In poker, bets are sometimes referred to as “bullets.” No limit and limit players are often described as “firing” bets into the pot. Betting on turn after betting on the flop is often called “firing the second barrel,” or “barreling the turn;” betting the river after betting the flop and the turn is often called “firing the third barrel.” Gun imagery is rampant in the poker world (look at the covers of some of Sklansky’s books for a chuckle) and this can probably be attributed to the machismo culture of the game. In no limit hold ‘em, because effective stack sizes are so important, we are very concerned with the size of the pot – how the pot is constructed; and Chamber Philosophy is a way of understanding how a no limit pot is constructed preflop and played postflop on the three streets to follow.
The amount of chambers a postflop pot is able to contain is determined by the effective stack size. A pot of $10 on the flop is often a 3-chamber pot heads-up if the effective stack size is $100. This means that 3 bets from each player can reasonably be put into these 3 chambers if the situation calls for it: a $10 bet and a $10 call into a $10 pot on the flop, a $30 bet and a $30 call into a $30 pot on the turn, and a $60 all-in and a $60 call into a $90 pot on the river.
But just because you have a multiple chamber pot, it does not mean multiple bets must go into the pot. Often times a good player will construct a multiple chamber pot so that to his opponent, the threat of multiple bets plays an intimidating role. For example, against this good player the opponent may not be able to value bet the river thinly for fear of a raise all-in. An advanced player can construct a multiple-chamber pot with the intention of playing for one or two bets if the cards fall one way and the intention of playing for three or four bets if the cards fall another way.
Here is an example that roughly illustrates both points. In a 6-man $.50/$1 online cash game I am on the cutoff, a loose player has limped from the plank, the hijack has folded, I have $103 dollars (I am the smallest stack in play, therefore I am the effective stack), and I am dealt
I raise to $5. Immediately I am thinking about Chamber Philosophy. If I flop the nuts I will be able to fit all 3 bullets into the 3-chamber pot I am creating. (i.e. If everyone folds and the loose player calls, the pot will be ~$11 on the flop and I will have $98 remaining that I can easily get in with 3 bets over 3 streets: $10 into an $11 flop pot, $28 into a $31 turn pot, and $60 into an $87 river pot.) If my preflop raise gets more action and I flop the nuts it will be even easier to get bets into a larger pot. If we end up heads-up and the board is dangerous I can get in one, maybe two bets, playing for pot control because I have absolute position and relative position on a loose player. If we end up in a multi-way pot with action all around me on a dangerous board, I can easily dump my hand. Before I decide 1.) if I’m going to raise and 2.) how much I’m going to raise I am playing out all these scenarios in my head. After envisioning these scenarios, I can see that a raise to $5 allows me to play the hand optimally, whereas a min-raise to $2 or an overbet raise to $10 do not have their place here. A raise of $5 to $7 is optimal, and since I want a worse hand to call me (in a no limit cash game we never want to just “pick up the blinds”) I opt for the lower amount.
The BB calls as does the loose player on the plank. The pot is $15 heading to the flop and I have $98 remaining. I have constructed a 3-chamber pot.
is what we get. The BB checks. The loose player bets $1. I raise to $17 leaving me with $81 behind. This is a pot-size raise and I am raising strong for 2 reasons: 1.) My history with the loose player tells me that he is pretty transparent with his betting and this min-bet into the preflop raiser is a weak “feeler” bet made with any pair or a draw. I expect him to call with all draws and top pairs here as well as call further bets and raises on later streets. 2.) If the BB flopped hard and simply “checked to the raiser” on the flop, whatever he does when faced with cold-calling a pot-sized raise in this size raised pot will tip me off to the strength of his hand. Barring a read, I fold to his shove and I view his cold-call with caution.
The BB folds, the loose player calls. The turn is a
My opponent checks. The pot now has $49 and I have $81 left to bet over two streets. If I wanted to do this, I would bet $36 now and $45 on the river. (Typically on a non-scary board I would divide my stack into 1/3 to be bet on the turn [$27] and 2/3 to be bet on the river [$54], but if I feel a player is on a draw I will often try to get as much money as I think they will call in on as early a street as possible since they may stack off in the process of chasing a draw but fold once the draw fails to come.) But the truth is, I don’t like this turn card. Any spade draw made a flush and 45 made a straight. All these hands are in his range as well as the top pairs, but I feel I may very well be behind so I check as well on the turn hoping for a cheap showdown. And depending on the river, I am leaning towards calling some river bets (ones that I think may be a worse top pair looking for value or a busted draw like J9, J8 or 58) if my opponent decides to bet into me.
The river is a
The pot is $49, I have $81 in my stack. My loose opponent checks. My first thought is: Can I bet this river for value? The answer is “no.” Typically top pair with top kicker (tptk) is a very viable hand to get 3 bets into a 3 chamber pot against a loose opponent. But unfortunately the board did not come favorably for this type of action. After the turn card I viewed the 3-chamber pot as being able to hold 1, maybe 2 bets. After the river card, I am resigning this 3-chamber pot to only be filled with the one bet I made on the flop. This is due to the fact that I don’t think I will get any hands worse than mine to call and if I bet weakly looking for a light call I open myself up to being raised on the river; and this I cannot risk since my hand has so much showdown value as it is. I check and hope to be beating tens with smaller kickers, busted draws, and a few other random one pair hands my loose opponent might be playing in this fashion.
Hopefully you can see how important Chamber Philosophy is and how we should be thinking about it on every street. Chamber Philosophy, Effective Stack, Preflop Raise Sizing, and Postflop Bet Sizing all go hand in hand. If my effective stack in the above hand was $35 when the hand began, my preflop raise of $5 would build a 2-chamber pot in which I could make bets of $10 and $20. If my effective stack was $15 when the hand began my preflop raise of $5 would make a 1-chamber pot in which I would have had 1 bet to fire postflop: my all-in for $10. The bet and raise size amounts are not rigid, but they should be accomplishing the goal of constructing the appropriate chamber-sized pot for your hand’s strength and considering the table conditions you are facing.
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