The size of your bet
I think it’s not that difficult to imagine that some players make more money on the very same hands than others, even as they’re going up against the same odds. Some people know how to “milk” their hands to the maximum, whilst others struggle along and are forever out of sync when it comes to milking their monsters.
The same goes for small and marginal hands: some people are better at keeping their losses at a minimum on such hands than others. The skill that defines how good you are at maximizing your winnings on good hands and minimizing them on bad ones in NL Holdem is called “pot control”. The importance of pot control can never be underestimated, after all, the very essence of the game of poker can be summed up in winning big on big hands and losing small on small hands.
How is pot control achieved? Through choosing the correct bet sizes and through position, of course.
Take a look at the following video:
Beyond the obviously hilarious lecture that Negreanu gives his NL opponents, there’s some pretty serious education in the background. Negreanu cannot believe that his opponent shoves 5,000 chips into the pot to raise his 300, because he knows there cannot possibly be a legitimate reason for someone to act like that. If the guy has a good hand, he’ll want to build a pot on it, or he’ll want to protect it. Neither pot building nor protecting your hand is achieved through a 5,000 chip raise into a few hundred chips pot.
If he has rags, the guy will want to keep the pot small, so again: the 5,000 chip raise is not what he needs to do in this case. Bluffing is never done like that. A bluff is much more intricate and requires loads more information in a hand, so if the guy is in fact bluffing, then he is a clueless donkey, risking his tournament life for 300 of Negreanu’s chips.
The highlight of the clip is when the guy tells Negreanu that’s what poker is supposed to be about, effectively lecturing someone who knows infinitely more about the game than himself.
Let’s get back to pot control though. As I said above, pot control is about sizing your bets correctly and position. Sizing a bet is meant to achieve one of two things: get more money into the pot (to build a pot) done when a player has a monster hand, or keep the size of the pot small when someone has a small hand.
When you’re sizing your bet for pot-building purposes, you need take several factors into consideration. Finding the correct bet size is a knife-edge balancing act because you need to find a compromise between getting as much money into the pot as possible, and keeping your opponent’s pot odds alive so that he deems it profitable to call you. This is why only the best of the best players know how to size their bets correctly. It takes 4th level poker thought to get the maximum out of your hands this way.
Pot control is always easier from late position of course. If you’re trying to build a pot and you get a bettor in front of you, you can always raise him thus escalating the size of the pot, and implicitly that of future bets. If you’re out of position and you fire out a bet, your opponent will get information from you and may only decide to call to keep on the safe side.
Likewise, if you’re trying to keep the pot small, you have the option to just check if you see that no one in front of you has bet. If you’re in an early position, you can still check, but sending out such an obvious sign of weakness may spur your opponent to bet even if he had no intention to do so initially.
The bottom line: correctly sizing bets is the difference between reasonable players and good players. Don’t go for the simplistic approach of shoving all in on every good hand you get and limping on every marginal one. You’ll lose money and end up looking like the guy in the video above.