Pot Committed: Truth or Myth?

«I had to call. I was pot committed.» If you’ve played poker long enough, you probably have heard someone make such a statement after making a horrendous call. Heck, you probably made it yourself more than once. For those unfamiliar, the term «pot committed» refers to situations in which the pot is so large that you have to call a bet, regardless of your holdings. It is very often used as an after-the-fact excuse for a bad play, but it can also be a very real thing. Today, we will talk about being pot committed, including what to consider when determining if you are pot committed and how understanding this principal can improve your game.


When are you Pot Committed?


Let’s start with a very easy example.

You are dealt AdKd in a full ring game. You have $200 and are in the Big Blind. There is a Loose Player in the Hijack seat (the seat to the right of the Button), who is known to raise large with any two cards when there is no action to him and he has position. He has $300. He is followed by a Tilting Player who is generally good, but has been tilting due to bad luck. As a result, he has been playing too many hands, and has been looking for spots to isolate against the Loose Player. The Tilting Player only has $100. Blinds are $½.

Preflop, the action folds to the Loose Player, who raises to $12. The Tilting Player raises to $25, likely under the suspicion that the Loose Player is just trying to steal the pot with his bet. The action folds to you (with AdKd), and since you assume your two opponents are likely playing with weak cards, you decide to pump the pot to $40. Either they will both fold and you will win more almost $40 with little effort, or you will see a flop with strong hole cards. To your surprise, both players call. The Loose Player calls quickly, but the Tilting Player looks pained before calling. You don’t know what they have, but you are confident that neither has AA or KK, otherwise, they would have re-raised your $50 bet. The pot is $151 (including the $1 small blind).

The flop comes down Qd 9c 8c. You missed the flop entirely, but decide to make a small continuation bet of $50, hoping that neither of your opponents have hit their hands and will summarily fold. The Loose Player folds his cards angrily. The Tilting Player groans and then pushes all-in for $60 total. All you have is two over cards, and for all you know, the Tilting Player has flopped a straight with TJ or has two pair with 98 or even a set (88 or 99, perhaps). At best, you have six outs (three Kings and three Aces), if the Tilting Player only has one pair (QJ, for instance, or a low pocket pair). The chance of hitting your six outs by the river is roughly 24%. The pot odds, however, are tremendous. You only have to pay an additional $10 (his $60 all-in minus your continuation $50 bet), to win the $261 pot ($151 preflop, your $50 continuation bet, and his $60 all-in). So, you only need a hand that can win one out of every 26 hands for the $10 bet (to win $261) to be a good play, statistically speaking. You, sir, are pot committed. Despite the fact that your hand is weak, the size of the pot vastly outweighs the size of the bet, committing you to call, even if you had a much worse hand than Ad Kd.

You call, miss the turn and the river, and at showdown, lose to the Tilting Player’s KQo. You may’ve lost, but that last call was still correct.

As another brief example, sometime you will be pot committed because you are the shortstack. For instance, you are in a tournament and are crippled by a hand, leaving you with only 250 from your starting stack of 2,000. The blinds are 50/100, meaning you only have 2.5x the big blind. You are in the big blind the very next hand, so 100 of your money immediately goes into the pot. You are dealt 6c8c. There are three limpers before the action gets to the small blind, who raises to 250. The pot, including your big blind, is currently 650. You have 150 left to call, but you have terrible cards. In this case, it really doesn’t matter. You are pot committed. You can try to hold onto the 150, but in the next hand, you have to put up 50, and then you are left with only one big blind. Rather than going the way of Broomcorn’s uncle (look it up), you are likely better off calling for a chance to turn 150 into 800 or more if the limpers call. Simply put, since you already have a lot of your stack in the pot and the pot has grown to a large size, even though you only have 6c8c, you are pot committed to call, since most of your money is already in the pot and you are getting good pot odds to call the rest of it, with five cards to come.


Beware of Feeling Pot Committed


The first example above is fairly clear-cut, although the second one may be arguable, depending on table conditions. But beware, because sometimes, even when it feels like you are pot committed, you are not.

For instance, you will rarely be pot committed pre-flop unless you are shortstacked, even though a lot of people give the «I'm pot committed» speak when calling a pre-flop raise. Just because you put money into the pot, it doesn’t mean that you are pot committed.

This holds true on later streets too. As another example, you are not pot committed if you are at the river and facing a small bet into a large pot… if you are certain that you are beat. Some players may feel pinned into making a call. They called down bets preflop, on the flop, and on the turn, so folding on the river to a relatively small bet may feel demoralizing or just «wrong.» Remember the first rule of poker: If you are behind, fold. There are caveats, of course, but if you know 100% that you are beat, no pot odds can make you pot committed.

Caution that even though this may be true, there will be times when you are almost positive you are a loser, but you still ought to call because you are pot committed. The key here is that you are not 100% positive, but only almost positive. If you are 90% sure that your opponent has a winning hand with a 10% likelihood that he is bluffing, but the bet is only 5% of the pot on the river, it may make sense to make the call. This is because you have a 1-in-10 chance of winning (the 10% of the time that your opponent is bluffing) but you are getting 20-to-1 on your call (5% of the pot). It’s really a matter of pot odds, though, and not so much a matter of the mentality that, «I called every bet so far so I am «pot committed'".


Pay Attention to Opponents Who Claim They Are Pot Committed


One other point. If someone at the table says they are pot committed, you instantly know that they are at least familiar with the concept of pot odds. A complete novice will not know the term. More importantly, look at how they use it. If they raise $10 preflop, get raised to $25, and then say, «I have to call. I’m pot committed," despite having $200 in their stack, you know you are dealing with someone who thinks he understands poker terms but does not. You would be surprised how often a player will mention being pot committed even when they are not. Those players are looking for excuses to call, so beware and prepare accordingly. Expect them to call you more often than other players, and make them pay for that tendency.

And remember, I may be willing to discuss the concepts behind being pot committed here, but DO NOT correct a player at the table. Just smile, nod, and exploit where possible.

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