In multi-way pots and loose games, getting value for good hands is the primary way you’ll generate advantage over the long term. And since players are so willing to put money into a pot, you can still do quite well even though you’ll find yourself playing a fairly one-dimensional strategy.
The primary complaint from loose games is that people never fold. You can’t get them off hands. Opponents chase constantly— and draw out all the time.
Okay. If they never fold, then that means you should be able to get tremendous value for all your good hands. You should even be able to get value from mediocre hands.
When you have trouble winning in loose games with lots of calling stations, it’s often due to one problem: you don’t bet your hands enough. You’re so worried about getting drawn out on, you try to force folds on earlier streets. Then, if that doesn’t work, you check it down all the way because you’re terrified that seven of diamonds on the river hit your opponent’s kicker. “Oh, you mean my jacks are good? Phew,” you think, as you drag a pot that could have been twice as big if you’d had the nerve to bet the river.
Put in the language of this chapter, many hands are worth three streets of value in these games. Here’s another example.
Four players limp for $2, and the small blind calls. You’re in the big blind with K♥T♦ and a $200 stack, and you check.
The flop comes K♣J♣3♠. The small blind checks, and you bet $12 into the $12 pot. Three limpers call.
What sort of hands do you think they have? They could have kings (with better or, with this crowd more likely, worse kickers). They could have jacks. They could have threes. They could have unimproved pocket pairs. They could have flush draws. They could have open-ended straight draws. They could have gutshots. They could have ace-high.
They could have two blank cards and be calling for pot odds. (That’s a joke.)
Keep in mind there’s nothing to be afraid of. At this point, you’re one of four players. If you win this pot more than one in four times, you’re ahead of the game. And you’ll win at least that often. It’s not a high bar to clear. If a bad card comes and an opponent puts in a big bet, use your skill from the last chapter and fold. No worries. It was just not meant to be one of your 25- plus percent of winners.
Say the turn is the 4♦, for a K♣J♣3♠4♦ board. You dodged everything. There’s $60 in the pot, and you have three opponents. You bet $50. Two players call.
These players are likely not to have the worst of the possible hands I listed above. If they did, they’d have folded like the third player. But they can still have any king, any flush draw, open- ended straight draws, or gutshots if they’re stubborn. They can also have any jack. If they’re real stubborn, they can also have threes and unimproved pocket pairs.
Most importantly, it’s looking good for you because no one has raised. This is a board that often scares most 1-2 players. If they held two pair or a set—or even just a king with a better kicker—there’s a good chance they would try to end the action on the turn by shoving over your bet. After all, you’re not the only one worried about getting drawn out on. Everyone worries about it. Players with two pair or a set would typically see the flush and straight draws out there, the big pot, the three opponents, and just shove.
But no one did that. So you probably have the best hand.
The river is the Q♦, making the final board K♣J♣3♠4♦Q♦. It’s not the perfect river card, but few are. It’s fine. If someone braved it to the river with A-T or T-9 gutshots, God bless them. They get your money. Otherwise, it’s not a bad card at all. K-Q had you beat anyway, so if someone improved that hand to two pair it doesn’t hurt you much. Besides the gutshots, only Q-J is a likely hand that might have improved to beat you. Not too bad.
There’s $136 left in your stack, and there’s $210 in the pot. Shove.
Don’t be shy. You probably have the best hand, and someone might call. Shove. If this really is a game where no one folds to bluffs, they won’t fold here either. They’ll call with their K-2. They’ll call with Q-T that missed a straight but backed into a pair. They’ll call with A-J because they think you’re bluffing. They’ll call with 5-5 because pairs are good, right? (That’s another joke.)
This is how these multi-way, loose games work. Maybe it’s true bluffing doesn’t work very often. Everyone is married to every pot. You can’t win by pushing people off hands. I get it.
But instead, you can take your flopped top pair in a limped pot that would be worth almost nothing in a tighter, tougher game, and possibly win a huge pot with it.
Is someone going to call your shove sometimes and show A-T for the rivered nuts? Sure. That will happen. Is someone going to show you Q-J? Yup. Is someone going to show you 3-3 for a flopped set sandbagged to the river? Once in a while. This is a gambling game. Remember: sometimes you lose.
But you won’t lose over the long-term—not if you follow my rules about playing tight pre-flop and refusing to pay off other players’ big turn-and-river bets.
They can feel chaotic, but games with multi-way pots and loose players can be very lucrative. As we saw, you can take common, not-so-special hands like top pair with an okay kicker, bet them across three streets, get called all the way by top pair with no kicker, or by second pair, or by a busted draw that rivered a pair.
But you must bet these not-great hands with confidence. In the above example, many 1-2 players would find the flop bet. Some might also find the turn bet, though they might feel a creeping fear and shade it smaller to something like $30 instead. But very few would shove the river as I suggest. They just wouldn’t. That queen is just scary enough (even though it’s really not that scary), the pot is just big enough, and their hand is just marginal enough that they’ll check and hope their opponents check behind. Or they’ll bet $30 as a ploy to prevent someone else from bluffing at the pot.
But usually, many 1-2 players will simply check. And it will get checked around. And K-T will be good for a fairly small pot. If you can’t win bluffing, and you also refuse to bet your top pair and better hands because someone made a flush on you once three months ago, you won’t win. It’s that simple.
So the strategy in these games is straightforward. Play your tight, effective pre-flop strategy. Raise and reraise your good hands to build pots.
When you flop top pair or better, you bet. You keep betting until someone raises you. When that happens, you fold.
You don’t let scare cards scare you unless they’re really scary. In this game, it’s a lot easier to make middle pair than a flush, even when three flush cards are out there. Maybe middle pair folds when the flush is out there. But if that’s true, then you’ve found a spot where they do indeed fold, and you can sneak in some bluffs.
In these types of games, it’s important to remember that you aren’t playing against your opponents, you’re playing against the course. Too many people get hung up on who is winning and who is losing in games like these. “That guy plays every single hand and he’s won $2,000 already in this 1-2 game!” These observations create frustration and envy, and they also create self- doubt.
The reality is that games with multi-way pots and loose players are very swingy. The pots can be huge, and if you’re lucky enough to run into three or four hands in a row, you can win four or more buy-ins in short order.
And if you’re playing every hand, you can win those buy-ins before you even have to play the blinds for the first time.
On the other hand, if you’re playing a tight, effective pre-flop strategy like I recommend, you usually won’t be playing hands frequently enough to put together those huge stacks you sometimes see.
But don’t worry about that. These players who build huge stacks quickly also lose them just as quickly. Over the long term, they lose—and they lose a lot. Don’t worry about who’s winning or losing for the day. It’s noise. Just focus on your own strategy for making the most out of the table conditions.
Your opponents are going to pay off top pair hands, so focus on playing hands pre-flop that make those hands. Then bet top pair for the maximum when you make it. When you lose one, shake it off and try again.
If you flop a hand with showdown value, the goal is to squeeze as much value from the hand as you can, then get it to showdown so you can realize its value. You can estimate a hand’s value by using our streets-of-value method. In your mind, create a plan for the hand. Determine how many times you can bet the hand and expect to be called by worse hands. Think about which turn cards will help you by adding streets of value, and which cards will hurt you and take value away. Think about which types of cards are more likely to fall.
Once you have your estimate for streets of value, think about the type of hands you’re expecting to call you. Is it mainly weaker made hands? Is it mainly draws? Is it a mixture of both types of hands? The more you think draws will call, the more you should want to bet the flop and turn. The more you think weaker made hands will call, the more flexible you can be about which streets to bet and check.
And remember: draw-heavy boards can be tricky for players with made hands. Top pair might look like a more valuable hand than it actually is on many of these boards. Be careful not to overestimate your streets of value with a marginal made hand on a dynamic board that offers your opponents many opportunities. Sometimes holding marginal hands on draw-heavy boards, it’s best to give a free card and hope for a brick on the turn. If you catch your brick, you can bet for value with confidence—and the
fact that you checked top pair on a draw-heavy board might confuse some opponents. I’m not saying you always want to check in this situation. But it’s sometimes the best available option.
There’s a lot more to this game than “make a hand and bet it.” If you practice evaluating the true worth of your value hands, you’ll take much sharper and more precise betting lines, allowing you to maximize your hand’s potential every time you’re lucky enough to actually hit a flop.