Controlling the size of the pot is essential for success when playing no-limit hold’em. Since you only hit one in every three flops you rarely are going to hit it so hard that you should be willing to play a really big pot by the turn and the river. If you focus on playing pots in position, you’ll give yourself the extra advantage of seeing what your opponents do. This way you can decide if you want to build the pot or check behind to keep it more manageable and in line with the strength of your hand.
Let’s say you raise with – from the cutoff and both blinds call. The flop is –– and it’s checked to you. You make a continuation bet and the big blind calls. The turn is the and he checks to you. A lot of players think a bet is needed to protect against a flush draw. But think about this: What would you do if your opponent check-raised you? I’ve been in these spots before and it makes me sick to my stomach. You’re way ahead or way behind. If you’re ahead, then he probably has, at most, nine outs with one card to come. If you’re behind, he probably has a set, straight or two-pair.
Check to keep the pot more in line with your pair and avoid the potential stomach-turning check-raise. You might get your opponent to bluff on the river with a busted draw or value bet a weaker hand since you checked and “showed weakness” on the turn. You can call the river bet, which probably would be about the amount your turn bet would have been had you not checked. This allows you get to showdown for the same price, but without risking a check-raise by your opponent or a call on the turn and then an even bigger bet on the river.
Once you’re involved in a hand with position on your opponents, try to constantly think about these things:
• How big is my hand for this pot? You want to play big pots with big hands and small pots with small hands (one pair on the turn or river is a small hand so try to get to showdown as cheaply as possible).
• What is my reason for betting or checking-behind?
• Can I get to the next street or showdown for the same price as a bet on this street? With smaller hands, this is often going to play a big factor in checking to keep the pots in line with your hand strength.
• Am I in a way-ahead or way-behind situation? This happens so often that once you start thinking about this question in the middle of a hand, you’ll realize just how many times you have your opponent crushed or he actually has you in really bad shape.
Pay attention to what’s going on; don’t feel like you have to ram and jam a pot to take it down now. If you find yourself in one of these spots, look to just check and get further in the hand without building a bigger pot with a marginal hand.
Focus on getting in position, taking control of hands and controlling the size of the pots and I assure you playing poker will become even more fun and much more profitable.
Decide to win!
— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Check out his site at www.acumenpoker.net.