Multi-way pots can cause headaches, and it’s easy to understand why. More players means more variables, and potential for the pot to swell quickly.
But if you want to crush live games or low stakes games online–where loose and passive preflop play is common–you’ll need a sound approach for multi-way pots. Today we’ll discuss 4 tips to help you develop that approach, and make more money as a result.
As a little bonus, tips 2 and 4 include a hand history analysis from Doug Polk and Ryan Fee’s ‘Multi-Way Pots’ module in the Upswing Lab.
Let’s get to it!
1. Play tighter when facing bets
When facing a bet in a multi-way pot, you should continue with fewer hands than you would in a heads-up pot. This is because the burden of defense is shared by multiple players, rather than just you. In other words, with other players in the pot the bettor is discouraged from over-bluffing. So, you can play tighter.
The table below shows the average theoretical defending frequency that each player needs to attain in order to deny the bettor a profitable bluff with any two cards (assuming a pot-sized bet).
Players on the Flop
Folding Frequency (%)
Defending Frequency (%)
(Note that these frequencies are simply for demonstration because, in practice, the burden of defense is not shared equally between each player. The exact optimal defend frequencies in multi-way pots are a matter of debate, and are still undiscovered due to vast variables.
These frequencies make clear how drastically the number of hands you should continue with decreases when facing a bet in a multi-way pot.
You should play especially tight when facing a bet with players left to act behind. Not only is the bettor representing a strong range by firing into multiple players, but the likelihood that you’ll run into a premium hand behind increases with more players in the pot.
Keep this point in mind when defending from the big blind, since you will play the most multi-way pots from this position while also being at the greatest range disadvantage postflop. You should of course defend somewhat wide because of the great price you’re getting, but make sure you dump hands that will struggle in multi-way pots (e.g., K2o, 94o).
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2. Narrow your value betting range
Multi-way pots are rarely the right time to bet for thin value. Your hand’s equity decreases as the number of players in a pot increases. Your value-betting frequency should be sensitive to this fact.
To see why, let’s look at an example:
$0.50/$1.00 6-Max Online.
Hero is dealt K♠ J♠ in middle position (MP)
utg folds. Hero raises to 2.8bb. co folds. Button calls. SB calls. bb folds.
Flop (9.4bb): K♥ 4♠ T♦
SB checks. Hero checks. Button checks.
Turn (9.4bb): 2♠
SB bets 4.4bb. Hero calls. Button folds.
River (18.2bb): 4♥
SB bets 8.6bb. Hero calls. SB shows K♣ Q♦ and wins the hand.
Doug’s thoughts: At first glance, this might seem like a conservative check. However, it makes a lot more sense in light of the ranges at play, here.
We can estimate the button’s range by taking a look at the Button vs MP raise range from the Upswing Lab:
Relevant colors: Green = Call. Orange = Raise or call. (Blue = Raise, call, or fold. Red = Raise. Blue = Fold.)
And we’ll use the Upswing Lab‘s SB vs MP raise range to estimate the SB’s range (note that this is an especially rough estimation because the SB not cold-calling, but over-calling in the hand above):
Notice that only the Button’s 2 combos of K9s are worse Kx combos from which we are extracting value, since all KT combos make two-pair on this flop. Notice also that both of our opponents can have KQ in their range, as well as bottom and middle set at some frequency. Consequently, we are targeting too narrow of a range if we start looking for value with KJ.
On the other hand, KJ is not too vulnerable to being outdrawn if it is ahead—an ace is the only card that we really don’t want to see. With a more vulnerable top pair on a different board—with, say, A8 on 8♠ 6♠ 2♦—betting would be more reasonable because your hand benefits from denying equity. But here, with KJ, a value bet doesn’t make as much sense.
3. Use smaller c-bet sizes
There are a number of good reasons why adopting a smaller c-bet size will improve your results in multi-way pots, most of them having to do with bluffing efficiency.
If you somehow knew that you could bet smaller when bluffing and achieve the same result, you’d be a fool not to do it. Since bets in multi-way pots usually represent a strong range, this perception can be capitalized on with our bluffs, and you might be surprised how often a small c-bet as a bluff will get folds.
As we’ve already discussed, players are not incentivized to call a bet with marginal hands in multi-way pots. Not only are they facing a strong range, but they can be punished by players who are left to act behind, and so a smaller c-bet size will not compromise fold equity.
Another perk of using a smaller c-bet size is that it allows you to spread fold equity more evenly over multiple streets—a crucial goal when bluffing. Too often, players will use a standard or large bet size on the flop and turn, only to be left with a tiny, inconsequential amount left to bet on the river. Obviously, a small river bluff will struggle to force folds.
To avoid being stunted by the river, always be aware of your stack-to-pot ratio, plan ahead, and try to use the right bet size on each street.
For more on small bet sizes more generally, check out this guest post from Matt Janda.
4. Be extra selective when choosing hands to bluff with
Finally, since we will have fewer value bets in multi-way pot situations, we must also reduce our number of bluffs in order to remain balanced.
Here’s an example that showcases this point:
PokerStars $0.05/$0.10 6-Max
Hero is dealt A♣ Q♣ on the BTN.
UTG raises to 3bb. MP folds. CO folds. Hero calls. SB calls. BB calls.
Flop (12bb): K♦ J♥ 2♥
SB checks. BB checks. UTG checks. Hero checks.
Turn (12bb): J♦
SB checks. BB bets 9bb. UTG folds. Hero folds. SB folds.
Ryan’s thoughts: When the preflop aggressor and blinds check to our Hero, it will be tempting to bluff. After all, AQ blocks the strongest Kx and Jx combos, which are likely to call, and we’re drawing to the nuts on any non-heart ten. However, we have many better hands to bluff with, specifically those with less showdown value. We can also have numerous flush draws (6♥ 5♥, 7♥ 6♥, 8♥ 7♥, 9♥ 8♥, etc.), which become more appropriate to bluff with given their weak value at showdown.
It’s worth noting that if we had a heart in our hand, particularly the A♥, this combination would be fine to bluff with. This is because we could barrel on any turn that brings a heart. But without a heart we run the risk of bluffing too much if we start betting with all of our AQ combos.
That’s all for today, folks!
Feel free to drop comments, questions, or suggestions for future articles in the comments below. Good luck, and have fun at the tables!
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