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You can win big money with the second-best hand – without bluffing anyone out of the pot. That’s because of the side pot.

What is a side pot? As the name implies, a side pot is a pack of chips that are in a pot along side of and separate from the main pot. Be careful not to mingle these. In fact, there may be more than one side pot during a hand. I’ve seen as many as three side pots in a single hand.

According to Michael Wiesenberg’s The Official Dictionary of Poker, a side pot is “an auxiliary pot generated when one or more players run out of chips.”

A player can only use the chips on the table in front of him during any one hand. That’s termed “table stakes.” Only after that hand is over can he purchase more chips. The player who ran out of chips – the “all-in” player – has invested in the main pot and deserves the opportunity to win it.

That person has no stake in any further betting, which goes into the side pot(s). The remaining, active players can win either or both the side and main pots. At showdown, the dealer will first focus on the players who are competing for the side pot, and then the main pot, including the “all-in” player.

It is possible for a side pot to be bigger than the main pot. (I won a side pot the other night that was over twice the size of the main pot.) Indeed, there are times you might want to “build” that side pot.

To explain “building your side pot,” imagine strongly believing you hold the second-best hand and the player with the best hand is all-in. Example: A tight player in an early position raises a bet by the big blind when A-Q-x falls on the flop.

In a late position, you hold K-Q in the hole. You flopped second-best pair (two queens) with a very good kicker (the king). The tight player bets and is all-in – no more chips in front of him.

Two opponents call and now it’s up to you. You are almost certain the tight player has, at least, a pair of aces. There is a chance you might connect on the turn with a third queen or a king that would put your hand in the lead.

With five outs – two queens and three kings – the card odds are about 8-1 against connecting on the turn. You decide to just call and see what the turn brings.

The turn card is a rag as far as you’re concerned. An aggressive, somewhat deceptive player in the big blind opens the betting on the turn, and is called by two others. Now it’s up to you. Based on your evaluation of the bettor, you believe your pair-of-queens-with-king-kicker has him beat.

Since no one raised him, you are convinced you hold the best hand – other than the all-in player, of course. So you raise into the side pot. Raise for value. Raise to build the side pot you fully expect to win – hopefully.

Almost certainly, since they have already called the big blind’s bet, those opponents will “invest” one more big bets in the side pot. In fact, you have added three big bets to the side pot! And that is quite significant. It could be the difference between a winning and losing session.

The river brings a non-threatening card. The big blind may make one more stab at trying to steal the side pot but gets one call. Now you must decide. Reconsidering the board, your hand, and your “read” of your remaining opponents, you are still convinced you most likely hold the best hand – aside from that of the all-in player.

So, again, you raise to build the side pot even further when one or both of the remaining active opponents call your raise.

Even if everyone checks to you, your bet on the river may get a caller or two. That’s more chips into the side pot for you to win.

For comments and/or questions contact George “The Engineer” online at [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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