The Pot Size Philosophy An Example

Say you are playing $2-$5 no limit with $500 stacks. You are in the big blind with v

Someone opens from middle position for $20. You call. The flop is so you flopped a set.

Obviously, you want a big pot. Your goal should be to get the remaining $480 into the pot. It's going to be hard to do that if your opponent raised with Télé or 2V24». But if he has aces, ace-king, or even a flush draw, you have a decent shot at his stack.

The first thing you should do is assume he has a hand that he might go all-in with. Pretend he's got pocket aces or ace-king, and formulate your plan based on that assumption. Why so optimistic? You're optimistic because the other possibilities, though likely, are largely irrelevant. No matter what you do, you're likely to achieve the same result in many cases. If your opponent has pocket nines or kings, then you're destined to get stacked almost no matter what. If he has flopped two pair, then you're destined to stack him, unless he outdraws you. (Note: These hands are "destined" only because of the size of the starting stacks. If you were playing ten times deeper, with $5,000 stacks, your destiny might be different.)

If he has a weak hand, and he's not a habitual bluffer, there's almost no way you can play it to make out big. If he has ace-high, then you might catch him for a little something if you check the flop and an ace happens to come off on the turn. But against most players, you won't make much extra profit even in that circumstance. You'll have only two streets to get $480 in on a $40 pot. That's going to require excessively large bets on your part, and any decent opponent with only one pair will rightly be suspicious. You'll usually have to be content with only a small win if the flop gets checked.

Against opponents who aren't habitual bluffers, your playing decisions matter most when your opponent has one of only a few holdings: good, but not great, hands like aces, ace-king, or a flush draw. Thus, tailor your strategy to maximize performance against those hands.4

The way to get the most money out of the good, but not great, hands is to make sure that it's "too late" by the time your opponent suspects he's beaten. Don't let him suspect when there's only $200 in the pot and $400 left to go. Give him the bad news of a big bet only once there's more like $500 in the pot and $250 left to go. Even though he'll suspect he's beaten, he may feel "pot committed" (in many cases, he'll be right) and pay off.

So, working backward, you want your last bet or raise to be about $250 (or somewhat less). How should you construct the

4 Note that this trick of narrowing down your opponent's holdings to the "important" ones works best against conservative opponents. Against a habitual bluffer who bets the flop and often the turn with weak holdings, allowing him to bluff makes the most money. You become more concerned with making money against his weaker hands, because they are so profitable to you (assuming you allow him to bluff). In that setting, you would check multiple streets.

betting to get the first $230 in without raising too many suspicions?

Generally speaking, the last $250 bet will materialize either as a river bet or a turn raise. You might get it all-in on the flop, but if that happens, it usually won't require much planning on your part. It will just require an opponent who wants to get it all-in as well.

That first $230 to be bet can be broken up in roughly two different ways: a $70 bet and a $160 bet, or a $30 bet, a $70 bet, and a $130 bet. (The numbers are obviously only approximate. This whole planning process is approximate; the plan may need to be changed or abandoned entirely, depending on what actually happens.) That is, bets generally escalate in size during no limit hands, and so you should break your $230 down into two or three "chunks," each one bigger than the last.

Which option you choose, the two- or three- "chunk" option, depends on your opponent. The $70 and $160 option has the upside of offering your opponent few chances to gauge your hand strength.

Say you bet $70 on the flop, and he calls. Then you bet $160 on the turn. Should he call? Move in? Fold? Anyone with aces or ace-king will have an extremely tough decision because there is so little information for him to go on. Sure, you're betting strongly, but you don't know that his hand is as strong as it is. Maybe you are trying to push him off something weaker. It'll be hard for him to tell, so often he'll end up guessing. Whenever your opponents guess in critical situations, you're looking good. Sometimes they'll guess wrong, and you'll be rewarded with their stack.

The downside to the two-chunk option is that it forces you to overbet significantly on the flop. First, you're betting $70 into a $40 pot. Then you're betting $160 into a $180 pot. Those big bet sizes (compared to the size of the pot) will make some opponents skittish. They may see the big pot brewing and lay down quickly if they are particularly timid (or astute) players.

Your flop overbet will seem out of the ordinary to some adept opponents. They may figure out that you are trying to manipulate them into playing a big pot, and this may allow them to abandon ship. That's why it's so important to think about not only what your opponent might have, but also what your opponent might think you have, and how your opponent might interpret your bets. Some opponents will get snookered by the overbet, seeing it as a sign of semi-weakness. Others will see the overbet as a threat.

The three-chunk option, bets of $30, $70, and then $130, doesn't require overbetting at any juncture. If you bet $30 initially, it'll be into a $40 pot. The $70 bet will be into a $100 pot ($40 plus two $30 bets). Then the $130 bet will be into a $240 pot ($100 plus two $70 bets).5

The downside is that, since those three bets are intended for at most two betting rounds, your opponent has to make a bet or raise somewhere along the line. That is, if you are to get your $250 final bet in on the river, you somehow need to get $30, $70, and $130 in on the flop and turn. You can't get all three bets in if your opponent just calls twice; you'll just get the $30 and $70 bets in and be left with $380 on the end.

If you can count on your opponent to raise at least once with aces or ace-king, three chunks may be the way to go. Particularly, if you can count on your opponent to raise the flop and then bet the turn if checked to, then three chunks are surely your best option: bet $30 on the flop and get raised (hopefully about $70 more). Then check and call on the turn (hopefully about $130). Finally, bet $250 on the river. (Or you can check-raise all-in on the turn.)

If your opponent is less aggressive, though, then you may have to put in the raise. You could check-raise the flop: check, allow him to bet $30, and raise $70 more. Then bet $130 on the turn and $250 on the river.

Unfortunately, that's a "strong arm" line; check-raising can be very intimidating, particularly if you have a lot of money behind. You may lose your opponent, especially to the $130 turn bet. (Check-raising the flop and checking the turn usually won't

5 Depending on your opponent, you may want to bet slightly more on the $70 and $130 chunks, leaving less than $250 for the final bet.

work either, because most opponents will merely check the turn back.)

You could also check and call on the flop, planning to check-raise the turn. But again, that's a "strong arm" play, and you'll lose many players on the big check-raise.

The right line will differ from opponent to opponent and situation to situation. If your opponent calls big bets too often, but doesn't put in enough raises, then two chunks should be best. If your opponent is hyper-aggressive, but looks to make tough laydowns, then go with three chunks, and let him put in a raise. If you recently got caught on a big check-raise bluff, then any option that involves check-raising becomes more attractive. Your opponents will remember the bogus check-raise and look you up.

The overall philosophy, however, is the same no matter your opponent or situation. You have a big hand, and big hands are looking to win big pots. Break down the future action, and figure out how you can best construct the big pot. Figure out how big you want your last bet to be, and work backward from there. How can you maximize the chance that your opponent is still around when that big bet comes down? How many "chunks" will you need to get there? Do your opponent's tendencies naturally suggest one line or another?

Perhaps this process seems cumbersome or superfluous to you now. So many things can happen; perhaps you figure you should play one street at a time. But this sort of bet planning and pot size manipulation is the key to successful deep stack no limit. Learn to think this way during every hand, and you won't regret it.

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