Many players are very uncomfortable playing multi-way pots, and make a lot of mistakes in this area. To be honest, many students I have worked with also said they are struggling in this to some extent because there is a significant shortage of correct information.
While there is a lot of poker software and tools dedicated to analyzing one-on-one play, and even solving perfect ranges, you can’t find nearly as many resources for multi-way pots, and that creates a problem that I will try to solve with this article, at least partially.
Understand essential adjustments to make when playing against several players in a pot and increase your win rate in this area.
Adjust Your Preflop Ranges
If you happen to play with a lot of passive players who are looking to see many flops, you need to adjust your preflop ranges since it is the easiest way to win more.
Contrary to popular belief, you should actually be tightening your opening and isolating ranges if you feel that you do not have much fold equity. If you are going to see the flop with multiple opponents, you will not be able to simply c-bet to take it down most of the time, so this is something you need to consider.
So when you already have few players in the pot either limping or calling raises, just do not overplay your weak speculative hands. While trying to see the flop with holdings who are likely to make nuts if you hit the board hard like suited Ax or low pocket pair is fine, you weaker connectors and gappers lose a lot of value.
Even if you make a pair with these, it will rarely be good against multiple players. Also, if you happen to hit a flush draw and then make your flush with 65s in a big pot, you are much more likely to be up against a higher flush then in a heads-up pot, so this can cost you a lot of poker chips out of your pocket.
Another adjustment is to use a bigger sizing. While this might sound obvious, many players still leave a lot of value at the table. So if your standard raise is 3x and you face multiple limpers, you should not go just for 5x, but should experiment with sizing to see what you can get away with.
I have played in live games where preflop raises are easily called up to 10bb or sometimes even 15bb. So if that is the case, but you never figure it out just because you stick to a fixed sizing like 5x or 6x, you will lose a lot of value. So try to experiment with it and gradually increase the size of your raise until people start folding, and then stick to it as a standard option.
Making these simple adjustments will put you in much better situations postflop, so this alone can help your button line quite a bit.
C-Bet Less Often
You are probably used to aggressively c-bet to take down the pot even when you miss, but this strategy does not work against multiple players. If you insist on betting too often, you will be burning your money, and that is something many players are doing in today’s games.
Nothing illustrates it better than a simple example. If you raise from CO and get a call from BTN and BB to see the flop of Jc 6d 3c, you should be checking almost your entire range, while you surely would be c-betting quite a lot if only the BB would have called.
And that really put things into perspective. If you are up against several players and do not even have an absolute position on all of them, you should be mostly checking. If you choose to bet your strongest hands, then your checking range will become extremely weak, and you will have no way to defend against other player bets.
This concept goes far beyond continuation betting since you should vastly reduce your bluffing ratio in all other areas as well. Most of the time, it only makes sense to semi-bluff with hands that have the potential to make the nuts, and just giving up with others is perfectly fine.
Betting too often is the most common and most costly mistake in multi-way pots, so try to avoid it in your games.
Protect Your Made Hands But Don’t Overplay It
We already talked about why you should not be bluffing against multiple players or c-betting with your medium-strength hands, but that does not mean you should always be checking. Quite the contrary.
Another thing that you really want to avoid is slow playing. I do not think there is ever a reason to slow play in multi-way pots since other players are less likely to bluff, and that eliminates a big reason for this play. By betting, you deny free equity for them and protect your hand at the same time, which is a very good outcome.
However, if you flop a reasonably strong hand that opts for betting and you face a back raise after doing that, it would be wise to stop for a second and consider your options. Most of the time, players will not be raising with draws or medium-strength hands in multi-way pots, so unless you have the absolute nuts, your hand should become a bluff catcher or can be even folded depending on the situation.
Especially in passive live games, players can come up with all kinds of “ridiculous” two pair hands and other holdings, so avoiding overplaying your top pair is a wise move. Of course, it is very hard to give specific equities in any given situation due to the variables of possible ranges of multiple players, but if you follow these tips, you will have a good starting point.
You can sharpen many aspects of your game by using poker software & tools such as solvers to analyze specific flop/turn/river spots – to find out what the most +EV betting lines are.