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The Evolution of Poker Strategy

Over time strategies evolve in poker and one strategy that has certainly evolved is pot control. Firstly I have never liked the term “pot control” because it implies that you can actually control something that cannot actually be controlled. I prefer to use the term “pot size manipulation” which is a more accurate description of betting or checking to influence the pot size at the end of the hand. Evolution of a Poker Player!

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the term pot control, and you will see it used in this article, but it does fall flat on its face in several key ways. Firstly astute opponents will attempt to take advantage of that by escalating the very pot that you are looking to control. For example if you raise before the flop and are called by the big blind who then sees you bet the flop and then check the turn after they call the flop c-bet, then it is pretty obvious to your opponent that you don’t hold a strong hand.

You are either checking the turn with a very weak hand with little pot equity and giving up or you are going into pot manipulation mode with a moderate hand. Now your opponent knows that you could fold to a big bet and can bet big on the river in an attempt to force you to fold. Another line that an astute player could take is check-raising the river if you decide to bet for thin value. This is going to put you into a difficult spot and many players would fold to a river check-raise if they cannot figure out in time that their opponent cannot possibly hold a strong hand.

So pot manipulation can be exploited and actually is exploited by better players. Another way that pot control tactics can be exploited is when you are out of position with a moderate hand against a tight player. Let us say that it is open raised from the cut-off by a reg and you call from the big blind with the Jd-10d. The flop comes 10c-6h-3s and you check and call your opponents c-bet. Your opponents range is wide and so your check-call extracts value from all of his weak c-betting range.

However if your opponent is both tight and giving up unless they improve, then check-calling the flop and checking the turn is not a good line to take. This is especially true if your opponent was unlikely to place any more money into the pot without improving to beat top pair. Like for example if they held the Ah-2h and the turn card was an ace. Here you would be forced to call another barrel but your opponent is extracting value from you when they connect and not having to concede value if they don’t.

This is the value of having position and the flaw in exercising pot control when out of position to players that don’t have high aggression factors. You simply cannot use a strategy that allows your opponent to only place money into the pot on their terms and their terms alone. So in the previous example you could consider check-raising the flop. This may appall pot control merchants but the check-raise will end a lot of pots with immediate effect.

This captures the remaining equity that your opponent holds but if they were never going to bluff, then your chances of extracting more value from their weakest parts of their range are non-existent. If your check-raise gets called then you can shut down but at least it is you that is now only placing money into the pot on your terms and not your opponent.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson is an 888 poker professional and writer who you can also see at Google +.

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