Recreational players do not keep close track of pot size. This becomes really evident when you see players make small bets in proportion to the pot especially on the river. In fact, in some games, a $500 bet into a $2000 pot represents a huge hand – not a ¼ pot size block bet as it would online. Part of the reason why players have so much trouble tracking pot size is due to the large amount of small denominational chips that are in play.
In most of the southern California games at $5-$10 and below casinos use only $5 and $100 chips. This leads to gigantic clusters of yellow ($5 chips) in large pots. If players aren’t doing the math street by street it is virtually impossible to tell the exact size of the pot. People have trouble making good estimates when things are in clusters. We tend to see piles as big or small – just like the way people judge poker pots.
Most of the money we make in lower level cash games comes from value betting, not bluffing. That means that when a good player gets involved in a big pot they usually have the best hand. In order to maximize your winrate you want to make the biggest bets possible that will be called by inferior holdings. This is where the technique of spiking the pot with large chips comes into play. If I make my bets with $100 chips it is much easier for my opponent to actually recognize the correct pot size. If, on the river, there are eight white ($100) chips and a small pile of yellow I can make a $700 bet and our opponent will recognize this as less than pot. If, however, I have been betting with small chips my opponent will only see a large pile and have no idea how my sizing correlates to the size of the pot.
The best way to spike the pot is to do so early as you start to bet on the flop. If you want to bet $75 instead of doing so with $5 chips throw in one $100 chip and declare “seventy five.” The dealer will then give you back twenty-five in yellow. This leads to a bigger bet that you can make on the turn. Let’s say you now bet $150 with two white chips. Now, on the river, the pot has been spiked with at least three of your $100 chips and hopefully some of your opponents. You can now bomb away for value and the villain has a better idea of the size of the pot.
You can actually be a little crafty and use the opposite of this technique when running a bluff. Use your smaller denomination chips on early streets so that betting less on later ones looks bigger.