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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Bullying Multiway Pots

Taking Advantage Of The Situation With Timely Bluffing

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Ed MillerThe standard advice for playing multiway pots — I’ve heard it a zillion times — is to toss bluffing out the window and to play your hand strength for value. With so many players, the wisdom goes, someone’s going to have something. So just play to beat the second-best hand.

This advice is lacking.

It’s okay advice if you’re playing in an absolutely wild no-limit hold’em game where hand after hand goes to showdown and it’s constant monster pots. In this sort of game, sure, forget about bluffing.

But these aren’t the games I’m usually in. When I play in Las Vegas, it’s very common for four or five players to see a flop in a raised pot. What’s not so common is for two players to duke it out to the river and to play a huge pot. Instead, what happens most often is that one player makes a big turn bet, and everyone still remaining folds.

If many pots are getting folded out prior to showdown, bluffing must be an integral component of your strategy, conventional wisdom about multiway pots be damned.

The Key Insight

Hold’em is a community card game. Some boards are easy to hit. And some are harder to hit. Most players don’t adjust their hand strength correctly to account for the board texture. In other words, players are looking for top pair/good kicker on coordinated boards where good hands abound, and they’re looking for top pair/good kicker on dry boards where good hands are hard to make. They’re not correctly adjusting their “good” hand evaluations downward on dry boards that are hard to hit.

I don’t touch coordinated boards in multiway pots unless I have legitimate hand strength. Say four people limp, and I raise the button with AClub Suit 4Club Suit, and one blind and three limpers call. Five to the flop, and it’s JHeart Suit 9Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit.

The vast majority of the time, I’m done with the hand. I’ll check if checked to and fold to any bet. The “someone must have something” theory kicks in on this sort of flop.

But let’s say it’s the same action, but the board comes 10Club Suit 3Heart Suit 2Spade Suit. I’ve got an ace overcard, a gutshot wheel, and a backdoor club draw. It may not look like much, but on this sort of board it’s more than likely no one else has anything good either. It wouldn’t be unusual at all for J-10 to be the best hand of five on this flop, and frequently no one will even have a ten.

My plan is to bet big on the flop and, if called in one place, follow up with a big turn bet on any card except a ten.

If I play this way, what does it look like I have? If I played like everyone else at $2-$5 in Las Vegas, I’d most likely have A-A or K-K after my turn action. Most players would slowplay a bit with 10-10. With J-J or A-10, they’d bet smaller on the turn. With anything worse, they might check the turn. They wouldn’t have raised preflop with 3-3 or 2-2.

Typical Las Vegas $2-$5 players can reason this far. They’ll look at the J-10 or Q-10 or even A-10 in their hand, look at my monster turn bet, say, “must be aces,” and fold.
If I’m right that I can get players to fold hands up to and including A-10 to a big turn bet, then it doesn’t matter that I’m seeing the flop with four other players. The percentage of hands they will be willing to felt on a dry flop like 10Club Suit 3Heart Suit 2Spade Suit is so small that you can add all four of them up and I’m still a favorite to win the pot.

Finally, because the pot is multiway, I get that extra measure of credit. “He wouldn’t be crazy enough to bluff like that into four other players. Must be aces.”

If you doubt that hands go down like this often enough to make bluffing profitable, pretend you have 2-2 instead. When you see that flop, how often do you think you bet the flop and get called, bet the turn and get called, and shove the river and get called? If you’re honest about the situation (and you don’t play with absolute crazies), you’ll realize you are unlikely to get paid all the way down with a set on a board like this. Eventually — usually on the turn — they’ll give you credit for a hand and fold what they think is second-best.

It’s all in the board texture. With 8-8 on JHeart Suit 9Diamond Suit 8Heart Suit, I expect to get all-in with the hand against four opponents quite frequently (and I expect to lose my share also). With 2-2 on 10-3-2 rainbow, I expect to have to tread lightly if I want to get full value, even against four opponents.
And with A-4 on T-3-2, I stomp loudly and menacingly and get the folds I want.
The Loosely Connected Flop

I love to run this play on loosely connected flops when the turn card is favorable. Here’s an example. I have 6Club Suit 5Club Suit on the button. Three players limp, I raise, the big blind calls and so do all the limpers.

The flop is JDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit. I’ve got bottom pair and that’s about it. Everyone checks to me.

Typically I would bet about half-pot, expecting to get called in maybe two places. A flop like JDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit hits a lot of hands. Any connected hand between K-Q and 5-4 can lay claim to this flop. Likewise for many one-gap hands, jacks, and diamond draws. That’s a lot of hands that want to see the turn.

But few of these hands are made yet. They’re looking for the right turn card before they commit stacks.

The 2Heart Suit is not the right turn card. Neither are the other non-diamond deuces, threes, fours, fives, and likely also not aces either. Nines are probably safe, as are sixes. That’s eighteen safe cards out of 45 possible. I’m going to bluff any of the safe cards and expect to win the great majority of the time.

And if one of the more dangerous cards like a ten or eight rolls, off, all is not lost. I’ll just check it back on the turn and hope a five hits the river (or sometimes a six).
Or, say a queen hits the turn and I check it through. A deuce hits the river, and it checks to me again. I’ll blast at the pot and usually win. Same thing goes with a diamond on the turn and a brick on the river.

If you add up all these ways to win, and you avoid bluffing into strength by checking back dangerous turn cards like queens, tens, and eights, it’s well worth it to try to bully four opponents.

Final Thoughts

Most hands in a Las Vegas $2-$5 game are multiway. Also, most don’t see a showdown. If you think you shouldn’t try to bluff into multiway pots, think again. Choose your spots smartly, and bully away. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at notedpokerauthority.com. Find Ed on Facebook at facebook.com/edmillerauthor and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.