By Carl "The Dean" Sampson
If your head starts to swim at the thought of hand ranges and default ranges and all the rest of the technical poker jargon, then don’t worry. If you are an experienced player then you will already be used to subconsciously placing your opponents on possible ranges in your ring games. If you see an unknown player open raise from UTG then the first thought that immediately springs to mind isn’t going to be “I bet they are opening with suited connectors”.
No…..you are going to be thinking big pairs and Broadway cards at the least. So even if your range defining thought patterns are only simplistic, you will still be placing your opponents on hand ranges. Now obviously hand ranges will vary on average from full-ring to 6-max, although they shouldn’t deviate as much as what you expect.
For anyone who has ever read the excellent Harrington cash game series then you will already be aware of the fact that “Action Dan” places an awful lot of emphasis on pot control in those books. This is a good way to play, but what you have to remember is that the books are written with full-ring games in mind and not for six max games or online play.
The amount of pot control that you use is dependent on what game you are playing in. For example, against very strong opponents who notice what you are doing then pot control is obvious. The following may sound like an obvious statement, but when you are using pot control you are trying to keep the pot within certain limits that are relevant to your hand strength. These are also limits that are geared to how big a player may want the pot to get or how big they don’t want the pot to get.
Most players have limits (whether they know it or not) on how much money they will be prepared to put at risk with certain hands. This is all immersed in their overall “style” of play. A player may be willing to stack off pre-flop with aces and kings with 100 big blinds but not with queens. They may be prepared to fire three post-flop barrels with kings as long as an ace does not come or an equally scary board like four to a straight or flush.
There is a delicate balance between extracting value from likely best hands and allowing the pot to become too big for the size of your hand. Yet, pot control against better players has problems attached to it. Stronger players will refuse to be pushed away from the pot as often and will float you on the flop more as you progress through the levels. What this means is that in tougher games you will be forced to three barrel bluff more.
This obviously flies in the face of pot control, but once again this is based on aggression levels and the level of opponent sophistication. However, you must also bet hands that you would have otherwise gone into pot control with. You must do this for several reasons because if you always three barrel with the nuts or air then your range is too polarized and observant opponents can adjust accordingly.
If after raising pre-flop you constantly three barrel bluff when stacks are 100BB+ deep, then you are going to struggle against good players. Likewise when you bet two streets then check the river, a strong hand would bet for value and fresh air would bet for fold equity. So try not to fall into the trap of telegraphing your pot control tactics when the opposition is strong.
Balancing your bluffs with value bets, even if those value bets are on all three streets, is an important concept when you play stronger players. Pot control is often telling your opponent that you are fearful of something and fear usually means that a player is more likely to fold. Let’s say that you raise pre-flop with Kc-Ks and you are called by the button with 8d-6d. The flop is 9c-5h-2s, giving your opponent a gut-shot draw. You bet the kings for value and bet 70% of the pot and the button player calls. They have some equity and the float puts pressure on fresh air type hands, of which that is a fair part of your range. The turn card is the 10d and you bet around 70% of the pot again and the button calls you, again. Both of you started with 200 big blinds prior to the hand. The river card is the As and you check for pot control. Now the button overbets the pot and you have a very difficult decision. The overbet cuts down your pot odds and there were few drawing hands on the flop. The action looks like a flopped set or maybe 10-9s or maybe 10-10.
By the river the button’s range has been narrowed down and not many players would call two barrels with air and then over bet the river with air also…….but the stronger players will. The situation is equally tricky if you make a stopper bet on the river and get raised. You have to be careful of over using pot control methods and stopper bets against very good players.
Carl "The Dean" Sampson can be seen at his blog http://www.pokersharkpool.com
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