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Controlling the Pot in Poker

One of the most critical aspects to surviving - and thriving - in deep stack tournaments is learning how to control the size of the pots you play. In short, your goal should be to play big pots when you have big hands and small pots when you don't. When you and your opponents are deep stacked in a tournament, there are two vital elements to pay attention to when you enter a pot - your opponents' playing style and the texture of the flop.

Before you commit any chips to the pot, you want to identify the types of players who are likely to be in the hand with you. If you're at a loose table where your opponents are playing a wide range of hands, you're going to want to play smaller pots unless you're sure that you're way ahead or, preferably, holding the nuts.

Say you're in a hand with something big like pocket Queens and a player who's been involved in a lot of pots calls your pre-flop raise. The flop comes J-9-7, and you're out of position. You need to be very careful about betting here because a loose-aggressive player is going to put you to the test. I'd recommend check-calling or check-raising rather than putting out a continuation bet and giving your opponent a chance to re-raise you or, possibly, flat call with the intention of pushing you off the hand on a later street by making a large bet you can't call if a scare card falls on the turn or river.

Having position against these types of players makes it much easier for you to control the pot, as you'll be able to turn the table on them and call or re-raise their initial bets. If they come back over the top, you can get away from your hand and still have lost relatively little in comparison to what the hand could have ultimately cost.

When you're facing a tight player in this same situation, you can make a continuation bet on the flop even if you are playing out of position because they aren't as likely to make a move on you without a big hand of their own. If you bet and they raise, you can be sure they have something strong like two-pair, a set, or a nice draw.

The other factor to consider when betting is the texture of the flop. Is the board suited or paired? Are there potential straight draws you need to consider? Even if you're confident your hand is ahead after the flop, take a couple of seconds to study the board before you act. Think about what hands could possibly beat yours, and then try to determine if any of your opponents could be holding cards that would give them reason to call your bet.

Let's say you're holding pocket Aces and the flop comes 9-8-7 with a flush draw on the board. Chances are that you're ahead, but a canny opponent can easily put you in a tough spot by check-raising your continuation bet. If you think your opponent connected with this flop or may be holding a big draw, think about keeping the pot small by playing passively and letting him do the betting for you. If the straight or flush hits, you can get away cheap and look for a better spot later on. If the flop is more ragged - something like J-3-2 rainbow - you can bet out with no reservations and try to pump up the pot as much as possible.

These are all concepts that become easier with time and experience. Keep a sharp eye on your opponents and the flops the next time you play and quickly develop a feel for different situations and, more importantly, for when to bet or check your hand. Try your best to control the size of the pot and you'll have more control over your tournament life.


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