A player is pot committed in poker if the pot is so big that he is getting great pot odds so that he is obligated to call if someone puts him all-in. This means that the pot odds he is getting are so high that he is priced in, given his hand and his opponent’s presumed range of hands, and it would be a mathematical error to fold.
This simple concept is often misunderstood or used to justify making questionable calls. Still, you need to understand why and when pot commitment issues arise, to avoid being trapped and be able to use pot commitment to your benefit.
When are you Pot Commitment Preflop?
When your stack is relatively short compared to the blinds, like in the later stages of no-limit Texas Holdem tournaments, pot commitment issues can easily arise before the flop. In most cases, if you commit a third of your stack or more, you are committed to a preflop all-in bet. To better understand when you become pot committed in preflop all-in heads-up situations, let’s examine the tables below.
The first table is against an opponent that you estimate will push all-in with a tight range (10%), and the second against an opponent pushing with a loose range (40%).
The first column indicates the amount of your stack that you have already committed. The second designates the minimum equity that a hand needs to have against your opponent’s range to be committed to calling. The third shows which hands pass this condition, meaning that they are mathematically pot committed to calling an all-in push from your opponent.
HU Against a tight range of 10% top hands (66+,AJo+,A9s+,KTs+,QTs+,JTs)
|% of stack committed||min. equity to be committed||hands that are committed|
|50%||25%||98% of hands (all except 72o, 62o)|
|40%||30%||54% of hands (22+, Ax, Kx, Q8+, Qxs, J9+, J4s+, T8+, T5s+, 98+, 95s+, 87+, 84s+, 74s+, 64s+, 53s+, 43s)|
|30%||35%||21% of hands (22+, A9+, Axs, KT+, K7s+, QJ, Q9s+, JTs, T9s)|
|20%||40%||8% of hands (66+, AJ+, ATs+, KJs+)|
Against an opponent with a wide range of 40% top hands
|% of stack committed||min. equity to be committed||hands that are committed|
|40%||30%||99% of hands (all except 72o)|
|30%||35%||68% of hands (22+, Ax, Kx, Qx, J5+, Jxs, T6+, Txs, 97+, 95s+, 87, 84s+, 76, 74s+, 63s+, 53s+, 43s)|
|20%||40%||42% of hands (22+, Ax, K4+, Kxs, Q8+, Q4s+, J9+, J7s+, T7s+, 98s)|
How can you avoid pot commitment traps?
When the effective stacks are deep, pot commitment arises principally in later streets. As the pot size increases, you must consider pot commitment issues.
If you do not have a strong hand, you can plan your betting to avoid getting pot committed. When you are pot committed, and your opponent puts you all-in, folding is a mistake, so you have to call. This means that, unless you have a hand that rates to be ahead, you are getting pulled into putting more chips to the pot as an underdog. So, consider pot commitment issues when you are betting or calling a bet to avoid such unfavorable situations.
On the contrary, If you have a strong hand, you can size up your bets to lure the opponent into becoming pot committed!
If you risk getting pot committed, should go all-in instead?
Another thing to consider is that, in situations that you know the money will go into the pot one way or another, you generally prefer to be the one to push all-in. Unless you have a lock hand that cannot lose, you want to have fold equity on your side. So, in that case, if you believe that your opponent will not check the hand down, push all-in first to gain fold equity!
For example, consider that you are playing out of position against a very loose-aggressive player. On the flop, you have a flush draw and are pot committed. In this situation, if you check, your opponent will most probably put you all-in and you will be obliged to call. Since you only have a drawing hand, you should bet first. The fact that you are pot committed (because you have a strong draw) does not mean that your opponent is pot committed too!
Do not pass the point of no return with a mediocre hand!
A fundamental concept of poker is that you want to be playing for small pots when you have a small hand and for big pots when you have a big hand. Therefore, with a weak hand, you do not want to find yourself in situations where you become pot committed and are forced to put the remaining of your chips in. You can consider this as a point of no return that you do not want to cross when you have a mediocre hand. If you do, you may be compelled to put the remaining of your chips resulting in a big pot, while your hand is weak. Let’s take a look at an example.
You are on the button with K♦J♠. The blinds are 1$-2$. The action is folded to you, and you have an effective stack of 100$.
You raise to 6$. The blinds both call, and the flop comes J♥7♦6♠. You have top pair with a good kicker. The action is checked to you and you decide to bet for value but also to protect your pair from overcards or possible straight draws. You bet 11$ into an 18$ pot. The small blind folds and the big blind calls, so the pot is now 40$.
The turn is a blank card, the 2♦. Your opponent checks and you bet full pot, 40$ (a questionable bet). Your opponent check-raises you all-in. What should you do?
Well, the pot is 120$, and your opponent has raised an additional 43$ that puts you all-in. You have to call 43$ to win potentially 163$, so you are getting about 3.8 to 1. These are pot odds that you cannot turn down. The minimum equity needed to call in this spot is 21%. You estimate that you have more equity and you are obliged to call!
Even if the call is correct, something went wrong somewhere in the hand. You built a big pot with a medium-strength hand. Even more, because you got pot committed, you were forced to put in your remaining chips. So, finally, you bet your whole stack with top pair, not a good outcome!
Myths about pot commitment
Sometimes players feel that the money they have already invested in the pot obliges them to continue with their hand. Nonetheless, whatever amount one has contributed to the pot is no longer his. There is no reason to throw good money after bad if the situation is not favorable! Pot commitment has to do with pot odds and with the equity of your hand, not with the amount that you have already invested.
You can even be pot committed without having invested a single chip int the pot! Consider the following scenario.
After a big all-in confrontation, you are left with only one big blind. You are on the button with 6♣6♦, three players limp, and the cut-off raises to 6bb. You are getting 5.5 to 1 on a call, and there is a considerable chance that others will fold, leaving you heads up with the cut-off. In this case, you are committed to putting your last chips in, even if you haven’t committed any chips up to that point!
On the opposite side, at times, you may have committed a large part of your stack but not be pot committed.
You are on the button with 9♥8♥. A player from middle position open-raises and the cut-off calls. You decide to call as you have position on both.
The flop comes Q♣7♥6♣, so you pick up an open-ended straight draw and a back-door flush draw. The first player bets half pot, and you both call. The turn brings the 7♣, the first player bets full pot, and the second player raises him! You are the short stack and, at that point of the hand, you have committed two-thirds of your stack. So, what should you do?
You are getting 8 to 1 on a call, so pot odds are favorable to draw. However, given the action and the turn card, you may be drawing dead! Drawing to a straight when the action implies that one or two opponents may have a flush or even a set is not a good idea. In this spot, you must keep your losses to a minimum and wait for a better occasion to push your chips all-in!
In a nutshell
Pot commitment is often misunderstood. It is a relatively simple concept, designating situations where pot odds are so high, forcing you to call an all-in bet given your presumed equity. However, understanding how and at what point you become pot committed can help you avoid some traps and use pot commitment to your benefit.
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