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Large pots vs. small pots

5th December, 2005
The great majority of players make decisions at the poker table without considering the size of the pot. This is a large leak in their game, and can be the difference between turning a profit at the tables and not. There are many situations when it is extremely important to know the size of the pot, some transparent and others hidden.

To show a profit at the poker tables, one of the areas that you must have an understanding of is pot odds. To determine the odds you are receiving on a bet you must know the amount, or at least roughly know the amount, in the pot. This is one of the transparent situations.

The main hidden reason to consider the size of the pot is the way you play a hand. There are some hands that you will want to build the pot with while there are others in which you want to keep the size of the pot small. Often you will be able to manipulate the size of the pot with a well-timed bet or call.

By learning the importance of pot size and how to manipulate it, you will move beyond the abilities of the great majority of your opponents. The basic rule is to be more inclined to fold weak drawing hands in a small pot, because the payoff will be small, and tend to not fold when the pot is large. This does tie into pot odds, but you dont have to know the exact pot odds to make good decisions.

Finally, the last consideration we have room for, is the decision to call or fold to a bet on the river when you are likely beat. Though this ties into pot odds somewhat, for most of these situations you dont need to know them, you just need to know if the pot is big or small. If you are faced with a bet on the river and feel that you are probably beat, if the pot is large it will be more costly in the long run to fold than call.

For example, there are 20 big bets in the pot and you must only call one. For it to be profitable to call, you must win only 5% of the time. You may play in different games than I do, but in the games I play there is someone bluffing on the river much more than 5% of the time. On the other hand, when the pot is small, you must win a much higher percentage of the time, so you should be more likely to fold when you dont have a strong hand.

One thing I havent mentioned that is very important, for these decisions to be correct, you must be heads up. If there is a bet and a call in front of you, it is very unlikely that you will be able to beat both players without a good hand. Even when there is a player yet to act behind you, calling a bet with a poor hand is usually incorrect.

Start considering the size of the pot when faced with difficult decisions and your game will quickly improve.

Until next week, good luck at the tables!

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