Multi-way games can diverge from heads-up games in two significant ways. First of all, they can be passive — meaning that you will be unlikely to have to call more than one bet per round — much as in a heads-up game. Generally, when a game is heads up, one player bets and the other calls. There are exceptions, of course. There are games when both players are aggressive at the same time. And there are moves like check-raises designed to get two bets out of an opponent. But most of the time if the pot is heads up, there is a limit of one bet per round. Some multi-way hands are like this, too. This is especially true of the lower-limit games like spread-limit $1-3 or $1-5. One player bets (if anyone does so) and the other players call. Raises are rare and re-raises are practically nonexistent.
In games such as these there is almost a direct correlation to the number of players in the hand and the implied odds for a call, compared against a heads-up game. If there are four players, then each of your bets is getting 3:1 on it (as opposed to even money). If there are six players then you're getting 5:1 on the bets you call. That's simple.
But there's another type of multi-way hand that is common at the $20/40 and $30/60 level. Games are multi-way but so too are the number of bets and raises per round. In other words, raises and re-raises are common. This makes the cost of calling significantly higher, which vastly reduces your implied odds. Take, for example, a wild $20/40 game I was in at a nearby poker club (long since closed). Hands were typically three-way. But there the betting was typically capped on third and fourth street. Instead of costing $40 to see fifth street, it cost $160. Though the pots were significantly larger than they were heads up, so too was the cost of playing until the river. This reduced the implied odds, often making them much worse than they would have been in a typical heads-up game.
Just do the math and you'll see. In a typical heads-up game the cost on third street was $20 and the size of the pot was typically $350 or so. So on that one round, I'd be getting 17.5:1 implied odds on my third-street call. But in this wild and wooly affair, with bet capping on third street, I'd have to pay $80 for a pot that would eventually be $840. True, the pot was huge compared with the heads-up affair. But the bet I'd have to call on third street was also huge, and the ratio of that bet to the final pot was actually considerably worse — only 10.5:1.
My first consideration in a game that's likely to be multi-way is how much it's likely to cost me to see the next street. Because of that, I am much more concerned about position than in a game that's likely to be heads up. Where position is important in a game that's likely to be heads up — it's absolutely crucial in a multi-way affair. Consider the following:
In a game that's heads up, if there's a bet, your call ends the action. If you bet, though you can be raised, you can end the action with that one raise. In a multi-way game, on the other hand, everything depends on where you're sitting relative to the bettor and the raisor. If there's a bet initiated by the player to your left, and everyone calls in front of you, you end the betting with your call. But if the initiator is to your right, and you call, there may be the maximum number of raises and re-raises after you. You are calling blind, in many ways, because you really don't know how much the round will cost you, not being able to predict whether or not the pot will be raised after you call.
Accordingly, if you are in one of those ram-and-jam multi-way games, you need to base your decisions not on the absolute value of your hand, but the value of your hand in the context of how much it may cost you to stay in. Let me give you a few examples. Let's say you're dealt a hand with three relative low hearts. You have the 7, 6 and 2 of hearts with the 7 exposed. The is to your left and brings in the bet. There are no hearts out anywhere. The first player to act is the player sitting right to the left of the player with the . That is, he's sitting two to your left. He has an and raises to $20 in this $20/40 stud game. A king, a 9, a 7, and a queen all call the raise. The player to your immediate right, with a king, folds. The action is to you. What do you do?
Well, let's see where things stand. There is one player left to act after you. It's the bring-in who has a 2. If you call the completed bet it's highly unlikely that this 2 will re-raise. He's likely to either call, because of the big price he's getting, or, more likely, fold if he has nothing. That means that you can call for $20 with a very low likelihood of being raised. Though you'd prefer to have a hand with a high card in it — giving you a couple of ways of improving, you realize that with these number of callers, you are getting great implied odds for just one bet. So a call is surely in order.
Now imagine the same hand except the king re-raises the ace, making it two bets. Facing two bets, the other players fold. You surely wouldn't want to play your low 3-flush in that situation — having to call two bets with the possibility the the ace will make it three bets and the king will make it four bets before it comes back to you. In that situation, you'd almost surely fold. Similarly, imagine that the bring-in is to your right. Following you are the ace and a few other high cards. If the game is very aggressive you have to be careful about calling the initial bring-in, since you are likely to get squeezed from both ends with lots of raising and re-raising.
So a very aggressive multi-way game makes for very different strategy considerations.
In my next column I'll look at multi-way games on fifth street and beyond.