Why bet pot blindly?



There exists a paradox in the maturation of today’s poker player, one that is unlike any other training program, be it game, sport, business, career or life.

Let’s say you want to learn to play golf. You don’t head to the PGA Tour offices, sign up for the tour and after a few months of playing head back to the public links to try out your new swing. It’s the same for any sport. You don’t get your experience in the major leagues only to go back to play T-ball.

Yet most people nowadays got their first introduction to poker from what they saw on television … no-limit hold’em. Hole-cams made thousands of people eight years ago rush right out and buy Doyle Brunson’s Super System, get themselves an online account and dive right into the no-limit pool with the sharks. And to those people I thank you for allowing me to pay off my mortgage 20 years early.

The online scene (at least the fish swimming there) has dried up considerably since then. And as I literally hear Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic playing on my iTunes right now (no kidding, she’s singing the It’s like raaaaaain on your wedding day verse, even though that’s not remotely ironic), it occurs to me the paradox that helped launch poker’s resurgence is what has caused it to dry up as well. If these players (myself included) had learned to play hold’em in a limit (then pot-limit) capacity first, they might still have a healthy bankroll.
It’s the natural progression that’s missing these days. A baby learns to sit up, crawl, wobble, walk and then run. It doesn’t come out of the womb entering marathons. Yet so many poker players start out running, only to run out of gas nowhere near the finish line.
Florida poker rooms are getting a taste of this now as players who were handcuffed for years by $100 buy-ins are now allowed to play for any stakes they want. What the state is finding out is the government had crippled these players because they had no way of learning proper strategy for deepstack high-stakes poker, consequently causing them now to lose their bankrolls much faster … and more devastatingly.

So, what am I getting at? I’ve been playing some pot-limit online lately and it’s absolutely remarkable to me how many times people bet pot preflop and after the flop. They see that “pot” button and are drawn to it like a fat guy to a burger. Or if there’s no “pot” button they just slide the betting bar over as far right as their mouse will let them and then click bet.

Why is that? I contend it’s the no-limit syndrome, where players learn NLHE first and have to transition back to pot-limit. Just because you can bet pot doesn’t mean you have to, and maybe they don’t know that. There is a MAX button when playing NLHE, but you don’t click it automatically when you want to raise or bet, do you? Of course not.

Let’s say for a minute you’re playing a NLHE tournament where the blinds are 25-50. You like your hand, are first to enter the pot and raise three times the big blind to 150. You get two callers and the blinds fold. The pot is now 525. You flop top pair with top kicker on an uncoordinated board and are first to act. How much are you betting?

Pot? Really? You’re going to risk 525 chips? Are you afraid of something? There’s no fear of a flush or straight coming on the turn, so why bet so much? Don’t you want to extract some chips from your opponents? You probably would bet 250-400, no? Yet it seems as though every time there’s a preflop raise in a pot-limit game players continue to bet the pot automatically. Are they too lazy to type in a number or to click the little arrow a couple of times? What is it that makes them click pot every time?

Sure, there are sound reasons for betting pot in certain situations, especially in pot-limit Omaha when the nuts is something you are always dodging or drawing to, but this doesn’t mean you should lose all grasp of strategy and bet-sizing.

By the way, if you are thinking of venturing into the land of PLO for the first time be sure to check out Jeff Hwang’s series on the subject, published by DiMat. It’s the best out there.
In pot-limit games, sometimes blinds are identical (e.g. 25-25), which is recommended for home games to make it easier when calculating how much is in the pot. In this case, if you were to bet pot as the first person to raise preflop it would be 100 units, because you essentially call the bet of 25, then bet what’s in the pot (75) for a total bet of 100. That’s fine, and perfectly acceptable.

But, already we can see a divergence from standard NL raising practices (not that there’s anything standard in poker, but you get the idea). Generally you would make it 2.5X or 3X the big blind, yes? That would be in the range of 60-75 for a raise, yet we’ve made it 4X. Yes, I said that was acceptable, but, if you get three callers (with the blinds folding) you have 450 units in a preflop pot that started with 25-25 blinds. Talk about bloated.
If you started with 1,500 chips and wanted to bet “pot” after the flop you basically will be making a continuation bet that’s almost a third of your stack. If you get raised and want to call you pretty much are all-in on the first hand. Is that the way you want to play poker? Not me.

The reason players like pot-limit games is they can see a flop for a decent price. And if they’re accomplished players they know they can outplay their opponents after the flop without it getting too costly.

Don’t be afraid to play pot-limit games with no-limit strategy, and only use the “pot” button as a betting tactic, not a betting crutch.

— Email comments to chris@anteupmagazine.com.

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