This article is a transcription of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing VP Mike Brady with Gary Blackwood. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or read on if you prefer a written version.
Mike Brady (00:00):
I am once again asking for you to spend 20 minutes leveling up your poker game. My name is Mike Brady and I’m joined by Scottish Poker Pro, Gary Blackwood to help you with live poker players’ favorite topic, multi-way pots.
Gary Blackwood (00:12):
That’s right guys. Very important topic. Today we’re talking about multi-way pots — bet sizes, hands that we do want to play, hands that we don’t want to play — all things multi-way pots.
Mike Brady (00:20):
I think a lot of players who are used to playing a lot of multi-way pots in their games tend to get a bit frustrated by poker training content online and it’s no wonder why because I’d approximate that 80 to 90% of content is all about playing heads up pots specifically. We try to cover multi-way pot considerations at least in passing here on the Level Up podcast. But we figured it was finally time to dedicate a whole episode to this topic. Live players, you are welcome. We’re going to start by helping you with your hand selection before the flop in games that feature a lot of multi-way pots. From there we’ll move on to post flop strategies. Before we dive in, I want to quickly remind you that The End Boss System, Doug Polk and Fabian Adler’s brand new advanced course, is coming to Upswing Poker on October 9th. You can pre-register at upswingpoker.com/hu2023. By the way, the irony is not lost on me that this is a heads up course that I’m advertising while we are doing a multi-way pot episode. Okay, so if you’re glad we’re finally covering multi-way pots, hit that like button or rate the podcast five stars and let’s get started. So Gary, my first question for you, which starting hands make the most money in multi-way pots
Gary Blackwood (01:32):
We’re looking for hands that can make the nuts and cooler your opponents pocket pairs, Ace-X suited, all these types of hands that can flop really well or make really strong hands like the nut flush and the second nut flush are great hands to hold multi-way. Really nice and simple here, we’re looking for our hands that can dominate our opponents, that can devastate them by flopping really well or it can make the nuts when they flop the nut flush draw they get to play aggressively and potentially improve to that flush later down the line.
Mike Brady (01:57):
Yeah, and you got to keep in mind in these games with a lot of multi-way pots, your opponents are going to be in there with all sorts of hands that maybe look kind of good but really aren’t that good, especially in multi-way pots. They’re in there with the seven five suited and maybe even if you’re in a particular type of game, the ten nine offsuits and the seven four suited and the eight three suited, who knows? We’ve all played in games where people are just in there with all sorts of stuff that has some semblance of playability and they’re just in there. You want to be playing the hands that dominate those hands. So when they’re in there with the seven four suited, you’re in there with the king 10 suited or the Ace five suited and when you both hit a flush, you win a huge pot against them. Similarly, when they’re in there with the ten nine offsuit, you’re in there with the king 10 suited and you get the 10 high board, you win way more money than you’re supposed to in that situation from players like that. So that’s the kind of stuff you really want to be focusing on playing in these games. Now the other side of the coin, Gary, which starting hands suffer the most in multi-way pots?
Gary Blackwood (02:54):
So it’s kind of the opposite to the previous answer. Hands that are dominated, disconnected, unsuited. Those are the types of hands that we want to avoid playing in these multi-way games. People think they should be in there four or five ways with hands like suited one gappers, suited two gappers, Queen-Ten offsuit, ace eight offsuit. But these are hands that we definitely want to avoid putting money in. Low suited connectors are just about okay, but we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that if we make a flush, if we’re playing five ways to the flop, it is somewhat likely that another player has made a flush as well. Low suited connectors are just about okay, but we must be mindful of higher flushes for five ways to the flop and we’ve got six five suited and we end up making a flush. We need to be mindful of the fact that someone else could have made a higher flush. That very much applies in single raised pots. If we’re playing a three bet pot, I’m really happy to play for all the money if I make a flush in a three bet pot, but in single raised pots, if somebody all of a sudden starts shoveling money into the pot whenever the flush gets there, we’ve got to be mindful of the fact that other players can have higher flushes.
Mike Brady (03:51):
Yeah, you could just imagine some situations. You still can be playing the eight six suited one gappers of the world and the six five suited. Maybe you’re calling out of the big blind or maybe you’re calling on the button in a favorable spot. We’re not saying you should absolutely never play these hands, but you have to keep in mind they’re just not quite as good as they might seem in multi-way pots largely because of that domination factor for both your suits and your pair outs. So for example, like Gary just said, maybe you call out of the big line of five six suited, you flop a flush draw, maybe a bet goes in on the flop, you and two other people call, so you’re going four ways or five ways to the turn. The flush completes and now you and someone else are piling money in.
Oftentimes that’s going to be because the opponent has a flush, and you don’t want to be the person with the six high flush or the eight high flush when a bunch of money is being piled in that spot. So. sometimes you are just going to get cooleredd and you played the hand fine and there’s nothing you could really do about it. But what we’re really trying to get across is that you should avoid overvaluing these hands pre-flop. You’re not excited to hop in there with the six five suited five ways necessarily because — unless you hit the straight, which granted that’s amazing in a multi-way pot — if you hit that flush or you hit a two pair that could be dominated, you might end up on the lower end of a cooler scenario. So, calling out of the big blind or something, maybe calling on the button against some weak players, that’s going to be fine, but don’t be overstretching yourself when you’re middle position against an early position raise. You’re not excited to hop in there with six five suited or eight six suited when you know it’s going to go five or six ways. It’s actually not as favorable of a situation for those hands as it might initially seem.
Gary Blackwood (05:27):
You’re absolutely right. There are certain situations where we do get to play those six five suited and from the big blind we get to flick it in with the suited one gappers. But I want to come back and reiterate a point that we made at the very beginning of this question. The Queen-10 offsuits, the Ace-Eight offsuits, even the Jack seven suiteds, et cetera. They might feel somewhat appealable to the money into the pot with, but they’re big no-nos. We want to steer clear of those. As Mike says, the six five suited, maybe the eight six suited. There is a time and a place for those, but those really trashy unsuited, often dominated hands, we just don’t want to be going five ways to a flop with a hand like Ace-eight offsuit or jack nine offsuit, those types of hands.
Mike Brady (06:02):
I think when you’re in these multi-way pot frenzy games, you’re really only going to be playing hands like that when maybe it is going to be one of those rare instances where it’s not a multi-way pot. Maybe it folds to you in the hijack. I’m going to go ahead and raise the queen 10 off in a weak game, right? Even though it’s technically possible that it goes call, call, call and I end up in a crappy multi-way pot situation, but queen 10 offsuit early position or even a hand like Ace 10 offsuit that I might always raise in a lot of 1/3 games in early position, I’m just folding that because it’s not going to do as well in these multi-way pots. So, now that we’ve covered specific hands, let’s talk about how we’re actually adjusting our strategy like what we’re doing with these hands and we’ve obviously covered it a little bit. But I want to ask you, when you’re at these passive tables where a lot of multi-way pots are happening, how should you actually be adjusting your plays? For example, are you raising to a different size? Are you raising less often in certain positions? Are you ever mixing in limps? Things like that. What do you think?
Gary Blackwood (07:00):
A bunch of different things that we can talk about here. Let’s talk about the fact that we’re in this game. It’s loose, it’s passive. You’re going to see more flops in a game like this multi-way less people are going to squeeze behind with their king queen offsuit their Ace four suiteds and that means you can slightly widen your calling range versus an open, but I must stress it’s only with the right types of hands. Case in point, if somebody opens under the gun at 1/3, you should be folding under the gun plus two with pocket fours. If you know that you’ve got four guys behind that are not going to squeeze, they’re probably going to call with a bunch of trash hands, you can slightly widen your calling range with the right types of hands. The seven five suited the Ace 10 offsuits, absolutely not, but a hand like ace three suited or pocket fours, which is going to do really well, you can slightly widen your calling range with these types of hands because as mentioned, they can devastate your opponents if you flop a set or you can make the nut flush and cooler one of your loose opponents who’s in there with a too wide of a range.
Let’s also think about early position opens. We know that we’re in a loose passive game where we’re going to see a flop four or five, maybe six ways. We want to really tighten up with our really marginal opens as Mike has just said on like Ace 10 offsuits probably profitable to open under the gun in a 1/3 game, but if you know that you’re going five ways to the flop, it’s not a hand that we should be opening. We can go ahead and tighten up hands like King Jack offsuit, even our low suited connectors. Six five suited under the gun I would not raise in a game like this where you’re going to go five ways to the flop, where three guys have got hands like queen deuce suited and Ace six off, all these types of hands that dominate you. That type of hand is fine to put money into the pot in late position or from the big blind for example, but opening it under the gun in a game like this, I think it’s just going to be costing us money.
We can really tighten up our opening range under the gun because we know that we’re going to go five, six ways to the flop. It’s also really important that we stay disciplined and keep our ranges nice and tight and only play the right types of hands in a game like this. It’s something I used to struggle with. I play 5/10 in the Commerce in these games where it’s very loose, very passive going five, six ways to the flop and I would get far too merry for the game playing too many hands, especially the wrong types of hands, which lead to a lot of bleeding overall. If you’re in a game that’s passive with lots of multi-way pots, it’s boring, but you’ve got to keep your ranges tight, let everyone else play all the bad hands and make sure that we don’t play too loose for the hands that we’ve already spoken about.
Some great examples already given by Mike and myself. Everything I’ve just mentioned is even more important when you’re in the big blind, you do not have to call if this goes open, four calls, you do not have to call with hands like king seven off, eight three suited ace six offsuit. We’ve spoken about trashy hands. Your big blind range is obviously very wide. It doesn’t need to include all these trashy hands that we’re mentioning now like the eight three suited, the super trashy hands, we’ll call them like the eight three suited the king seven. You see it all the time. You see open four calls and the guy in the big blind says, well, I’m priced in, don’t be that guy. Let’s make sure our big blind completing range five or six ways isn’t too loose because it is hemorrhaging money if you’re in there with the super trashy hands that we’re mentioning now.
Mike Brady (10:00):
Save those extra few big blinds guys, it will add up and it might even be more than a few big blinds if you’re hitting a flush with eight three suited and you’re getting over flushed by someone who’s in there with the right types of hands like an Ace five suited. So, just avoid it all together if just fold your hand, sit back and watch the chaos unfold in the multi-way pot that you’ve wisely stayed out of. Before we move on to post-flop strategy, I want to present sort of the debate around this topic, how you should play pre-flop in these splashy games with a lot of multi-way pots because there is a difference in approaches and both can be successful. We do recommend the one that we’ve been preaching throughout this episode, but I want to just forward this knowledge onto everyone listening and watching right now.
So some very successful players will actually do not quite the opposite of what we’re saying, but definitely veering, where they will actually open wider when they’re raising pre-flop in these games. They’ll still isolate limpers relentlessly with hands that aren’t necessarily amazing and the logic is fairly simple. It’s kind of what Gary was just alluding to when he was at the Commerce. You are a good player in the game. Everyone else is not a good player. So, raise more often, play more hands, get in more profitable spots post-flop against these relatively weak players (compared to you). The problem with that is you need a very, very specific skillset to be able to pull that off. It’s kind of like driving too fast. I mean there are NASCAR drivers who go 150 plus miles an hour (I think, I don’t watch NASCAR, sorry if they go faster or slower than that) but your grandma doesn’t drive 150 miles an hour on the freeway for good reason.
She’s not equipped to do so. These very, very strong players who have a lot of experience, they’re able to make some sick hero folds post flop even when they hit a strong hand, but they kind of know that they’re toast against their opponent. They’re able to make some really sick bluffs, some amazing overbets. They’re just incredibly studied players with a lot of weapons in their arsenal and maybe even are incredibly good at reading their opponents in these games so they’re able to pull off this looser strategy. For most people though, that’s just not going to work because most people aren’t going to know when to pull off the big overbet bluff against a normally call-y, sticky opponent. They’re not going to know when to make the really, really great hero fold with the eight high flush on the river. So instead of even getting in those situations, we recommend just changing your pre-flop strategy quite a bit to where you’re focusing on these hands that play really well.
So you don’t even end up in these spots where you have to potentially make a big hero fold or you have to pull off a really sick bluff to make playing that hand pre-flop a profitable endeavor. And then one other thing I want to add is to really think critically in these games because you’re able to get away with a lot more stuff than you can get away with in an online game or just a tougher game in general. I know really strong successful players who actually preach open limping with certain hands in certain situations, which is kind of a strategic no-no if you watch basically any piece of content online, but it actually can make sense in these games. I’m just going to give you a very extreme example to kind of get your wheels turning. Let’s say you’re in a game, it’s a 1/2 game.
It’s opening at the casino, and again, this is going to be a very extreme, perhaps unrealistic example, but you sit down at a new 1/2 game, they’re just starting the table and six players at the table, it’s clearly their first time, second time playing poker. They barely know what’s going on. They’re calling everything, they’re calling down to the river with eight high gutshots just because they don’t understand the mechanics of the game. They’re not folding. I’m not going to fold pocket fours under the gun in that game even though I don’t think raising is necessarily going to be great because I’m just going to get called by six people. What I will do is probably limp because I’m happy to get in there cheaply, maybe hit a set and then bet, bet, bet against these people who aren’t folding anything, right? So that’s an extreme example obviously, but you’re going to be in somewhat similar situations in these live games with a ton of multi-way pots where you can maybe pull off a limp under the gun with pocket fives because the alternative is folding it, but it’s profitable to play pocket fives, so just limp it. Or maybe you can call in some spots that you normally wouldn’t, like we already talked about where maybe under the gun raises and you have pocket fives under the gun one. Clear, clear fold in theory. Clear, clear fold in a tough game. But if you know it’s going to go call, call behind and if you hit a set you’re probably going to stack someone, you would be kind of silly to just fold pocket fives there. Take the spot. No set, no bet as they say.
Simple advice. This is what a lot of really successful low and mid stakes live players do. They think critically. They try to pull off things that some online nerdy players might even laugh at, but those online nerdy players would, if they were in the same game, would pass up on these profitable spots just for the sake of sticking to their game plan and that’s just not what you need to do in these games. You need to think critically and you need to make some good decisions. Alright, with all of that said, let’s move on to post flop strategy. Gary, how are you adjusting your strategy as the pre-flop aggressor in multi-way pots?
Gary Blackwood (15:06):
It’s really important that we take two factors into consideration in these spots. One, if we’re in position or out of position versus most of the players remaining in the hand and two, the strength of our hand on the texture of the board. Point 1, if we’re very much out of position versus most of the remaining players in the hand, we must start off by playing passively. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got Aces on king eight deuce rainbow, then let’s go ahead and put money in the pot, but if we’ve got a marginal top pair or a jack high flush draw, we’re going to benefit from taking a more passive line and controlling the size of the pot. On the flip side though, if I’ve got bottom set or top two pair, I’m playing that very aggressively, mainly betting at the times that I’m not betting, I’m always check raising.
We don’t want to miss value playing. Live poker is all about getting value, so if you’ve got a really strong hand, let’s go ahead and play aggressively in the form of a high frequency bet or a check raise. But let’s be really mindful of the fact that if we’re out of position versus three or four players and we’ve got a kind of marginal hand, like a top pair third kicker or a jack high flush draw or a gut shot, something like that, we want to play more passively and control the size of the pot. Onto my second point, let’s not marry our pocket Aces in a single raise pot on 7 5 3 when we’re up against four players and one of those players is the big blind. Our four or five-way pots are very likely to be single raised pots, ranges are super wide, and we should be less likely to want to play for lots of chips when ranges are super wide and the board is very connected.
So factor in the fact that people can already have a very big hand on a board like that and they’ve got hands that can improve on a variety of run outs. Our four or five way pots are very likely to be single raise pots and ranges are super wide in single raise pots. So factor in that people can have a monster hand or a monster draw on these connected boards. Our marginal one pair hand shrink in terms of strength on a really wet connected board like this as mentioned, if we’ve got a really good one pair hand on a super disconnected boards, we can be aggressive, but these middling connected wet boards, even our top pairs and our over pairs want to control the size of the pot and play passively.
Mike Brady (17:06):
You will notice that Gary specified single raised pots there. Three bet pots really are quite a bit different and of course when you’re playing in these games, most of these mass multi-way pots will be single raised pots. That’s when people tend to hop in there, but once in a while you’ll play a three, four, five-way pot in a three bet pot and in those situations it’s a little bit different. There’s two reasons it’s different. The pot is bigger so one pair of hands are stronger because there’s less money to get in there. When you have $200 behind and there’s already $150 in the middle and you have Aces, you’re going to probably go with it even if the board is pretty scary like a 7 6 4 or something like that. But in a single raised pot, when there’s only say $40 in the pot and you have $250 behind, you’re not going to just shovel that in with pocket Aces.
The other key thing is just the hands that people play in three bet pots. On 7 5 3, to use Gary’s example, it’s a good amount less likely in a three bet pot that someone’s in there with six four suited or six four offsuit because a three bet went in. It’s a lot harder to be willing to put that much money in with a hand like six four suited or a hand like five three suited that hits two pair when a three bet has gone in pre-flop. So it’s really those two key things. Most of the time you’re going to be playing single raise pots when it’s five ways, but when the pot is super bloated, and even if it’s a little bit of a scary board, we don’t want you to be worried about monsters under the bed in that scenario because if you’re beat, you’re beat in those spots. When you have $200 behind, there’s already $200 in the pot and you have Aces on whatever board, you’re probably going with it.
Gary Blackwood (18:33):
I completely agree. For anyone watching this podcast go back and listen to the last 30 seconds because this is the most what Mike has just spoken about is the most important part of the entire topic today. Really understanding the difference between a single raise pot and a three bet pot for the reasons that Mike has just stated is really important. So I strongly urge everyone to go back and listen to that
Mike Brady (18:50):
Kind words for my Scottish friend there. Moving on to the next question, how do you approach bet sizing in these multi-way pots, in particular single raised pots?
Gary Blackwood (18:59):
A very fun topic we’re about to talk about now we’re going to talk about some deviations from what the solver might say. So the general rule is that you’re supposed to use smaller bet sizes in multi-way pots. More players in the pot equals more likely to run into a strong hand, so your range generally prefers to play passively, bet less frequently as mentioned, and also use smaller bet sizes. Either one third or half pot will be our preferred bet size. But if we’re playing in these passive games with every flop being four or five ways — the majority of the players in these multi-way pots will be weaker players, non pros, not really dialed into things like bet sizes — and if I’ve got bottom set on Ace-Eight-Five, there is no way that I’m checking or betting one third pot. I think it is completely fine to size by hand here. Your one pair of hands that want bet and your draws, they can use the smaller bet size. But your monsters — and it’s really important we understand the monsters that don’t block the hands.
you’re trying to get called by — like bottom set or a flop straight, I like using a 75% bet size with these hands. Build your pot versus these non-thinking players and they won’t really exploit you by over-folding. I just want to really reiterate that point. If you’ve got a hand like top set or top two pair, you block the hands you’re trying to get called by, I’d be less inclined to use a big bet size on those types of boards, but if I’ve got bottom set or a flopped straight, remember if you’ve flopped a straight, you don’t block any of the pairs you’re trying to get called by and those are two great examples for when we can sort of beef up our be size a little bit and your opponents won’t exploit you, they’ll still continue with the same range and you get to bloat the pot and sort of build it to try and win a monster pot.
Mike Brady (20:29):
We’ve been really focused on exploitative strategies in this episode for obvious reasons. These are games that are ripe for exploits and you should be adjusting your strategy to exploit these opponents. I do want to just throw a word of caution out there. It feels like I have to because this is Upswing Poker content. Be careful because you are leaving yourself very vulnerable when you do things like size by hand. Suppose there is one good player at your table, maybe you’re playing 1/3 and it’s a 5/10 player waiting for his seat or something like that — another extreme example I came up with — but that’s a player who might realize what you’re doing when you size up on Ace-Eight-Five. They might see you bet big on that Ace-Eight-Five and then next time they play a multi-way pot with you and you bet small they might be like, “hmm, can I attack this guy right here because he bet big earlier on this similar spot and he had a set?” So just be careful because you’re obviously leaving yourself open. Most players, the vast majority of players, will never catch onto what you’re doing in these games, but just bear it in mind, look around the table, be like, “hmm, is that someone who might be onto me?” And then be careful against that player. Maybe even revert a little bit more to a balanced strategy when they’re in the mix. Moving on to our final question for Gary today. How are you adjusting your post-op strategy as one of the callers in multi-way pots?
Gary Blackwood (21:45):
Really quite similarly to how I’d play as the pre-flop aggressor, really quite passively overall, especially with marginal one pair of hands or marginal draws and especially on very wet textures that can change on future streets. But once again, I’m deviating from what the theory says I should do with my strong hands that unblock my opponent’s calling range, especially when I don’t think they’ll make adjustments. If there’s a hundred dollars in the pot on Jack six deuce and I’ve got pocket deuces and I believe the small blind is going to continue with seven six suited whether I bet $32 or $64, I’m always choosing that larger size. It’s really important though that we don’t overdo it and bet too big. We want to bet big enough that we get the value that our hand deserves, but not so big that players start to fold hands. We really don’t want them to. It’s really important we get that value, but it is disastrous if we lose our customer.
Mike Brady (22:37):
Before we sign off here, I want to put a term to the concept that Gary has been harping on throughout this episode and the term is inelastic ranges. A lot of people are inelastic or fairly inelastic to bet sizing and what that means is they play a pretty similar range regardless of the bet size that you use. Normally in poker you should have elastic bet sizes. When someone bets bigger, you should play tighter against that bet because your pot odds aren’t as good. When someone bets smaller, you should play looser against that bet because your pot odds are better. Basic math, it’s super basic poker stuff, but a lot of people have the opposite. They have inelastic ranges, so like Gary said, whether you bet $64 or $32 into that hundred dollar pot, that opponent is calling with a six regardless. They’re not going to play tighter against the $64 bet.
They’re basically going to play the exact same. When you’re up against players who play fairly inelastically, you get to really hammer them by using bigger bet sizes in the appropriate spots. And I want to quickly show an article on screen. If you’re listening, I’ll just tell you the title so you can look it up. On Upswing Poker, we have an article called How to Snowball Your Winnings versus Bad Poker Players. If you just Google “snowball winnings poker”, you’ll probably find it. It’s on Upswing Poker. This goes over four different scenarios where if you bet 33% on the flop and then check on the turn compared to if you bet 33% on the flop and then bet the turn and then comparing that against betting 50% pot on the flop or 80% pot on the flop. You end up seeing how much bigger that pot gets when you use that bigger bet size earlier on. The pot really increases exponentially, and when you have a good hand that’s extremely good for you.
It means a lot more money in your pocket. So go check out that article if you’re interested, but overall the key takeaway is use bigger bet sizes when you think your opponents are not going to adjust properly to it and you have a good hand that doesn’t block your opponent’s calling ranges. One more quick reminder to head over to upswingpoker.com/hu 2023 to get on the waiting list for the upcoming End Boss System course from Doug Polk and his longtime heads up coach Fabian Adler. This is going to be an amazing course even if you don’t play much heads up because the concepts and mechanics you learn are going to apply to all wide range spots, so you should definitely check it out if interested. If you want to keep diving deeper into this live poker multi-way splashy game topic that we’ve been covering throughout this episode, we had another episode we did called “live poker is incredibly easy.” At the end of the YouTube video, we’re going to put a link. On the audio platforms, I will put a link in the description, so definitely check that out. It’s a very similar topic to what we’ve covered today, adjacently related, but you’ll learn even more skills for non multi-way pot situations as well. Thanks a ton for listening. I will see you in the next episode of Upswing Poker Level-Up next Wednesday with a special guest, Doug Polk.