With Colorado and Washington recently legalizing marijuana, I thought it would be fitting to discuss pot control – in poker.
I recently played a $1,675 World Series of Poker Circuit event in my hometown of West Palm Beach, Fla. Halfway through Day One, I played a hand that perfectly illustrates pot control.
The blinds were 100-200 with a 25 ante. The lojack (the player three seats to the right of the button) raised to 450. The hijack (two seats to the right of the button) three-bet to 800. I was in the big blind with Qs 10s and called 600 more. The lojack also called the three-bet.
The three of us saw a flop of Qc 10c 5c. I was first to act and checked. The lojack checked, and the hijack bet 1,500. I called. The lojack folded.
The turn brought the 2h. I checked, as did my opponent.
The Js landed on the river. I checked again, my opponent bet 2,300, and I called. He turned over Ac Ks, and I lost the hand.
There is a plethora of ways I could have played this hand, some of which you might not agree with. My first decision was to call a three-bet with Q-10 suited. There was a low probability that the initial raiser would reopen the betting and a high probability that he would just call the three-bet. Based on those assumptions, I am calling 600 more into a pre-flop pot of 2,700 with a suited Broadway hand that holds a lot of value. Simply put, the math says I should call in that spot almost all the time.
The flop was a good one for my hand. I flopped top two pair but on a very draw-heavy board. I think a lot of players would play the flop more aggressively than I did. Someone could have flopped a flush, but against a lot of drawing hands (for instance, Kc Jh, Ac Kd or As Jc), My odds of winning are roughly 50 percent to 63 percent. Remember: There was a three-bet, and hands such as A-K and A-J make up a wide part of his range. Considering that I could be drawing to a full house (with four outs) if someone did flop a flush, I shouldn’t be wagering a lot of chips on those percentages.
My two pair became slightly more attractive with the 2h on the turn, but I thought my best action was to check. If I bet the turn, I would be making the pot bigger without gaining any more information, and possibly betting into an opponent who already hit a flush. This would allow him to play the turn and river perfectly against me. There is an argument for betting the turn/river but folding to resistance. That creates a stickier situation where not everyone is capable of folding.
With the jack landing on the river, a couple more combinations beat me, specifically A-K. With my opponent three-betting preflop, betting the flop and then checking the turn, it was very possible he had a hand like A-K. This was my main reason for checking the river. I could also induce bluffs and save myself chips by not betting. Betting the river in this spot is an option if you think your opponent will only call with A-K and won’t raise the river as a bluff too often.
Sometimes check-calling is the best strategy when you are playing a big pot out of position.
Tristan Wade is a World Series of Poker bracelet winner and the Director of Training and Education for DeepStacks Live poker seminars. Learn more at deepstacks.com. Twitter: @TristanCre8ive.)