There will inevitably come a time when you can’t get it heads-up with an opponent and execute some of the strategies we have discussed here. In these cases, where there are two or more players in the pot with you, some special considerations need to be made.
Don’t bet with nothing in a multiway pot except in a few circumstances, which we will get to in a minute. In general, it is a bad idea to bet in a multiway pot with nothing because if you put two normal calling ranges into a calculator and put any board out there both players will have missed only about 33% of the time. If you bet half of the pot you will be breaking even, and now you will give someone a chance to raise you off your hand. A couple of backdoor draws or some clean overcard outs can tip the scales in your favor, but don’t wildly throw chips out there just because you were the previous aggressor.
Generally, if you’re continuation betting into a multiway pot your sizings should be a little larger, for two reasons: it’s more likely that one of your opponents has something, so you want them to pay as much as they can when you have a hand; and being against only one player makes it much easier to play on future fortuitous turn cards, especially if you think they can help you bluff.
The exception to this comes when you are playing on a clear hit-or-miss board. Say it’s J-J-3 or K-2-4 rainbow. Here, if someone checks to you and you want to take a shot at it, a small bet of one-third the pot will look very suspicious. Your bet will need to work 25% of the time, but both players will have nothing 40% of the time on such a dry board. If they don’t really know what to do many of them will just give up and let you take the pot.
Many players will fire any flop if it’s checked to them in position in a multiway pot. Understandably, many players have begun noting this, so they are check-raising more, trapping these player’s bets in the middle. You can be a little more liberal about what you bluff with in position, especially if you think a smaller size would prove sufficient. Just try to have something you can work with on the turn like the aforementioned backdoor draws and clean overcard outs – overcards that are unlikely to make two-pair combos for your opponent.
Overcalling has a great tendency to shut down the action. Often in multiway pots you’ll see that the first person just fires because they raised preflop and the second gentleman, knowing this, calls with many weak pairs. When you overcall here they become wary; you’re the first person who is supposed to have a real hand. They’re guessing you probably would have folded garbage second pairs to a bet and a call, so your most likely combinations now are good second pairs, top pairs, and draws.
If the draw comes in on the turn and they check to you realize that they usually don’t have it. There are not many guys who will still go for the check- raise when they hit their flush draw. They don’t try this play as much anymore because people now are far more prone to check back in multiway boards, fearing the prevalent aggression of the new era of poker. Also, many players know that if they check-raise the turn when the flush draw comes in they’ll essentially be telling the table what they have. For whatever reason few people try to do this as a bluff. It’s actually very impressive when someone tries to do it versus a great player, because it happens so seldom.
For this reason, the general player will lead into you when they make their flush. If they are checking to you it’s because they don’t have it. They will frequently still bet their sets and two pairs, worried that four cards to a flush will come up on the river. Often a turn and river bet will get these opponents off their one-pair combination. You should consider turning more of your mediocre pairs into bluffs. On occasion, they will wake up with something and you’ll look like a dolt with your newly minted garbage, but you have to pay to play.
Also, be wary of checking back your top pair when it’s checked to you. Many people do this, worried that there is some hidden gem in the field because of the number of players. As we discussed, this is unlikely. Furthermore, when you bet in position, people call a little too frequently, justifying it with the size of the pot. (This is why many bluffs need to be followed up with river bets.)
Check-raising can be a very mean tool to use in multiway pots. It’s a great play to use at high stakes especially. One time when I was playing in the LA Poker Classic I flopped a flush in a multiway pot. I checked, one player bet, another called, and I check-raised. Everyone immediately folded. I was discouraged. Of course, with so many players in the pot I assumed I was going to get action. A friend I discussed the hand with later asked a good question, “Who really bluffs there?” I thought about it more. He was right. Nobody really bluffed there.
In the next 20 major tournaments I played I must have used that line as a bluff 10+ times. If I remember correctly, I got called down twice. The other eight times everybody groaned and mucked. Often, they would show me top pair before they did so. They were so sure I could never be bluffing there that they wanted to show me the stupidity of my play.
There are a number of boards like this where people never raise as a bluff. If it goes bet and call on a paired board like J-J-7, for example, very few people check-raise without 7-7 or a jack there. If the first two players were just continuation betting to steal the pot (likely) and calling with good ace highs, gutshots, and pocket pairs (also likely) they’re going to get out of Dodge at the sign of the “real” bet.
You don’t always have to bluff in a multiway pot either. If you’re the last person with the option to fold after someone’s bet that can sometimes be better. You know that the action is now heads-up but your opponent will still have the fear that he ran into a real hand; after all, it stands to reason that there’s one out there when he fired into three or four people.
If you’re playing live also be sure to pay attention to people when they check. You can execute more of these bluffs on the felt because for some reason people really telegraph that they want to fold when it’s a multiway pot. Heads-up they feel the need to keep up appearances in case a bluff opportunity should arise. In a multiway pot they know it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to take the pot, so they visibly slump, start paying attention to the TV, or do myriad other actions that signify they’re done with the hand. Hell, you’ll see some guys with their cards lifted in the air already, just waiting for their turn to fold.
When this is going on you can do a check-raise bluff that looks like you’re raising into three or four players, but you know that actually you’re just heads-up versus the bettor. This works extremely well if you’re going against an online guy in a hoodie who is terrified of looking out into the world; there’s no chance he will notice that you saw these players were ready to fold.
Largely, you want to avoid multiway pots. I really hammer 3-bet semi- bluffing with my students because it is just so detrimental to get into multiway pots. It’s preferable to get heads-up with a mediocre hand then play a good hand multiway because you usually need a hand to win multiway. Bluff opportunities don’t come up often, because usually the board gives somebody a solid piece of something.
When you need a hand to win that is not poker. That is called gambling, which is no different from any table game in the casino where there is no bluff component. Get your pots heads-up. Don’t be like many of the faded American online pros who still flat most of their range because they “want to play small pots in position.” This “small” pot often ends up being quite large as people have become much better at squeezing and flatting from the big blinds.
A hand like A-Jo used to be a great flatting hand. One player raised, you called, everyone else got out of the way, and you were in position with what was often a dominating ace. Now, you call with the A-Jo, and the big blind comes along nine times out of 10 because they now understand good pot odds. Even with the wider range they’re completing with they’re still hitting a good portion of the time in conjunction with the raiser. You can’t do nearly as many floats and postflop bluffs when there’s an unknown player waiting behind you. You’re stuck now. You need a hand in a game where it’s hard to have one.
You need to 3-bet your big cards more often now. Don’t be afraid to turn a hand into a bluff by folding to a 4-bet. Usually, people flat too many 3-bets these days, so the 4-bet is more likely to be a solid hand. The big cards work well heads-up as they make solid pairs, and heads-up a top pair is usually good for the win. In multiway pots, top pair is usually the costly second-best hand which takes your chips.