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A Beginner’s Guide to Adjusting for Multiway Pots

I’m going to pick back up on the NL 2-7 Single Draw series later, but because of popualr interest, we’re going to look at a different topic today. This week’s topic is that of multiway pots, why they are different and how you should adjust to them. We’re going to take a look at both value betting and bluffing here with some instructive examples that will be compared to similar situations from heads-up pots. After reading this week’s article, you should have a better understanding of how you should play these situations and why you should play them in a certain way.

Basic River Bluffing in Position

Here’s a basic scenario that can give you an idea of what’s going on with multi-way bluffing. Suppose you’re on the river in a three-way pot, you’re the last to act, and it’s checked to you. The pot is $24, and you’re considering making a bluff of $16. Let’s assume that both of your opponents are going to fold the same percentage of the time for the sake of discussion. So how often do you need them to fold to be profitable on a pure bluff? Let x be how often they fold individually:

EV of bluff = (chance they both fold)($24) + (chance they don’t both fold)(-$16)
0 < (x*x)(24) + (1 – x*x)(-16)
0 < 24x² – 16 + 16x²
16 < 40x²
16/40 < x²
0.632 < x

So each of your opponents would have to fold a little more than 63 percent of the time for this pure bluff to be profitable. We know from our study of alpha values that we would only need a single opponent to fold 16/40 = 40 percent for the same bluffing situation to be profitable in a heads-up scenario, and that's a really big difference.

The key here is that everyone has to fold for a bluff to win, and when you're up against multiple people, it becomes much less likely that they are going to all fold.

Basic River Value Betting in Position

Value betting in a multi-way pot is a big more complicated in terms of the math involved. However, we can simplify this with an analogy we have made before in a previous edition of my column. We’re going to call this the bucket analogy for value betting, and it goes like the following.

Everyone on a given street is going to put money into a bucket. The percentage of money we put in has to be smaller than the percentage of money we take out for our value bet to be profitable.

So if we want getting called by a single opponent to be profitable, then we need to win more than 50 percent of the time. Along similar lines, if we want getting called by two opponents to be profitable, then we need to win more than 33 percent of the time. You can continue this pattern with the idea that being called by three opponents means we need to be ahead at least 25 percent of the time.

You can get more in-depth with this idea if you want, but the key here is that you’re more likely to be beaten when you’re up against multiple opponents. However, if you’re called multiple times, you don’t need to be right nearly as often for your value bet to be profitable, and that can complicate things a bit.

Bluffing From Other Positions

If it’s checked to you on the river, you’ll often receive more value from checking when you’re last to act because that means you get to see the next card for free 100 percent of the time. This makes bluffing with a small amount of equity less profitable relative to checking. The idea here is that the more value that checking has, the less often bluffing is the right decision.

However, when you’re in an earlier position and aren’t acting last, then you’ll have less of a chance of seeing another card when checking since there’s a non-zero chance that the opponents who have position on you will bet themselves. Since the value of checking goes down, this means that bluffing will be correct more often with all else being equal.

Checking With Strong Hands Against Multiple Opponents

Another interesting scenario to look at is what happens when you have a very strong hand against multiple opponents. If you completely lock the deck down with a super-strong hand, then you’ll sometimes check against a single opponent just because the value you get from their bluffs is going to be larger than the value you get from them calling your bets since it’s so hard for them to have a hand. It can also get you more value if they check to another street, catch a piece of the board and pay you off (ala reverse implied odds).

When you’re in a multiway pot, you’ll find scenarios where you’ll have the deck almost completely locked down like if you have 99 on a board of 963r or maybe something like AK on a board of AK4r. If you check from an early position in spots like this, then you’ll give the field of opponents multiple chances to bluff against you. People are more likely to bluff when they see other people check down in a hand since it seems to indicate disinterest in strength of your hand.

What’s interesting is that because you’re checking into multiple opponents, you’re going to be more likely to get paid off by someone bluffing or by someone catching a card on the turn or river that gives them just enough of a hand to pay you off. On the other hand, having multiple opponents also means they’re more likely to pay you off with a call if you bet, so it has to be handled on a case-by-case basis, so it’s hard to make general recommendations on this particular type of situation.

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