Why are there side pots and how do you know which players are in them?
A side pot is necessary when three or more players are all-in with different amounts of chips. A player can only win an amount of chips equal to their starting stack from any other player. All of the chips that can be won by the player with the lowest starting stack make up the main pot. Chips bet by other players are put into one or more side pots. It is possible that the side pots are bigger than the main pot. Side pots can be won by hands that are weaker than the hand winning the main pot because the player winning the main pot had less chips and did not qualify for any side pots.
- Three players are all-in and they have 300, 500 and 800 respectively. A main pot of 900 (3 x 300) will be created with 300 from everyone and a side pot of 400 (2 x 200) will be created between the other players who have more chips than the lowest stack.
- Four players have 300, 500, 900 and 1,000. A main pot of 1,200 (4 x 300), one side pot of 600 (3 x 200) and one side pot of 800 (2 x 400) will be created.
In both of these scenarios, the all-in player with 300 can only win the main pot. The two players in both hands with the most chips are eligible to win all of the pots, including side-pots, even if their hand does not beat the hand that wins the main pot.
Side pots can be a tricky thing to figure out, and can occur in three ways. First, there can be various pots at the table created by players having varying amounts of chips in the pot (caused by one or more players going all-in), second you can have multiple players with the same hand causing the pot to be split, and third you can have a combination of the previous two ways.
Regardless of the situation mentioned above, a player can only win as many chips from each player as they personally have invested in the pot. That means that even if you and at least one other player have the same best hand and you are all-in but there were more chips bet after you went all-in, if the pot is split it is possible that they would receive more chips than you depending on how many chips are in the pot.
For example, consider a hand with three players.
- Player A is all-in with 100 chips and Players B and C both bet a total of 150 chips.
- Player A and Player B both tie for the best hand, so they would split the 400 chip pot.
- Player A can only take their fair portion, and since they only bet 100 chips, they can only win a total of 100 chips from each player plus the chips they bet (so in this case, 300 chips).
- Since the pot is split with Player B, Player A can only receive 1/2 of the 300 chips they could have solely won, which means they are awarded 150 chips and Player B is awarded 250 chips (since Player A could not match the extra 50 chips bet by Players B and C).
Similarly, if you solely have the best hand but are all-in and more chips were bet after you went all in, you will receive as many chips as possible from the pot and then the second best hand is awarded the remainder of the chips (if possible). If the player who has the second best hand cannot claim the remainder of the chips (because they were also all-in and there were chips bet after they went all-in), then the third best hand will be awarded the remainder. This pattern continues until all chips from the pot have been properly awarded. It's also possible that players may tie for the first, second, or third best hand (etc), which can cause the pot to be split even further.
For example, consider a hand with five players.
- Player A is all-in with 100 chips, Player B calls and is all-in with 75 chips, Player C calls and is all-in with 50 chips, Player D calls and is all-in with 25 chips, and Player E bets 125 chips.
- This means Players A through D are all-in and there are a total of 3 side pots and the main pot.
- The main pot contains 125 chips (25 chips from each player), and anybody could win this pot.
- Side pot 1 contains 100 chips (25 chips from Players A, B, C, and E), and only those four players can win this pot. If Player D wins the hand, the player with the best hand between Player A, B, C, and E will win this side pot as Player D is not eligible to win this pot.
- Side pot 2 contains 75 chips (25 chips from Players A, B, and E), and only those four players can win this pot. As above, winning this is separate from the other pots, and only Players A, B, and E can win this pot.
- Side pot 3 contains 50 chips (25 chips from Players A and E) and only those two players can win this pot. Just like side pots one and two, winning this pot is separate from the other pots, and only Players A and E can win this pot.