What Is Pot Control & Why Does It Matter?
You’ve probably heard the poker term pot control before. If you want to know what it means and why it matters, read on.
This article covers:
- What is Pot Control?
- Why Should You Pot Control?
- How Important Pot Controlling is for Poker Players
I will also give you some concrete examples of when you should pot control and when you shouldn’t so that you leave with a much better understanding of this concept.
Let’s dive in!
What Does Pot Control Mean?
Pot Control in poker means checking (or betting small) with the aim of maintaining the size of the pot so it doesn’t get much bigger. Pot controlling is generally done with marginal hands that are uncertain to win at showdown.
Here are some examples to illustrate this definition:
- You are in position and you check back instead of betting
- You are facing a bet and opt to call instead of raising
In both cases, your action allows you to reach the next street without increasing the size of the pot.
Pretty simple, right? Let’s move forward!
Why Should You Control the Size of the Pot?
From a theoretical perspective, there is only one reason why you should pot control: to increase your expected value (EV).
Different hand strengths perform best at different pot sizes given the same stack-to-pot ratio (SPR). Let me give you some extreme examples so that it becomes clear.
Suppose you are holding middle pair on a board with both straights and flushes possible — on . Would you rather be in this situation in an…
- 8bb pot with 96bb left in your stack; or
- A 70bb pot with 150bb left in your stack.
Intuitively, and correctly so, we feel that we’d rather have that marginal hand in the smaller pot. If the pot has already ballooned to 70bb, the odds of our measly middle pair being the winning hand are much lower.
Why is that? Because of the range filtering that occurred to get to the current size of the pot. For a pot to get to 70bb, that means that the opponent has shown aggression (or called our aggression) on multiple streets and/or with large bet sizes.
All of these actions indicate a good hand for our opponent. Comparatively, for the pot to have only increased to 8bb, that means that there has been a lot of checking and/or small bet sizes involved, all of which point towards a lower hand ranking for the opponent.
How Important is Pot Controlling?
Pot control is a very important concept to integrate into your game. It is one of the cornerstones of poker strategy, and it’s one of the reasons why some beginning poker players end up losing a lot of money.
Here’s the mistake beginners tend to make…
They keep betting with hands that are too weak for the pot size that they are building. As a result, they end up losing the hand too often — and the pot they lost is much bigger than it should have been.
If you find yourself consistently betting and/or raising with medium-strength hands, then you are probably costing yourself a lot of money. Most of the time, you force folds from too many worse hands and get called by too many better hands. That is the opposite of what you want to happen at the poker table!
Example of When You Should Pot Control
Let’s consider the following scenario:
You raise first in from Middle Position with . The Big Blind calls.
The flop is . The Big Blind checks, you fire a c-bet of 1/3rd of the pot. The Big Blind calls.
The turn is the giving you second pair. This is a very reasonable hand to pot control. If you bet and get called, you will force your opponent to fold many hands you beat (like and ) and call mostly with hands that have you beat (like ).
There’s one other big downside to betting: you open yourself up to being check-raised. Against a check-raise, you will certainly be forced to fold your middle pair, forfeiting the rest of your equity by not seeing the river.
By pot controlling, you allow yourself to see the river for free. This gives you the opportunity to bluff-catch profitably on the river if your opponent has a missed draw. Or, you might hit trips or a two pair and win money from the hands without having committed any money against them when you were behind.
This all sounds like a great deal!
This is all you need to know about pot controlling to play better than most of your opponents!
Tell me, have you been thinking about pot controlling this way until now? What have you learned that is different from what you thought before?
Let me know in the comment section down below!
If you want to learn about another critical poker concept, check out What is a 3-Bet? Why (And How) You Need to 3-Bet More Often
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
Note: World-class pro Doug Polk has created a new poker crash course called The Postflop Playbook, which costs just $7 and takes less than 2 hours to complete.