Continuation Betting in Multi-Way Pots: Plowing Down the Field
If your goal is to be playing with an edge in live $1/$2 and $2/$5 no-limit hold’em games, a tight and aggressive approach will get you much of the way there. Even in the advanced modern state of poker, these games are often stocked with players who enter the pot too frequently and who play too passively once they get there.
However, just sitting in a game with such players doesn’t guarantee results. Basically solid players often leave quite a lot of money on the table in these games. Here I’ll explain one class of situations that are frequently mishandled, and how you can make some extra money in them.
In these loose games you will find yourself in multi-way pots more often than you theoretically ought to. Your opponents will enter the pot too often, and in particular they will call raises too often.
Because of this, you should give careful thought to your continuation betting strategy in multi-way pots, especially when you are the preflop raiser. Specifically, it’s worth considering your bluffing strategy. Constructing the value part of your flop betting range is important and not always easy, but here I will focus on those times when you don’t have a significant piece of the board.
Most players understand that automatically continuation betting into these four- and five-person fields is a serious mistake. Whereas it’s easy for one opponent to miss a flop, it’s far harder for three or four opponents to do so. Over-adjusting to the field size and missing good bluffing opportunities, however, is also a serious mistake, and it is commonly made, especially by tight and aggressive players who are trying to play well.
Precisely because the field is larger, a continuation bet can look scary and represent a strong hand more easily than a flop bet in a heads-up pot can. When to deploy such a bet requires you to consider many factors and use good judgment. Here are some things to look for:
1. “Give-up” checks
Players often view multi-way pots as flop-hitting contests. They behave as if the pot will automatically go to the person who has the best hand on the flop, and that barring a “cooler” situation the hand will play itself.
This attitude often extends into their physical behavior. What appears to be a “give-up” check often really does come from a player who has resigned himself to losing the pot — in other words, what appears to be a lack of interest usually <i>is</i> in fact a lack of interest.
If there are two such players in the multi-way field, your bet will only have to get through one or two players who are still viable candidates in the pot, and you can make a bluffing decision accordingly.
2. Flop texture
Correctly assessing the flop texture is important in any continuation-betting scenario, and because multi-way pots are often bloated, the decisions you make will be at higher stakes. It can be useful to divide “attackable” boards into two types:
First, there are the boards that are dry enough that they are likely to have missed all your opponents. What counts as a dry board in a heads-up pot might not count as a dry board in a multi-way pot, but the idea is the same — if your opponents are likely to have missed and if you have a strong range and the initiative, a bet is likely to show an immediate profit.
Second, there are the boards that will present many double-barrel opportunities. Many of your opponents will be scared to stack off with hands like unimproved pocket pairs, second pair, or even a weak top pair. Understand that boards that are not as dry as the canonical can still be dry enough to yield many good double-barreling chances.
A board like is one such board. Against opponents who are playing rather too loose, it is likely that somebody has a pair, but less likely that somebody has better than a marginal one-pair hand. When this is the case, and when your opponents play straightforwardly, a flop bet can either win immediately or lead to excellent bluffing situations on later streets.
3. High leverage on a small bet
When many players are in for a raise, the stack-to-pot ratio is lower than it usually is in a single-raised pot. Suppose that five players are in for $20 in a $2/$5 game. There will be approximately $100 in the pot going in to the flop, which will leave the stack-to-pot ratio between 3-to-1 and 6-to-1 for usual stack sizes.
In this situation, even a bet of $40 to $60 can be perceived as a “big bet.” There are two important reasons for this, one structural and one psychological.
First, even a half-pot (or smaller) bet can begin to threaten even a 60-100 big-blind stack if the preflop pot is bloated, as it will be in multiway pots. If your opponent will fear future bets and having reverse implied odds with a marginal hand, this can create a leveraging effect in your favor.
Second, many small-stakes players are not good at keeping track of the pot size and are unduly focused on the absolute size of the bet. A $60 bet is likely to feel like a big flop bet, not a standard continuation bet. Because of this, you should look for times to take advantage of leverage and to give yourself good odds on a smaller continuation bet.
These are only basic guidelines. The situations you encounter will tend to be more nuanced than one in which everyone checks to you and practically announce that they’ll fold if you bet (although that will sometimes happen, too).
If you use the guidelines and pay proper attention to these situations, however, you’re likely to find more and more situations where 10 to 30 big blinds are yours for the taking.
Thinking Tournament Poker by Nate Meyvis is now available both at Amazon and at nitcast.com. Be sure also to check out Nate and Andrew Brokos on the Thinking Poker podcast, and for more from Nate visit his blog at natemeyvis.com.