Playing in Loose Games

When the Pots Get Big

When the pots get big, tricky situations are created on the later streets. This should dominate your approach to playing a hand. Basically your number one priority is to win the pot. Not to win more money. However, winning the pot is not that simple.

It isn’t just a matter of thinking “I have the best hand, therefore I bet.” It might be better to check in order to get someone in late position to bet so that you can check-raise. It might be better to bet hoping someone else will raise. And it might be better to set this up on the previous round.

For instance, suppose you have two aces and are high on board with an ace up. You raise in an early position and get several callers. On fourth poker street you are still high and no one has caught anything threatening. Our preferred way to play this hand is to check and frequently only call if the bet comes from a player on your left. A check-raise here will not eliminate anyone. All it will do is to make the pot bigger where you have several players drawing to beat you. However, if the bet comes from your right you should usually check-raise in an attempt to knock people out.

For example, you start in aerly position with:

You raise and get four callers. On fourth poker street you catch the

and no one else catches anything threatening. If you bet they are all going to call and are usually correct to do so even if their initial call was wrong. Thus it is usually best to check and hope that a bet comes from your right so that you can raise.

It’s so important to increase your chances to win the pot that it can be right to bet or raise with a hand that you know is beat. For instance, if on fourth street you have


a player on your right who has just caught an ace checks, and you strongly suspect that the player on your immediate left has a pair of queens, it is almost mandatory to bet (hoping that the player on your left will raise). You do this not only because you might make a fulsh, but because it is important to get other hands out so that you can increase the chance that you will win if you make a pair of kings (or small two pair).

This is something that very few players are aware of. In other words, your bet adds some possible ways of winning because when you bet and get raised, hands like small pairs and many hands that contain an ace will foold. The general poker concept is that if you have an overcrd to the likely big pair and would continue playing for one bet you should frequently bet yourself in order to entice a raise from the likely best hand and get the pot heads-up. Likewise, you yourself should often raise a likely high pair with a similar hand if he bets.

This play is similar to the idea that we discussed earlier in this text when we pointed out that it is important to get heads-up if it significantly improves the chances that you can win the pot.

This means a lot when the pot is big. The point is that when many bets are in the center of the table you don’t worry about saving bets. You do everything possible to maximize your chances of winning.

Sometimes it can get extreme. For instance, if the pot is really large, you might play a hand strangely and seemingly miss bets or raises.

Suppose on fourth street the player on your right bets, you have a larger hidden pair (than either of his upcards) but you know that if you raise four or five players will come in behind you anyway. If the pot is big you should often just call. Now when the player on your right bets again on fifth street, you can raise and thus force those players who are drawing to beat you, to call two double size bets.

Here’s a specific example. You have


you are the bring-in, there are five people in for a raise and a reraise, and the raraise was done by the player on your immediate right who has a king up indicating a probable pair of kings. You raise again in an attempt to knock some players out, but everyone calls. On fourth street no one catches anything to indicate that your hand is not still the best.

Now this may sound insane, but if the player on your right (with the probable pair of kings) bets, rather than raise right there, because that raise will knock people out. The raise on fourth street won’t.

Now it’s true that when you just call on fourth street someone will often make two pair or pick up a draw that eventually beats you. But that’s just the point. They were going to call even if you raised and because of the size of the pot they are right to do so. In addition, had you raised and then bet on fifth street, they would call again, and once again be correct.

However, if you play the hand as we suggest, while they can still make two pair to beat you on fifth street, they may not have the opportunity to make two pair on sixth poker street or the river. Thus you at least keep them from drawing out on the last two cards.

The general idea is that his type of play may be correct when no one is going to fold for the bet or the bet and raise on fourth street, but you think that a raise can knock them out on fifth street. But it is not foolproof. The danger is that occasionally someone who would have folded now beats you. Another drawback is that you don’t collect those fourth street bets when your hand does hold up. But as the pot gets bigger and bigger the pros to this play usually outweight the cons.

Just to recap a bit, the most important thing in these very large pots is to play your hand in such a way that no one will draw out on you on the end (or to give yourself the maximum chance to win if you miss your draw but happen to make a big pair). That one edge more than makes up for any missed bets. By playing in an unorthodox way you can sometimes get players out who would have beaten you on sixth street or the rivier card because you have managed to cost them two double size bets on fifth street. That is worth giving up a lot of other small profits.