots you are loosing rather small.

      Shortly after I started playing Poker, I read some books, and I felt like I was ready: I knew the basics as well as some more advanced moves to bluff the opponents out of the game. My motto to maximize winnings was easy: Try to win as many pots as possible. You can either do that by holding a good hand, or by bluffing your opponents out of the pot.

      This way of thinking is a tremendous mistake, and it surely cost me a considerable amount of my winnings. By now I know that winning most pots is not what’s significant: It is essential to win the most important pots. In today’s article we will talk about the reasons the size of the pot is so important.

      The relevance of the size of the pot

      When I watched a No-Limit video a while ago, I noticed that the coach approached the planning of a hand quite differently. As soon as the first three community cards were unveiled, he knew at almost every hand what kind of pot he wanted to play for: Should it become a small, a mediocre, or a very big pot. Only after that he thought about alternative plays and the chosen move. Until then, I had not thought much about the planned size of a pot. I knew that I would play all my chips when having a royal flush, and that I would not risk much when having a highcard without a draw for a good hand. But apparently the size of the pot has a much larger meaning.

      The crucial point is that you will find very diverse pot sizes especially in No-Limit games. We receive a playable hand in middle position and start by raising to 4 BB. Oftentimes we win the pot right away since all opponents fold. We therefore win the blinds, meaning 1.5 BB. Sometimes a player might call and we do a continuation bet to pressure the other player to fold. In this scenario we win 5.5 BB. Such little winings are part of everyday life.

      Let’s now look at a different scenario. A tight player (i.e. he plays only few hands before the flop – and is hence careful to only play good hands) in early position starts with a 4 BB raise and we call with a small pocket pair. On the flop we hit our three of a kind. A flush or a straight are not possible. The opponent bets 7 BB, we call. The pot now consists of 23.5 BB (1.5 BB from the blinds, 2*4 BB from the actions before the flop and 2*7 BB from the actions on the flop). On the turn a safe card is unveiled, the opponent bets again, 20 BB this time. We raise to 60 BB and he calls. On the river the pot now measures 143.5 BB. The opponent checks and we bet the remaining chips we possess. He calls. He reveals his overpair (AA) and we win the hand with our three of a kind.

      No matter whether the opponent played well or badly, the hand shows how large the pot might become. In this example we played for a pot the size of 201.5 BB and we won 101.5 BB. If we lose a small pot, for example, in which we invested 5 BB 15 times, but we only win one large pot like the one above, then we still make a profit on the bottom line. The opposite also counts. We can win most pots (e.g. the 15 small pots), and still close a session with a minus because we lost one large pot.

      The golden rule in poker

      It therefore does not matter whether you win most pots. It matters that you win the crucial pots. You can ultimately reduce a session to a few key hands – those are the hands which were used to play for a big pot. The win or loss of those hands decisively determines the outcome.

      Thus, as soon as a pot grows large (and you can take part in this with your own actions) you should be relatively sure that you are holding the best hand. You generally should not play for a large pot with a marginal hand e.g. a mediocre pair. The following rule applies:

      “The better your own hand, the bigger the current pot should be. And analogously: The worse you own hand, the smaller the pot you are currently playing for should be.”

      Let’s look at the second scenario again. We got three of a kind on the flop. That is a very strong hand. Since neither a flush nor a straight was possible, only a higher three of a kind could beat us. That is very unlikely, and if the opponent really has such a hand, then that is bad luck and we lose all of our chips. In most cases we lead, however, and we want to make a respective profit. That is why you try and play for a large pot.

      If you look at the same hand from the opponent’s perspective, you can clearly see his mistake. Before the flop he has a monster with the AA – no hand could be better. This can change quickly on the flop, however. He has an overpair, which is a pretty good hand. But there are many hands which could beat him. The opponent could have two pairs or three of a kind, for example. Betting on the flop is a standard move and makes sense. The opponent made his mistake on the turn. On a relatively harmless flop, the opponent shows strength but we do not let him pressure us. That should make him wonder. Instead of wondering what hand we might have, he once again bets a higher amount and calls our raise. Thanks to that, the pot grew large and our opponent only has one pair (even if they are aces - it is only a pair…). His game brought him into a position in which he is playing for his entire stack with a mediocre hand – that was his mistake, and it cost him a lot of money.


      When playing an average session, I usually lose more pots than I win. But I still win most sessions. The reason is that I do not hesitate to fold mediocre hands when the pot grows large. Instead I try to build a very large pot when I have strong hands. I am OK with folding the best hand now and then if I am regarded as the favourite when playing for a big pot.

      This article is meant to show you that the main goal does not consist of winning most hands. The most important goal is to raise the pots, when you are relatively sure you will win them (since you have a strong hand), and to keep the pots small, when you think you might lose (since you have a weak hand).

      Good luck at the tables!
  • 6 replies
    • AlanBogdan
      Joined: 27.08.2007 Posts: 27
      nice article...and true..:) ...but doyle would not agree with u ;)
    • Requ1em
      Joined: 09.09.2007 Posts: 26
      Mhmmm, good post, although I consider this as very basic knowledge and only logical. I was a wee bit unlucky this week... of 12 times I lost 9 big pots although I was 90% to 10% favourite, thus almost went broke since I play with my first money. But generelly you're right... if you got something you should try to get money out of your opponent, you might be losing because of bad luck but not trying won't give you any money in the long run.

    • Gungunhana
      Joined: 26.02.2007 Posts: 429
      Very nice essay and true.
      It has happened to me just this week, an hand exactly like your example. The trouble is that I was the other guy :( I had already a warning pf because he limped, I raised 5BB and he called, which should have put me alert against a small pocket pair
      when your c-bet is called on the flop, after a raise pf, the turn must be approached with care.
    • howard182
      Joined: 30.10.2006 Posts: 416
      The hand example only shows bad pot control from the AA guy, not good pot control from the set guy, was this intended?

      If AA had checked the turn, it would've been impossible to get all the chips in without overbetting. You have to start building a pot on the flop, raise that cbet.
    • timukasr
      Joined: 26.05.2007 Posts: 1,820
      In micro-limits (0.02/0.04) people almost always play top pair or even midle pair same way as the guy in essay did with 3oak. It's quite difficult play because some opponents may show great agression, but they may have either top pair or strong/monster hand, and at the same time I may have a hand which beats top pair or is a top pair with good kicker.

      So how could I figure out which is wich (is it strong or marginal hand)?

      Any thaughts?
    • rubysilesia
      Joined: 03.07.2007 Posts: 351
      Good reading. Although I agree with this 100%, I still find it difficult to control the greediness especially when swinging down and finally I get my TPTK on the flop.
      Few days ago I started occasionally playing Maniac loose aggressive style on 1 table (NL5 with no more than 5 opponents). Im realizing even more how important is what u said. While playing Maniac I try to keep the pot small waiting for monster to raise/push. What surprised me, I still win reasonable amount of pots bluffing or at showdown but I have to give up a lot as well. The profit is when opponents got irritated and push or overbets TPGK/2pair. I think its good exercise this kind of play it helps to improve tight aggressive game and overall control on the game.