Jim’s All-In Poker: Vol VIII

This week’s article is going to focus on a recent email I received.  A question came in last week regarding “pot committed”.

— What would you say the line is for pot committed on a hand- is it more a percentage of the chips in the pot- or the chips you have left?

In a nutshell, pot committed is the point in which you have invested enough chips in the pot, in relationship to the amount of chips you have left in your stack, that there is simply no way you can justify folding your hand.  This works two ways:

  1. You have committed more than half your chips to a bet, and folding will leave you with insufficient chips to logically play on.
  2. There are so many chips in the pot already that folding would be mathematically wrong.

In the first example, it has everything to do with how many chips you have in comparison to everyone else and the current blind level.  The basic rule says that once you have committed at least half of your stack to a pot, you are pot committed to the river.  However, if you go on a tear early, and have 30,000 chips while the average stack is still 11,000, you are still not pot committed, even if you have 15,000 chips in the pot (half your stack).  You still have well over the average chip stack, and you have more than enough chips, in relation to the blinds, to continue playing.  In this situation, if you feel you have an inferior hand, you are perfectly justified in folding.  True, you lost half of your stack, but it is better than that lonely walk out to your car.

In the second example, things get a little trickier.  Sometimes you get into a pot where the betting just loses all connections with reality.  This type of scenario happens like this.  A full table of 10, everyone with stacks in the neighborhood of 10,000 chips.  Blinds are 200/400.  The player under the gun (Player 3) opens for a raise to 1200.  Player 4 flat calls.  Player 4 folds, but player 5 (you) reraise to 3000 with A-K suited.  Player 6 and 7 fold, but player 8, on the button, flat calls.  The small blind folds, but the big blind sees all the chips in the pot (now 10,000) and calls also.  Now there are 13,000 chips in the pot.

Poker 4 acesPlayer 3 then shoves all in for his 10000 chips.  Now there are about 24400 chips in the pot.  Player 4 folds, and it is your turn.  Are you pot committed at this point?  You are getting over 3:1 on your money (7,000 to call a 24400 pot).  Not exactly stellar numbers for A-K suited, but you also know that there are two more players behind you that will more than likely also call if you do.  Meaning, another 14000 chips are coming.  So your 7,000 call is actually going into a pot that will be 40000 before the flop comes down.  Now you are getting nearly 7:1 on your money, and that is sufficient to justify calling with any two cards, let alone something as strong as A-K suited.  In this case, I believe you are pot committed if you want to make the call.  You could fold it and nobody would blame you, especially since somebody is probably holding A-A, while there is a solid chance that K-K is out there too.

The WSOP Academy teaches that once you have committed as little as 25% of your chip stack to a pot, you are pot committed.  I realize some of the best in the world teach this course, but I personally do not accept this premise.  Folding in the second scenario above leaves you with 7000 chips, after committing 30% of them to your initial raise, and with blinds at 200/400, you still have 18 big blinds left.  To feel pot committed with 18 big blinds just doesn’t make sense to me.  You may be committed to a giant pot based simply on the math of the situation, especially one extreme example like I’ve detailed above, but you are not committed simply based on the percentage of your stack that you have invested.

That being said, I tend to go with this general rule of thumb:  Once I have committed 50% or more of my stack to a hand, I am pot committed for the rest of my chips.  Any raise that puts me all in gives me 3:1 on my money, and that is enough to justify most any call with a hand that is more than a bluff.  If you bluffed 50% of your money in to the pot, you might be able to fold to a reraise, but even then you are still justified in making the call anyway….just before you pack up and head for the door.

On the reverse side of the discussion, there is the betting strategy when you are holding the hand, and do not want to give the opposition the correct pot odds to chase whatever hand they are chasing.  I play with several people who simply minraise every time they have a hand.  While this is a consistent bet that hides the true strength of their hand, they give automatic correct (or nearly correct) pot odds to anyone that is already in the hand.  The average drawing hand, say  7-8 suited, is certainly justified in calling a minraise if they are already in the pot.  Even heads up, the minraise makes it at least 3-1 on the caller’s money, and that is more than sufficient to justify calling with 7-8 suited.

Here is a perfect example that just happened in a two table tournament I played in last night:

Full table (11), blinds at 50/100, everyone holding around 9,000 chips.  From the shotgun position, I simply called the 100 with 7-7.  The next player minraises to 200.  The next player minraises again to 400.  It folds all the way back around to me.

Here is the math on what happened next:

Small Blind:  50

Big Blind:  100

Me:   100

4th seat:  200

5th seat:  400

Total of 850 in the pot, and it costs me 300 to call.  So I am getting almost 3:1 on my money.  I know, it isn’t 850, but you forget that the original minraise person is still to act.  And with his minraise, he is sure to call.  So there will be another 200 in there, giving me over 3:1 on my money.

phil_hellmuthThe flop comes down, and just like magic, a 7 appears.  The flop is actually 6-7-9, with two hearts.  Now understand, I know the person who only minraised to 400 is holding a monster.  I’ve played with her before, and I am certain she has weakly played either Aces or Kings.  So I…check.  Seat 4 checks, and seat 5 immediately throws out 800…into a 1350 pot.  If seat 4 is going to call, and I am certain he will as he more than likely is holding A-K or A-Q, it means I am getting nearly 4:1 on my money if I call, even if I am on a draw at this point.  But, since there is a possible straight and two flush cards on the board, I do the smart thing, and raise.  And when I raise, I never allow for pot odds if there is a drawing hand on the board.  So with 2150 in the pot, I make it 2200.  Now seat 4 is getting only 2:1 on his money if he calls, and he rightly throws away his A-X hand.  Seat 4 then makes the critical error I want her to make, and shoves the rest of her 8000 chips into the pot without even considering what is on the board or what I may be holding.  Only after I call does she ask “Do you have trips?” And then she turns over the A-A that I knew she was holding, and she has shoved all her chips in with less than a 10% chance of winning the hand.  It is a mistake I see time and time again.

So, how could she have avoided this mistake?  We’ll to begin with; I think I have demonstrated that the minraise is about the worst raise you can possibly deploy.  It automatically prices in any drawing hand.  If you are in the habit of minraising, you should stop immediately.  It does nothing but lose tournaments for you.  Your raise, if you are first to raise, should be a minimum of 2 ½ times the blind.  If someone has raised in front of you, and you want to reraise, then you should strongly consider raising that bet 3 times.

The second mistake that she made was to bet only 800 on the flop.  Her 800 bet made any call from the other two players correct once again.  In this instance, a bet of 1000 or more would have been more appropriate.  I would suggest betting 75% of the pot or more.

The third mistake was overplaying her Aces once I showed true strength by check-raising her to 2200.  Rather than sit back and consider what I might be holding, she simply immediately hit the panic button and shoved her entire stack into the middle.  Not even a second of thought went in to the decision.

As the old saying goes, Pocket Aces will either win you a small pot or lose you a big one.  Overplaying them after the flop is a mistake the pros do not make.  The great players have the ability to lay down Pocket Aces, as in the big picture, they are only one pair.  If I had flopped two pair I would have been ahead of them, let alone my trips.  So bet enough with them to get rid of the trash and small pairs.  Had she raised to 800, or better yet 1000, preflop, I would have folded a small pair like 7’s, and she would not have run in to trips.  Winning 450 without challenge is certainly better than losing 9000 in the opening minutes of a tournament.

With that, I will finish with some shout outs and congrats on some recent accomplishments of players that I play with regularly.

  • One of the young ladies from a regular tournament series with me recently cashed in the Ladies Only event at the World Series of Poker.
  • AdamD played in his first WSOP event last month, a $1500 No Limit Hold Em event, and cashed in 119th place out of nearly 2,000 players.  I once called him out for neglecting his tournament play in favor of cash games, and he ended that talk for good with his play in Vegas.
  • AdamD then went to the Borgata in Atlantic City, and doubled up his initial buy in to a cash game in just a few hours.  Nothing like taking a 4 hour break on a drive from Washington DC to New York and pocketing a few hundred dollars in the process.Poker 1
  • SteveS, another good friend, recently chopped at the final table in the Venetian Second Chance $120 tournament in Vegas.  His $120 investment was returned over 20 times that night.
  • SteveS followed that up with a 1st place chop at the Gilpin Thursday afternoon tournament in Black Hawk, Colorado.  This was a 50-person game, and it was another great return on investment.  The only downside to this win was that I bubbled out of the same tournament.  Both of us cashing would have been much better.
  • Several players that I regularly hit the tables with are in Vegas right now, and from the reports I am getting, they are all doing well at the cash tables.
  • On my own game, I have been doing extremely well lately playing online tournaments on FullTilt.  I have three wins and several other cashes in 90-person games, as well as a solid cash in a recent 180-person game.

I point out these accomplishments to make this point:  The players I regularly sit down with are all solid poker players.  Most every one of them is completely unafraid to get their money into the pot against anyone.  This is the #1 reason why my game has improved so much over the past few years.   And I would suggest to you that if your game needs improvement, or has leveled off lately, you should increase the level of your competition.  Get out there and mix it up with players that you consider better than you, and I promise you that your game will improve too.



Submitted 7/17/09

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