The Death of the “Big Hand, Big Pot” Rule

I’ve been listening to the “Deuce Plays” Podcast (which can be found at iTunes) and I think it’s really helped my game. The host, Bart Hanson, brings in a lot of people to interview and one of his guests recently commented that “Pot control was overrated.” Pot control, is basically a corollary of the old poker maxim, “Big hand, big pot. Small hand, small pot.”

That’s to say that, in no limit, you don’t want to put your whole stack at risk with a hand like AK on a board of A 10 7. If you’re a 100 big blinds deep or so, and you raise it 3 big blinds before the flop and get called and flop top pair, top kicker, you’ve made a good hand. However, it’s not good enough to put all your chips in according to conventional theory because a smart opponent can just call you with pocket pairs, hope to turn a set, on the same flop you make top pair, and take your whole stack. That’s why a lot of players play the small pocket pairs and “set mine.” So the “big hand, big pot” rule is there to protect players from getting all of their stack in with a hand as bad as top pair. According to this rule, you should seek to put all of your stack in when you get the “big hands” such as three of a kind, straights, flushes, and maybe, at the bottom end, two pair against a lone opponent.

The thing is that, for me, I’ve already had a sense of self preservation. I didn’t need some guidelines to tell me my hand wasn’t big enough for a given amount of action. For the most part, what I’ve learned with playing with donkeys is that if they’re putting money into the pot, they can only have one of two rationals:
1. They think your hand is weak and they can win the pot right now, OR
2. They think their hand is strong and they can win the pot right now.

That’s it. Now more sophisticated players have reasons for betting that include the idea that they think your hand is better than theirs and so they want to bet to knock you off your hand. That’s the kind of betting that we always suspect and want to call, but it only comes from more sophisticated players. Strangely, I’m able to play better against the more sophisticated players because I can am better able to put myself in their shoes.

The “big hand, big pot” rule works well against sophisticated players. If you’ve made a good hand, but a reasonably sophisticated opponent is giving you action, it’s probably not because they’re expecting you to fold a good hand. More likely is that they’ve made a bigger hand. So then, it seems logical to say that you should not put in more action than a given hand warrants. My problem is that it doesn’t work with a damn for donkeys. Let me run through a couple of hands than cost me some money over the last few weeks. Both of these hands are in the $100-$500 no limit game where the blinds are $2 and $5.

Hand #1: I’m in a six handed game with A9 offsuit. I enter the pot with a $12 raise (my traditional raise) and the big blind reraises me to $20. I call. The flop comes 4 5 9, so I have top pair, ace kicker. The big blind goes all in for $80. There’s already 40 in the pot, and the big pot big hand rule would say that having top pair, top kicker is sufficient to play a pot that’s only 20 big bets. But it wasn’t, he had a pair of jacks.

Hand #2: Another $12 raise with QQ and I get called by just the big blind. The flop is KQ6 rainbow. The big blind bets $15 into me and I raise it to $45, he calls. The turn is an Ace, and the big blind goes all in for $420. The big pot big hand rule would say that I’ve got a set in a headsup pot and to put the money in, but the problem is that I’m playing a donkey here and he’s probably not going to be putting that much money in all of the sudden on 2-pair. A straight is all he could have, so I should have folded.

I think I’m just going to go with the approach a lot of internet players use and that’s to trust my read on my opponent. It would have saved me a lot of money versus rationalizing why I should put the money in because my hand is X strong.

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