Poker Coverage:

Bluffing In Multi-Way Pots

by Ed Miller |  Published: Sep 02, 2015


Ed MillerI have a huge pet peeve about the no-limit hold’em literature. I hate the simplistic way that so many writers address the concept of running bluffs in multi-way pots. The typical advice goes something like this. “Don’t do it. Someone will have flopped something.”
The reason this advice bothers me so much is that in modern no-limit games—at least in Las Vegas—learning to bluff in multi-way pots is a mission critical skill. The reason it’s so important is because of how games play these days.

No-limit regulars still play too many hands preflop. They’re trying to catch miracle boards and get stacks in. This preflop looseness creates many four- and five-handed pots.
But these same players tend to be unwilling to stack off without the nuts. In fact, in a modest twist of irony, most of these players will be very quick to give you credit for the nuts if you seem to want to play for stacks. After all, it’s a multi-way pot, so someone must have flopped something. If you’re the one betting, they’ll assume that someone is you. So even if they are the real one who flopped “something,” they will release it assuming they are beaten.

Here’s an example of a common multi-way situation. This hand was posted by user sullyooo on the Red Chip Poker forums. It’s a $2-$5 game that just started. Everyone has about $500.

A player six off the button opens for $20. Two players call. The small blind calls. We call in the big blind with KSpade Suit 9Spade Suit.

The flop comes ASpade Suit 9Club Suit 7Diamond Suit, giving us middle pair with a backdoor flush draw on a fairly dry ace-high board. Despite the fact that it’s overwhelmingly likely someone flopped a pair of aces on this board, these are pots I frequently find myself winning with bluffs. Players holding weak aces are often willing to lay down rather than play for stacks.

The blinds check, and the preflop raiser bets $25 into this $100 pot. This bet signals weakness. I would expect him to hold a hand like Q-Q or A-3 suited—hands that he doesn’t want to give up on, but that he’s concerned about.

The next two players call, and the small blind folds.

There’s an ace in there—maybe two of them. But no one holding an ace seems to like it too much. The small bet size from the preflop raiser is telling, as is the fact that neither of the callers elected to raise.

It’s entirely possible at this point that someone flopped a big hand. Sets and big two pairs are in the mix for any of these three players.

Fear of a lurking monster seems to stick in many players’ minds, slowing them down. But you shouldn’t let it stop you from bluffing. First, when everyone looks weak, most frequently they are weak. Second, bluffs don’t have to work anywhere close to 100 percent of the time to be profitable. This is especially true because you get to choose your bet sizes, you have equity when called, and you have two betting rounds to work with.

The turn was the 5Spade Suit, completing a possible small straight and giving us a flush draw to go with the middle pair.

In the actual posted hand, the player checked the turn, it checked through, and he check-raise bluffed the river. This is not how I would have approached the hand.

Instead, I would have bet out on the turn. If we check the turn, given the very weak flop action, it’s highly likely the turn will check through. If the preflop raiser saw fit to bet only $25 into a $100 pot on the flop, it’s unlikely he will follow up on the turn. And the flop callers are just as unlikely to try to bet their likely marginal hands into three opponents.

My plan would be to bet a reasonably small amount on the turn—just the size to make a player holding a hand like A-8 unsure of how to proceed. Ideally, I want this theoretical opponent to consider folding. But ultimately I want him to feel priced in to see the river by my bet size.

I want the turn call for two reasons. First, I’m going to make two pair or better on the river about one-third of the time. If that happens, I definitely would like an audience to see it with me.

For most of the other two-thirds of the time (excluding the times a non-spade ace hits the river or my opponent pairs his kicker), I will have an opponent with a marginal top pair who doesn’t want to play for stacks. I will blow him out of the pot with a massive river bet.

There’s $200 in the pot on the turn. I’d probably bet about $80. This amount is considerably larger than the $25 bet on the flop. It sends the clear message, “I think I have the best hand.” But it doesn’t actually risk very much—it’s less than half the size of the pot.

This is why I’m not worried about slowplayed sets. If someone flopped a set of sevens, for instance, he will spring to life on this turn card and raise me. Oh well. I’m out less than a half-pot bluff. And, depending on the size of the raise, I may even have a profitable call to draw to the flush.

Much more often, my bet will get exactly two folds and one call. This caller is the one with the marginal ace. He might have A-6 and be drawing to the gutshot. Or he might have A-10 and be worried about being outkicked or beaten by a straight or a big flopped hand.
When this scenario comes to pass, the pot will be $340 on the river. If I make my hand, I will bet about $120, which is about the right size against many players these days to squeeze out a crying call.

If I miss my hand, I will bet $300 on the river. While this may appear to be a huge bluff, I’m actually still giving myself odds, as it’s a hair less than the pot size. This means the bluff has to work a little less often than 50 percent of the time to be more profitable than giving up.

In modern no-limit games, this bluff will succeed far more often than 50 percent of the time.

Final Thoughts

We live in a time where everyone is constantly trying to figure out where they are at in hands and avoid stacking off with second-best hands. This is true not just in heads-up pots but also in four- and five-handed pots. In fact, in these multi-way pots, everyone is on the lookout for the one who flopped the nuts.

Players use small, careful bets and lots of checking to try to massage their medium-strength hands to showdown in these pots. When you detect this behavior, often it’s time to blow them all out of the water. ♠

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site