No Limit Part Two: RDub manipulates the pot

It looks like my low-limit no-limit tips provoked a little bit of thought out there in poker world, judging from the kind comments you nice people left. Even better, it made my buddy RDub bang out a guest post (in which he points out some of my incomplete thoughts). RDub is an up and coming player who’s finishing up at a prominent Southern University where he’s majoring in math. Sklansky would love this kid. He’s got a lot more NL under his belt than I do, so I’m gonna listen to him. Anyway, this makes for the second guest post ever, and the second this week. Less typing for me, and better advice for you.
Why RDub hates the “bet pot” button and manipulating pot size in No-Limit poker
”Unless you are trying to do something tricky, always make your bet equal to the size of the pot.“
When I first starting playing online, there was no ‘bet pot’ button. I mainly played on UB, where the sit-n-go’s started you with 1000 chips, and tiny 5-10 blinds. So here’s a hand that would come up frequently:
I make it 30 with a decent hand (AJ, KQs, 88, etc.), someone re-raises the minimum amount behind me. Usually means a big pair, so I’ll gladly call the 30 looking to bust him. Flop comes, they know they still have the best hand, and how much do they bet? The minimum, 10 chips. I’m usually getting 13 or 14:1 at this point, so I still usually call with some chance to bust them. They either end up winning a small pot, or going broke when I hit a ‘miracle’ gutshot, set, or backdoor flush on them.
These people were lazy…they knew they wanted to bet, but they didn’t want to type in their own bet amount, let alone think about another amount to bet. So they hit the one betting button available to them, which was bet (or raise) min.
So when the ‘bet pot’ button came along, I’ll admit I wasn’t very happy. The same lazy people are playing the same hands, but now they are making pot sized re-raises pre-flop, and not giving the implied odds to crack their hands. They are betting the pot on the flop and shutting out draws. A lot of them didn’t know why or how, but that damn button was making them play a lot better.
With deep stacks like these, I like your advice.
Now for the counterpoint. The other night I hosted a small no-limit game with some of the regulars around campus. One player has read a ton about poker, and is very concerned with looking and sounding like a pro. Luckily for us, his play rarely follows suit.
He started a hand with about $25 in chips, blinds were .25-.50. I think someone raised pre-flop, and he re-raised, leaving himself about $18 to bet on the flop. The flop came, and he made a point to count how much was in the pot, which turned out to be exactly $15. He counts out $15 in chips, says “TJ says you should always bet the size of the pot to shut out draws.”, and bets $15, for some reason leaving himself $3. This is clearly an example of someone who can read a poker book and try to do what it says without having any clue about the underlying theory behind what “TJ says” to do.
As a sidebar, if someone looks like they know how to play poker, AND they talk like they play poker well, odds are they play about as well as a cheerio. This is why they wear the “mirror shades”, to hide the fact that they are cheerios. The good players are the ones keeping silent and save the grandstanding for when it actually might help them win a pot.
Back to my initial hatred of the “bet pot” button online, it was after UB that I gave Party Poker a shot. The sit-n-go‘s have a lot less play, giving you 800 chips, starting at 10-15 blinds, and escalating the blinds much faster. After playing a fair amount of these, I found myself making a particular two-word note very often on a certain type of player that I felt I could easily exploit. It wasn‘t “Loose passive”, or “Total fish”. It was “Pot bettor”. When the stacks aren‘t deep, you can be very easily exploited if you fall in love with the “bet pot” button.
Let‘s say it‘s 15-30, you make it 100 pre-flop with AK and get two callers. Flop is K83 with two hearts, they check, and you bet the pot (300). You are giving a potential flush draw 2:1 on their 4:1 shot, and you are protecting what is likely the best hand. Here’s the bad news. You are now totally pot-committed. Assuming you started the hand with 800 or so chips, if you get check raised all-in, you have to call. If you flop a hand on a “Pot-bettor” once you get past level one, it is too easy to bust them. Just like your calling $20 with pocket deuces example to bust a guy’s Aces with a $200 stack, you are now always getting implied odds. Against the min bettor, you were getting implied odds to bust them on the flop by cheaply hitting your draw. Against the pot-bettor, you are getting implied odds to outflop them. A simple check raise on the flop and it’s over. One adjustment to make, is that a hand like 109s will often bust the min raiser by making a straight or flush on the turn or river. Against the pot bettor, you’d do better with a small pair since your hand will pretty much be defined by the flop. It also means you should tend to smooth call with AA or KK against them, since you know they will often commit themselves on the flop if you check to them.
Back to the AK on Party, let’s play it slightly differently and see what happens. You make it 90 pre-flop, which really shouldn’t change anything. If they would have folded preflop for 100, they will fold for 90. If they want to re-raise your 90 bet all in, they will do the same to your 100 bet. It doesn’t matter.
Flop is K83, two hearts. 270 in the pot. You have 710 left. They check, you bet 135. Now if they have a heart draw, they are getting 3:1 on their 4:1 shot. You still aren’t giving them the right price to call. Now here’s the best part: you aren’t pot-committed anymore. If one of them check-raises all-in, you can do what all good poker players should want to do in hands: Make a decision. Good players tend to make better decisions than bad players, so if you are a good player, this is how you show it. Read the board, see what you know about the player, and make the best decision. Maybe more importantly in this hand than the pot odds you are laying them, what are their implied odds”‘ I say they are poor. If a heart hits the turn, you can shut down completely, and your stack isn’t crippled. If a rag hits the turn, you have enough chips to move in, and give them another incorrect price to chase. If they have KQ or 1010, then the 3:1 you are giving them is nowhere close to the correct price they need to call, plus I think it’s a lot more likely you’ll get called by these hands with a half pot bet than a pot sized bet.
Here’s another example that made me think about this a while back. A friend of mine in town won a WSOP trip online, this is day 3, $300-$600 blinds with a $75 ante:
“It was folded around to me and I had AsQs and raised it to $2k. Only the big blind called. There was about $5k in the pot. The flop came KT2. Giving me a gutshot straight draw. The big blind checked and I bet $5k hoping he had a small pair that he would be forced to fold with the two big cards on the flop. He came over the top of me for all-in. He was a fairly tight player and I had to fold. That moved me back down to about $12k.”
Of course hindsight is 20-20, but here”‘s a case where a $3,000 bet would have worked out much better. To me, your pocket 8‘s look the same against a $3k bet and a $5k bet. Your AJ looks the same. And your set of tens looks the same. So with his relatively short stack at the time, I think a half pot sized bet is a lot more optimal. He had to fold to the all-in either way, but saving those $2,000 chips would have been pretty big at that level. And if the other player wants to “sense weakness” at your $3,000 bet and move all-in since you didn’t bet the pot, he is more than welcome, since you would also bet the same amount with AK, AA, or KK on that flop.
Enough rambling…My thoughts come down to this: In gambling, when you are deciding how much to bet, you should take into account your edge on the bet, and your bankroll. In no-limit, your stack is your bankroll for the hand. A chess player has to look 20 moves ahead to work out his best strategy, but in hold’em you only have to plan to the river (or maybe less if you’re setting up an all-in on the turn). Don’t hit the “bet-pot” button because “TJ” said so, hit it if it’s the right amount to bet for your style, your hand and your stack size. And of course tournament prize structure plays an important part too.
And in fairness to Hdouble’s post which was a beginner’s guide, so a lot of this is not in the same context. But whatever you do, don’t bet the min…

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