Playing for pot control is one of the main reasons the game has got tougher over the past few years. The reason? Players have got smarter and aren’t stacking off as quickly as before.
In the past, it was very common for players to stack off after flopping top pair, top kicker in cash games, whereas today if you play back at someone with this type of hand, they are much more inclined to just call your raise instead of inflating the pot while holding a one-pair hand.
Playing for pot control is much easier to do while in position. You will be in control of the betting, allowing you to keep the pot small. Playing for pot control while out of position and minimizing the tough decisions you may face on a later street, however, is another story all together.
A common mistake I see players make is getting a good flop for their hand but not being convinced they have the best hand, so they just check-call all the way to the river. The problem with this is if you are up against a good player and he knows you have a decent hand but not one you are willing to get all-in with, he will put an extreme amount of pressure on you. He may even force you to fold the winner by the time you get to the river as he might make a bet you really can’t call.
So what happens? You end up folding the best hand.
Here’s one way you might be able to avoid this.
Let’s say you call a raise from the blinds with 7 7 and the flop comes down 10 6 2. This is obviously a pretty good flop for you as there is only one over-card to your pair. You do have a few options on how to play your hand other than just check-calling.
First you may lead out. If he doesn’t have a big hand, he might fold and allow you to take down the pot right there. The problem with this play is he may raise you, forcing you to fold potentially the best hand. If he floats you, since you are out of position, you will be in a tough spot on the turn.
You can go for a check raise on the flop but clearly this is no way to keep the size of the pot down with a marginal hand. This play is great if you get away with it but when you get called you will be forced to give up or make a much bigger bet on the turn, since you have just inflated the pot size.
The line I like in this spot is a check, call, lead. You check-call the flop, as most players will C-bet this type of flop. Then on the turn you lead out into your opponent.
The reason I like this play is you may easily throw your hand away if you get raised, therefore saving you from calling a river bet in the hopes that you have the best hand. If you get called on the turn and you decide to check, you may have done enough to stop your opponent from betting on the river, allowing you to see a cheap showdown.