You’ve probably heard the expression “pot committed” quite a few times at the tables. You may even have used it yourself to explain some very dubious calls, but do you really know how to use this concept to your advantage?
In fact, players like to throw the phrase “pot committed” around quite liberally, and it is often used as an excuse for plays that simply escape the logic.
But if you aspire to be a good poker player, you need to understand what being pot committed really means and how it should affect your play.
Likewise, you need to realize the mistakes that come from mistakenly believing you are committed to a pot in a situation where you’d be much better off preserving your poker chips.
Like so many other things in poker, feeling like you’re pot committed and being actually pot-committed are two entirely different things.
So, the first thing this article will explain is math. The only way you can know if you’re committed to making a certain call is if the numbers add up. And many players look at wrong numbers to begin with, which leads them to bad decisions time and time again.
How to Know When You’re Pot Committed?
Poker is a game of math, and just like in sports betting, as you can see in these guides, knowing your numbers can make or break you. So how to know if you are pot committed?
One of the more common explanations of being committed to a pot in poker describes the situation as having so much of your stack already invested in the pot that you simply have to call. This explanation does make some sense, but it is way too shallow to be of any real use at the tables.
The fact of the matter is, you’re only committed to the pot when you’re getting correct odds to make the call regardless of how big of a percentage of your stack is already in the middle.
For example, say you’re up against a very aggressive player who raises to 200 before the flop. You both start with 2000 in chips, and you decide to take the flop against him with a pair of twos. The flop comes QQ7, and they bet 500. You’re convinced they’re bluffing and make the call.
The turn is a 3, and they bet big again, now making it 900. You’re still convinced they’re bluffing and continue to call.
The river comes another 7, double-pairing the board, and your opponent moves all-in for the last 400.
Obviously, this is an extreme example and probably not a very good way to play pocket deuces in this particular situation, but that’s not the point. The point is, you’re now in a situation where you need to call 400 to win 3600, so you’re getting 9 to 1 odds. But, are you going to win this hand once every nine times?
In fact, you’re never going to win this hand. The best you can hope for is a chop, and that’s only if your opponent is holding the second pair of deuces or 3x2x. All other hand combinations are beating you.
So, despite the poker odds, you’re not pot committed here because you’re not getting the right odds. You may have committed a large chunk of your stack, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw away the rest of it because it feels like you just can’t fold.
You can – and you should.
If the river didn’t pair and you were up against an aggressive player that you know likes to empty the clip, you could say you’re pot-committed. Against that kind of a player, your small pair is likely to be good at least once in nine times.
Fold Equity and Pot Commitment
There are two important reasons why you need to understand what being pot committed means. The first one is to know when you should make thin calls or hard laydowns. The second one is so you’d know when you still have enough fold equity to continue with a bluff.
Fold equity is one of the other important poker terms that may be a bit harder to calculate than direct pot odds. In a nutshell, though, it is the likelihood that your opponent will fold to your bet.
To put it simply, if you bet 100 chips into the pot of 2000 on a river, your opponent is definitely committed to calling with any hand that has even a remote chance of winning.
You’re giving them 21 to 1 on their money, and they’ve hardly arrived at the river with a hand that won’t win even that often.
But this idea is often more important in situations where you’re considering putting your opponent all-in.
If you arrive at the river with the pot of 5,000 and they only have 300 chips behind, you might as well give up on your bluff if that’s what you were doing. At this point, they’re so pot committed that they would need to have a hand that has absolutely no chance of winning to even consider folding.
This is one of the reasons it is so important to plan your bet sizing every step of the way.
When you’re trying to execute a bluff, you have to be very careful to size your bets in a way that you don’t commit your opponent to the pot and leave yourself with some fold equity.
A good example would be if you were certain they were on a flush draw and wanted to barrel them off their hand. Your flop and turn bet need to be sized in a way that would leave them with enough chips on the river they can fold instead of making a hero call with Ace or King high because they’re getting a ridiculous price.
If you notice your turn bet is likely going to leave the other player with a number of chips that would commit them to the pot on the river. You have a hand that just won’t win on a showdown, you’ll be better off moving all-in on the turn and forcing them to either fold or put all of their chips on the line on a draw.
Of course, many of these things won’t even come into play against good players as they’ll never leave themselves with three blinds chasing a flush. But a bad player might and you don’t want to reward their mistake by making one yourself and giving them a chance to make what’s actually a correct call in the end.
Over-folding: The Other Side of Being Pot Committed
Understanding what it means to be pot committed goes both ways. Just like you shouldn’t be making losing calls in situations where you feel committed (but actually aren’t), you should be careful not to fold too much in spots where you are committed.
While the first scenario is much more frequent, some tight players make folds when they’re getting the right odds, but just think they can’t ever be good in a particular spot.
Just like calling too much, over-folding will lose you a lot of money in the long run.
Here’s an example where finding a hero fold on the river would be a bad idea. Starting stacks are 3000.
You call a 500 raise with JhQh, and the board comes 9 K 7 with two hearts. Your opponent bets 700, and you call. The turn is an irrelevant offsuit deuce, and your opponent continues to bet, this time for 1100. You decide to call. The river is a Jd, giving you the third pair, and the opponent moves all in.
You now need to call 700 to win the pot of 5300 chips, which gives you odds of about 7.5 to 1. Your opponent has shown a lot of strength up to this point, and it’s not hugely likely your pair of jacks are good.
You probably should have played your hand differently from the start, but now you’re here – and you’re committed to calling.
It’s hard to say if you’re going to win with your pair of jacks at least once in 7.5 times against a particular player without doing some serious math, but in general, with this kind of odds, you’ll simply have to call off the final bet.
Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the fact that you only have 700 chips left in your stack. Being pot committed isn’t about what you have left behind but about what kind of odds you’re getting on a call. In the same scenario, if the river bricked, you should be folding every time because you won’t win nearly as often as you should with a queen-high to justify making the call.
So, to sum it up, just like you don’t want to throw away your chips in desperate situations, you don’t want to be the guy making these types of hero folds when it is quite clear that the pot odds are such that you have to call with any kind of a reasonable hand, even if it is the second or third pair.
Over-folding will cost you just as much money in the long run as making too many loose calls. It may not feel like it as it is not as evident. But, after a while, if you look into your poker stats, you’ll notice you’re bleeding chips away.
Common Mistakes: How to Avoid Them & Make A Profit
Here’s one very simple truth about being pot committed: it doesn’t happen by accident. All the examples so far have been quite extreme, and you may have been reading through them thinking – sure, but who plays a hand that way?
And, while most players won’t really make such obvious mistakes, it’s not that hard to get yourself pot-committed with no fold equity if you aren’t careful.
Unless you have an absolute monster hand in the hole, like pocket aces, Ace-King or other premium holdings, you aren’t really looking to get yourself committed to the pot before the flop is out.
If you’ve been watching high stakes tournaments, you’ve probably noticed how the best players out there prefer small raise and bet sizes even when they’re playing with relatively shallow stacks.
It’s because they’re not looking to get pot committed and throw the skill element out of the window.
As you could see from some examples up to this point, once you get pot committed, there is no turning back. You have to put the chips in the middle and hope for the best. But a bit of planning could have saved you from being in that position in the first place.
Here’s an example of a fairly common mistake that inexperienced players will make and commit themselves in a spot where they have no business being in the hand at all.
A short stack sitting on just 18 big blinds opens for 2.5 bigs. The other player calls in position with a hand like 7s6s.
This is the first mistake. You don’t want to be playing these types of hands against short stacks because there is simply no real upside, and the PokerSnowie app seems to agree.
Even if you hit a flush draw, you’ll be pretty much committed to the pot even though you know you don’t have the winner. You’ll be calling with the losing poker hand in hopes of getting one of your outs.
So, you need to avoid committing yourself in these types of situations, and as you can see, it all starts from your very first decision. Had you been disciplined before the flop and made the correct laydown, you wouldn’t be in this spot.
Thus, preflop hand selection actually plays a huge role in avoiding many of the costly mistakes.
If you can avoid these mistakes and target those players who don’t, you can make a lot of money in the long run.
For example, if you know someone is prone to folding too much when they miss the kind of hand they envisioned, you can take advantage of the fact. These players will give up way too easily even if you don’t have the right fold equity.
They won’t call you down unless they make whatever hand they were chasing after.
By the same token, against players who will commit themselves to pots quite liberally, you can size your bets accordingly when you have a big hand.
By the time you fire your final bullet, they’ll realize they’re pot committed and will give you extra chips with very weak holdings. This can be hugely profitable as long as you know who to target.
Pot Committed or Not: The Final Thoughts
Hopefully, this article has opened your eyes to what it really means to be pot committed in poker. This isn’t some abstract situation that you figure out on a coin toss. You can pretty much know when you are and aren’t committed to a pot and base your decisions on that knowledge.
One of the most important takeaways from this article that being pot committed has almost nothing to do with how much you have left in your stack.
Sometimes, it’s correct to fold even if you have just two big blinds behind. Sometimes, you’ll need to call off even if folding leaves you with a very workable stack.
It’s all about math and numbers. You need to leave your feelings aside and focus on making the right decisions at that particular moment, and if you find that hard to do, you can always check the best poker training sites to improve that area of your game.
So, the next time you feel pot committed, take a deep breath, and think about everything discussed here. If you stop putting good money after bad just because you feel there is nothing else to do and start basing your decisions on pure math, you’ll see your results improve quite significantly – guaranteed!