Playing Texas hold’em – or any other poker game – undoubtedly your objective is to win as many chips as possible. Winning more than your fair share of the hands is fine, but bigger pots are so much better. And, the cost to play is about the same, no matter how big the pot. The bigger the pots you win, the more likely you will go home a winner; and the more fun it is.
Occasionally you will flop a monster hand. Better yet, albeit quite rare, is the nuts – a hand that can’t be beat. At that point, your main goal should be to build the size of that pot – help it to grow as large as possible. The smart player will take every opportunity to manipulate the playing of that hand to his greatest advantage.
By way of example, let’s discuss a limit hold’em hand in which you flop top set on the board. How can you maximize the amount of chips you win? Let’s say you started with pocket Queens, and a third Queen falls on the flop. The odds against that happening are about 8-to-1, but it will occur (if you are lucky). A set of Queens is a great hand; far more often than not, it will take the pot.
Assuming there are no apparent draws to a straight or a flush, it would be smart to slow-play on the flop; don’t chase out your opponents. These are your “victims” who can help you in your quest to build the size of the pot. They cannot contribute if their hands are mucked. At this point, usually, you should not bet out, nor raise a previous bet. Slow play. Wait for the Turn when the size of the bets is doubled.
If the Turn is not threatening, you should bet out from any position – unless you are quite certain a check-raise will work. Look to your left as you prepare to bet: Is an opponent picking up a batch of chips, anxious to get his money into the pot? If an early/middle position has already bet, is one of the other players preparing to raise? (Glance at your notes to be sure he’s not a deceptive player, in which case he may be feigning, trying to convince you to just check so he can get a free or cheap card.) If the “coast is clear,” then it’s OK to go ahead and make your check-raise to further build “your” pot.
Consider the case when it’s a loose game with two or more aggressive players, and you are in a late position. Suppose, on the flop, an early-position comes out betting, and is raised by another player just to his left; and then, this two-bet is called by a few other players. In that case, a re-raise would be the best decision you could make.
You are getting great money odds when they all call your three-bet. What’s more, with so many chips already in the pot, your opponents are now pretty much committed to seeing that hand all the way to the River – with more money likely to go into “your” pot.
There are many opportunities to build the pot size. The more we know and use, the more chips we can expect to take home at the end of the session. But, there are always exceptions.
Here’s a good example: Suppose the flop contains two or more suited cards and/or connectors; it would be prudent to protect your set by betting or raising. After all, a set – even a set of Aces – is vulnerable to straights and flushes.
If there are opponents yet to declare after you act, your bet – or raise – may thin the field to your advantage, protecting your set of Queens. (Better to win a bit smaller pot than lose a bigger one.)
We will compare sets vs. trips in our next column (Part II).