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Why’d You Bet So Much? To Make The Pot Bigger!

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Oct 30, 2013


Bryan DevonshireFor the past year I’ve hammered out over 25,000 words on a series titled “I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now.” I talked about everything I could think of that I’ve learned in over a decade as a professional poker player and four profitable semi-pro years before that. Unless I turn it into a book, there isn’t much more I can write about. Brainstorming for the next direction to take this column, I’ve landed on the title of “Irrefutable Southern Logic,” coined by Joe Stapleton back in the days regarding sentences that would come out of Court Harrington’s mouth; so simple, sweet, logical, and irrefutable.

Court is very much Southern, born, raised, and residing in North Carolina. Southerners have always had a way with words, blessing us with gems like “busier than a three-peckered billy goat… “That man’s all hat and no cattle, and if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.” We’d be discussing something on the radio, Court would listen and interject one sentence that solved the discussion in a way that usually made us giggle. My goal for this series is to take those goofy Southern-isms and turn them into poker lessons.

Good ol’ boys with lots of money and time on their hands make up Court’s regular opponents. Super smart dudes, very Southern. I had the pleasure of playing in a few of these games last time I made it down there to visit Court, and after a long drive into the deep backwoods of North Carolina, we pulled down a grass driveway and walked into a garage with a poker game going on. I shook hands, met some fun people, got on the list, and followed Court out the back door of the garage detached from the farm house. By the time I got out the door, he was pissing on the lawn, started laughing, and said, “this is the bathroom.” I knew I was in another world.

I walked inside to hear a man who owns a hundred businesses order a “ham, manaise, and tomater sammich.” I wondered to myself if this was the same guy that Court called me about late one night. He was complaining that these boys got back into fishing and it’s killing the poker game. They just broke it early to go dig worms. These are the same boys who were out on the lake fishing, sunk the boat somehow, made it back to town, bought a new bass boat, and resumed fishing. They can buy every worm farm in the South, but they’re quitting the poker game to go dig for worms.

I finally got a seat in the game and loved every minute of it. It felt like poker was supposed to feel. The game was a social club that revolved around a game of cards, much different than the many diverse flavors of poker games found scattered throughout casinos and the Internet today. These boys didn’t care about the money, and they thoroughly enjoyed playing the game. They didn’t talk strategy. They would playfully tease and needle like boys do, but they would never berate. It was a badge of honor to do something goofy and take down a pot in the process.

The first hand I played, I reraised preflop and got stacked by the guy who called my three-bet cold with J-10 offsuit. One of his buddies teased him about it, and incredulously, he responded, “Are you kidding me? The problem with this hand ain’t the winnin’, it’s the gettin’! I’m always gonna see the flop with this hand.” Everybody laughed. Nobody corrected. The game was fun. Different world, but fun.

My favorite story from that game comes from a $5-$10 no-limit game. There was like $60 in the pot going into the river. One guy bet $400, and the other guy folded, laughing, and asking, “Why’d you bet so much?”

Our hero blinked, pondering what he perceived to be a stupid question, formulating his simple response: “To make the pot bigger?!” Like, duh!

These are the “isms” that I want to tie to poker lessons both for their amusement as well as teachability. I get such a kick out of that story because he’s so right, the way to make the pot bigger is to put more money into the pot. It’s hilarious because he’s so spot on logically but so backwards and Southern procedurally. Let’s examine.

Fundamental poker theory wants us to win pots as big as possible when we win and lose pots as small as possible when we lose. Therefore, we should play big pots with big hands, small pots with small hands. But if we always do that, then our opponents will realize that every time we put money into the pot we have it, and then they’ll either fold or we’ll be losing big pots with our big hands. Same with our little hands, if we check with the plan of not calling three streets, then we’re going to lose all those hands too. Therefore sometimes we have to slow play our big hands and turn our bad hands into bluffs and make them look like big hands.

In this example our hero chose the trappy route, clearly wanting to play a big pot, but not wanting to prevent his opponent from bluffing and only win the $60 in the pot. So he slow played to balance his range with his weak hands (accidentally). Unfortunately his opponent didn’t bite, and on the river he abandoned the plan of “trap my opponent,” and went back to the plan of “I have a big hand so let’s play a big pot,” and blasted $400 into $60, landing him just the $60 that went into the pot preflop.

Therefore, his logic was sound, but his execution was off. If he wanted to make the pot bigger, attempting to win a big pot with his big hand, he should have bet $40 into $60 on the flop, $100 into $140 on the turn, and $220 into $340 on the river. Then he’s bet the $400 that he wanted to get into the pot, given his opponent the opportunity to spew for more, and given himself a greater likelihood of playing a big pot. Checking to trap was fine, but on the river he should have either checked again or bet some amount more in line with how much he would bet with a bluff in that same spot. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade. With more than $2 million in tournament earnings, he also plays high stakes mixed games against the best players in the world. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.