Skill #5. Evaluating Board Texture – P6: MULTI-WAY POTS AND LOOSE GAMES

This will be the final multi-way pots and loose-games section, as proficiency in looser games wanes in importance as you move up in stakes. Also, in these game types, the most basic skills are also the most valuable ones.

The main idea here involves how the difference between four opponents and one or two opponents plays up on certain flop textures, and down on others.

Let’s start with two other players. Take J♥T♥4♠. On this kind of flop, it’s likely you’ll make a C-bet, and one or both opponents will fold. Unimproved pocket pairs lower than tens will usually fold with two flopped overcards and draws abounding. Ace-high, when the kicker is a nine or lower, will also usually fold. Suited connectors like 6-5 or 8-6 that failed to flop even a gutshot also typically fold.

Add up all these hands, and you have a decent percentage of a typical pre-flop range that doesn’t want any part of a flop like this. So it’s reasonable to expect you might pick up the pot some percentage of the time when you C-bet against one or two players.

Against four opponents, however, it’s likely someone will call on a J♥T♥4♠ flop. The abundance of straight draws, flush draws, and the fact that jacks and tens are commonly held, ensures this.

As I mentioned in the barreling chapter, you may still want to bet this flop into four opponents even if you’re almost certain you won’t immediately win. But you want to have equity-when- called, and you want there to be significant money behind so you can play the turn and river.

Other flop textures, however, don’t work the same way. Take 6♥3♣3♠, for example. If you were to bet small (i.e., half pot or less) into four opponents, I’d usually expect someone to call. But the call wouldn’t mean they have a six, a three, or an overpair necessarily. They could have ace-high or even Q-J.

But if you bet bigger into the same flop, you can often convince the light callers to fold. And once you do that, there’s a decent chance you can bet into four players and pick up the pot. Any single opponent is a big underdog to be holding at least a six.

If you bet big on the flop with a hand like Q-J and a backdoor flush draw, even if you get called, you often have equity. The call is more likely to be a six, or a small overpair, than it is to be a three. This is true because threes are rarely played pre-flop, and because the two threes on board leave only two threes outstanding. So your overcards have a good chance to be best if you catch one and make a pair, and you also have outs to catch the flush draw as well.

Ace-high flops can be fine to C-bet into one or two opponents, but are often a pass against four or five loose players. Say the flop comes A-9-4 and you have 8-7 suited with a backdoor flush draw.

With just one opponent, you probably should bet, hoping your opponent doesn’t have an ace and folds.

But against four or five opponents, there’s a strong chance someone has an ace. That’s because aces make up a significant percentage of many people’s pre-flop ranges. So it’s unlikely four or five players will all fail to have one. Because you’re likely to get called by an ace, and you have relatively little equity-when-called in this situation, give up.

On the other hand, a flop like 8♣4♣2♣ can be a great one to barrel in multi-way pots. It’s harder to make flushes than most players realize, as discussed above. So even with four opponents, there’s a decent chance no one’s flopped a flush. On the other hand, most players will easily assume that one of their four opponents likely has a flush. If you come out betting, they’ll just figure you’re the one who has it.

In general, boards where hand values are closer together— generally dynamic boards with draws and medium-high cards— these boards play what we call “true” in multi-way pots with loose players. That is, these are boards where you should play your good hands fast, and give up on weaker hands. Your opponents will more easily call your bets on these boards, because everyone feels like they have a shot to win until the river card comes.

Ace-high boards also play fairly true, because when five or six people see a flop (particularly in a raised pot), usually someone has an ace.

Yet, certain static boards give you more barreling room. Cards are less connected, and fewer winning hands overall are possible. You can get through four players with decent success on a J-2-2

flop or a Q-6-3 flop, particularly with no flush draws available. If your hand has positive features like overcards or backdoor draws, it can be worth firing at these boards, and even firing again on the turn, if you’re called on the flop.

The better you understand how hand ranges interact with different board textures, the better you’ll seize on barreling opportunities even in multi-way pots with loose players. With static boards in particular, barreling can be very profitable as we’ve seen.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Understanding flop texture is a skill that takes much time and hours at the table to master. But it’s the first skill we’ve covered so far that will help you generate huge edges over a wide variety of opponents. Typical 2-5 players understand flop texture in only the most superficial ways (i.e., three cards of a suit on the board make a flush possible). As a result, they’re unaware of many situations where they’re playing a strategy vulnerable to barreling or getting bluffed.

A lot of my edge when I play 2-5 comes from bluff-raising opponents who bet flops where they’re unlikely to hold a hand they will think is worth defending. My edge also comes from barreling on boards where it’s hard to make certain represented hands. At the same time, I back off when the board texture is likely to improve my opponents’ hand strength at my expense.

People consider bluffing in poker a psychological test of wills. “Does she have it? Or is she bluffing?” In reality, my goal when I bluff is to figure out when my opponent is unlikely to have anything at all. In that moment, I want to bet and take it. You want to bluff when you believe your opponent has a relatively weak set of hands, and you want to avoid bluffing when your opponent has a relatively strong set of hands. When you understand board texture thoroughly, you’ll be a long way toward being able to identify each of these scenarios.

This is another example where you’re not playing your opponents, but instead you’re playing the course. If you try to turn bluffing into a psychological war where you and your opponents are constantly trying to one-up one another, you’re playing with fire. When you are always trying to take things to the next level, your opponents—who may be predictable and exploitable most of the time—become moving targets who are tricky to deal with. A small percentage of poker players thrive in this sort of gamesmanship, but most don’t.

Generally, you’re better off turning your attention away from your opponents and keeping it on the course. Many board textures will leave your opponents with weak hands. If they have folding tendencies post-flop, just take all the pots they give you. And take your pots quietly so you can take the next one too.

For an in-depth look at board textures, I recommend my book How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold ’em, which discusses in detail how to break down board texture to determine how friendly or unfriendly a given board will be to your barrels and bluffs.

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