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08/09/2006 No. 63
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Sep 8th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Continuing the subject of no-limit cash games, you may have been unsure exactly what I meant last week about "controlling the pot size". This is a vital part of no-limit play.

In limit poker, you always know what the next bet will be. In pot limit, you know what the maximum next bet will be. In those variants, you should always be thinking ahead to your exact future costs (and possible profits) as the hand progresses.
In no limit, where the bets are completely unfixed, the pot could escalate wildly at any moment. (Here's a tip for the internet: if somebody goes all-in before the flop, for a massive overbet, he may be an adrenaline junkie, but more often than not he has aces. This has become a very popular online play. It works when the better finds an opponent who is just too stubbornly sceptical to pass. No need for you to be that impoverished sceptic.)

So, in a cash game where you should (as per my previous advice) sit down with at least 100 big blinds in your stack, you do not want the size of the pot to come as a surprise. You would like to have some control over it.

You want to keep the action small when your hand is uncertain but playable, and make it big when you are the clear favourite to win. It may seem that the obvious way to limit the pot size is by merely checking and calling - but oddly, in no limit, you can often keep the pot smaller by actively betting. You can bet out a smaller amount than your opponent would bet if you checked. Or, if he bets first, you can put in a minimum raise to dissuade him from making a huge move on the next card. (He might even check it.)

Making the pot big with your great hands, meanwhile, does not equate to shipping in giant bets: these might end the action then and there. It involves crafting bets as large as you can get away with, to give your opponent bad odds but still encourage him to call and build your potential profit nicely. Alternatively, if you have only top pair or an overpair on a dangerous drawing flop against several opponents, no limit allows you to protect your hand with a truly oversized wager (say, twice or three times the pot) to push the circling vultures away.

Assuming that you're betting with the best of it (which should be your general approach, in cash poker), you naturally want to bet bigger against players who call too much, and smaller against players who prefer to fold. If you cannot gain control - if it is you who keeps facing big bets with your vulnerable hands, and winning only small pots with your monsters - then it is a bad game, and you should move tables.


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