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Many players are comfortable playing heads-up pots since there is a lot of information, solvers, and other software that can help you nail the optimal strategies and apply them at the table effectively. But when there are multiple players in the hand, everything changes. Many students at mypokercoaching.com name it as one of the toughest areas to play and one where they significantly lack the information.
That does not come as a surprise, but the biggest problem here is that it is actually much harder to crack the code of profitably playing multi-way pots. Since the number of possible scenarios is basically unlimited with several players and the various ranges they could be playing, you really need to understand the fundamentals of playing these spots to avoid common mistakes.
Sometimes you will have to go with your reads and experience, but I hope that these three tips will help you make much better decisions in the long run.
Start by Adjusting Your Preflop Play
Most players fall into the trap of playing many speculative hands without even knowing that it is much harder to realize your equity when you are up against a couple of players.
If you are playing on a passive table where there are many callers when someone decides to raise, you might be tempted to call all types of hands when you have the position. Instead, you need to think in advance how you are going to play post-flop.
What happens if you flop a second pair? Most likely, you just need to fold when facing aggression with multiple opponents in the hand since you will not be able to realize your equity, and could easily land up in questionable spots. Moreover, calling and hoping to hit two pairs or better is very far from optimal strategy.
The same could be said about weaker draws. If you play low suited connectors and get a lot of action when you flop a flush draw, you are very likely to be against a made hand or a better draw, which could cost you a lot of money in the long run.
To avoid this, you should mostly be looking to get involved with hands that can make the nuts, not the second-best hand. Suited Ax and lower pocket pairs being the best example of it.
Of course, it does not mean that you should not be playing other hands, but when you do, you should be looking to take an aggressive line to limit the number of opponents post-flop, so that you can realize your equity.
Also, you should always consider the bet sizing. If you play in a game where 3, 4, or more players regularly see the flop, make your raises much bigger and experiment with sizing to see how big you can go until people start folding. When you find the sweet spot where you mostly get heads up, use this sizing as the standard. This will make your life much more comfortable.
Bet Way Less Often Compared to Playing Heads-Up
If you play your cards right preflop, you should get into fewer multi-way pots in the first place, but when you find yourself in one, you really need to adjust your c-betting and bluffing ratios when you are up against multiple players.
Let’s take a quick example. Let’s say you open from the HJ position, everyone folds to the BB who calls and checks to you on the flop with KQ8 rainbow. In this situation, you should be c-betting as much as 70% of your range if you opt for half pot c-bet since this board heavily favors your range. However, if you open from the same position but now CO, BTN, and BB call, you should be checking almost your entire range, according to PokerSnowie. So, the change in optimal strategy in this spot is very drastic.
If you opt to c-bet with your strongest hands, you will have to fold whenever you check, because you only have weak hands in that part of your range, which is not the best idea. Explanation: If you bet all of your strong hands, this means that you have only weak hands when you check and you will fold to your opponent`s bet all the time. This makes you very exploitable.
The same goes for bluffing, betting out and hoping that all three of your opponents’ folds are wishful thinking, to say the least. So, betting without any equity is often a bad idea not just in this but also in all other situations.
If we move away from c-betting into any other area where you have a chance to bluff, you mostly should only do it in multi-way pots with hands that can make the nuts. At least this way, you won’t be drawing to the second-best hand and will force many folds from marginal hands.
So weigh your options and do not over bluff against multiple players. It is a very common and costly mistake that you should avoid.
Learn to Protect Your Hand
Slow playing multi-way pots is rarely a good strategy. Instead, you should be looking to bet as soon as you get the chance. The reasons for doing it are quite apparent – you want to deny free equity to your opponents and protect your hand while you are still ahead.
Even if you do not have a monster and let’s say flop top pair with a decent kicker, it might be wise to start betting even against two opponents since you want to get some money in the middle while you are still ahead. While this carries some risks, players bluff way less often in multi-way pots, and you will quickly figure out where you stand.
Of course, if you face a lot of resistance and re-raises in these situations, you need to get into bluff-catching mode since value betting one pair on multiple streets in multi-way pots is also not a winning proposition.
As a rule of thumb, players opt to play draws more passively in these situations; hence aggression indicates strength way more often in multi-way posts as compared to heads-up pots. This does not mean that you should be folding everything when you face a raise, but letting go of most of your draws and medium-strength hands might be wise. In these situations, you should instead go for exploitative play than try to balance your ranges, and you will make more money as a result.
About the Author
Tadas Peckaitis is a professional poker player, author, and poker coach at mypokercoaching.com. He writes for a range of online publications and helps other poker players to excel. If you are looking to up your game or find interesting information about poker, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.