If you have played much poker at all, you have certainly heard the term “pot committed”, which essentially means that you have put so much money into the pot that you can no longer fold a hand that is almost certainly in bad shape against your opponent’s range. However, most players apply this incorrectly, often justifying calling off the rest of their chips while drawing nearly dead.
You should rarely set yourself up to be committed to a hand unless you are happy to get your money in. The way you make money in poker is by making correct decisions. If you consistently put yourself in neutral or losing situations for lots of money, you are gambling with a disadvantage, which you want to avoid if you think you are better than your opponents.
The worst use of the term “pot committed” is when you are on the river and make a bet with a strong, but non-premium hand, and your opponent raises, giving you excellent odds to call in a situation where he is almost certainly never bluffing.
Suppose you get to the river with 7-4 on an A-4-2-7-K board. You bet 3,000 into a 4,000 pot and your opponent goes all-in for 4,400 total. You know your opponent would never bluff or raise with a made hand worse than A-2. You have to call 1,400 to win a pot of 11,400, meaning you need to win 11% of the time to break even, which seems like an excellent price. This is a spot where amateur players call every time, claiming they are pot committed, whereas in reality, they have an easy fold because they need to win at least 11% of the time and they are going to win 0% of the time.
This entire situation could have been avoided by going all-in for 4,400, betting 1,600 or checking the river. Thinking ahead about what is likely to happen on future betting rounds will allow you to make better decisions. Also notice that when you make a large bet on the river, if your opponent is still willing to go all-in, knowing he is giving you amazing pot odds, he must have an incredibly strong hand. If you needed to win 5% of the time instead of 11% in the example, you should probably call because your opponent may feel like he might as well put his entire stack in if he is going to put almost all of it in.
The other main situation where amateur players use the “pot committed” defense is on the flop or turn with a strong, but non-premium when getting good odds. Say you have A-10 on an A-J-5-9 board. You bet 2,000 into a 4,000 pot and your opponent raises to 4,000. You are confident that your opponent is a weak-tight player who will never bluff or overvalue a worse hand, making his range A-K and better. You have to call 2,000 to win a total pot of 12,000, meaning you need to win at least 17% of the time to make calling profitable. You also have to take into account whatever implied or reverse implied odds you may encounter on the river. You probably have reverse implied odds in this situation because you could be drawing dead against A-J or a set. If your opponent happens to have A-9 or A-5, you will likely get one more bet in, but even if you river a 10, you cannot be too happy. So, you are going to win around 9% of the time and you need to win 17% of the time to profit, making this an easy fold even though you have top pair with a decent kicker and are getting great odds.
Do not fall into the habit of making inferior plays simply because you know you are getting somewhat decent odds and your hand is normally strong. Always think about how your hand fares against your opponent’s range and how your hand will play on the future betting rounds, both if you improve or fail to improve. If you think ahead, you will find you can avoid numerous situations where you would feel pot committed with suboptimal play.
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