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When Should You Bet the Flop in Multi-Way Pots?

A unique approach is required to avoid spewing away your chips in multi-way pots.

This is simply because as more players are in the hand, the raw equity of your range decreases. Just look at how much Ace-king’s equity suffers as more random players are added to the pot:

Multiway pots poker strategy ace-king

That’s nearly a 26 percentage point decrease in raw equity against three opponents holding random hands. As you can see, it’s tough to have more than 50% equity in a multi-way pot.

Navigating these low equity situations requires caution and good hand selection. In this article, I’ll break down how to effectively do just that.

Let’s get to it.

Multi-Way Pots Call for Lower Bet Frequencies

Tightening your bet range is the first adjustment you need to make in multi-way pots. 

The likelihood of running into a strong hand is increased with more players in the pot. As a result, you need to approach multi-way pots with caution– adjusting your betting range to consist primarily of strong value hands and good semi-bluffs.

It’s very easy to over-bluff in multi-way pots, so you should be extra selective when choosing semi-bluffs. The best candidates are usually high equity bluffs, like flush draws and open ended straight draws. These hands can profitably barrel later streets, even when they miss, by forcing marginal hands to fold.

If you were to bet and barrel every time you flopped a strong draw, however, you would be over-bluffing. So, how do you decide exactly which draws to bet and which to check?

Here’s a few tips for betting draws in multi-way pots:

  • Bet with draws that are too weak to check and will fold out better hands by betting

Example: 76 on 932

Remember, getting a missed hand like QJ to fold when we have a low flush draw is a nice win for us.

  • Bet with really powerful draws that are both borderline value bets and blow our opponents’ off equity

Example: A Q on JT5

  • Usually bet with draws that have no better options, especially when your range lacks enough bluffs

Example: 54, JT and maybe even KJ on AQ3

We don’t have a lot of effective bluffing hands on such a dry board. As a result, we need to bluff with the few draws we actually can have in order to balance our range (even if they are just weak gutshots).

 (Note: Want to learn the methods behind the world’s best poker player’s success? Learn more about The Poker Lab training course by clicking here or below.)

The Importance Of Denying Equity

In multi-way pots, it can be correct to bet with marginal value hands in order to force folds and deny our opponent’s their equity.

There will be many flop textures where your hand is likely to be best, but your opponents still have significant equity against you. Betting in these spots is a good way to prevent your opponents from freely realizing their equity.

Playing your bet range this way will throw it off balance, especially when you check, but it is unlikely that all of your opponents will be exploiting this value/bluff imbalance.

Let’s run through an example to illustrate the upside of protecting the equity of value hands in multi-way pots.

$1/$2 6-max NLHE

Hero is in the CO with JT
Hero raises to $4.50. BTN calls with 98. SB calls with KQ. BB calls with AT.

Flop (Pot: $18) is J95
SB checks. BB checks. Hero bets $12. BTN calls. SB calls. BB folds.

On this flop, our JT is expected to win the hand only 43.5% of the time. BTN (98) has 16.5% equity, the SB (KQ) has 29%, and the BB (AT) has 11%. Despite being under 50%, our hand functions well as a bet for a few reasons:

  • Betting forces folds and denies our opponents their equity

We likely have the best hand, but our relatively low equity leaves us vulnerable to turns and rivers. By betting, we prevent our opponents from freely realizing their equity and fold out some hands that may bluff us on later streets.

Forcing folds from our opponents’ nothing hands is a big win for us as well. Even though our bet only forced a fold from one hand (AT), our equity increased to 52% making us a statistical favorite.

  • The flop may be our best (and only) chance to extract value

Medium-strength top pairs like JT can’t comfortably bet three streets for value, especially on scary board runouts. Because of this, it is important to bet on the flop when your hand is still likely to be ahead and get called by worse.

  • Betting will sometimes earn us the best position

If at all possible, we would like to force the button out of the pot so that we can play later streets in position.

One last note: to ensure that your checking range is not too weak, you can take a passive line in this spot with weaker jacks (like J8) and most nines. This prevents your opponents from exploitatively betting whenever you check to them.

Capitalizing on Perceptions in Multi-Way Pots

Betting the flop into multiple players is almost always perceived as strength (as it should be). You can take advantage of this perception in later positions when your opponents have checked to you.

We can turn up our bluff frequency in these instances as our opponents are more likely to give us credit in a multi-way pot. Even when called, using hands which draw to or block the nuts allows us to continue betting on later streets.

Gaining Information by Betting

We can learn a lot about the ranges of our opponents from the way they respond to our bets. This is especially useful in multi-way pots where we can be up against a broad range of hands.

Let’s consider some of the information we can acquire by betting into multiple opponents on a J95 board:

  • If our opponents flat our bet on dynamic boards, we can expect them to have a relatively weak range containing mostly marginal made hands and draws. Players with strong hands would likely raise to extract value and avoid being outdrawn.
  • If we face a raise and subsequent calls, we can confidently fold the weaker parts of our range.
  • If any of our opponents fold, we deny their equity and increase our chances of winning the hand.

We can’t acquire this information by checking, and less information makes our decisions on later streets more difficult. This isn’t to say you should “bet for information” with all of your marginal value hands (see: article). Remember, you only want to value bet with hands that can be called by worse.

Betting for information shouldn’t be the goal of your bet, just an upside of it.

Multi-Way Wrap Up

Remember these key points when deciding whether or not to bet the flop in a multi-way pot:

  • Your betting range should be value-heavy and have fewer bluffs than in heads-up pots, as the likelihood that you are up against a strong hand increases.
  • Use small bet sizes sparingly, as you do not want to allow multiple opponents to cheaply realize their equity.
  • When checked to in later positions, not only will your betting range be perceived as strong, but your opponents are more likely to have a weaker range after checking.
  • Betting with value hands will force your opponents to reveal information about their ranges, making your own hands easier to play.

There’s one last thing I haven’t mentioned that will improve your results in multi-way pots: experience. Multi-way pots have many nuances, far more than I can outline in this article. One of the best ways to hone your approach is to play and study poker.

Got any questions about multi-way pots? Comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

(Note: Become a master of multi-way pots and more with The Poker Lab training course.
Click here or below to learn more.)

I’m a professional poker player and one of the pros here on UpswingPoker.com

I’m a WSOP Bracelet winner, LAPT (Latin American Poker Tour) tournament winner and a multi-million dollar winner of live & online tournaments.

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