Multi-Way Pre-Flop Pots
Multi-way pre-flop pots are the easiest way to confuse yourself. Of course, this depends entirely on any number of different factors. A limped pot with six players isn't at all the same as a raised pot with four players. The key to success in pots with multiple people is to figure out things before they happen.
Now, this is much easier said than done, but it's not nearly as difficult as it may seem. What does this mean? It means that when a player raises and it's on you to act, you should have an idea how your other opponents are going to react to any decision that you make. Is there a loose guy behind you that calls everything? Is there a player who will 3-bet if you just call? These are the types of critical analysis that you can make to simplify and better play in any pot with multiple players pre-flop.
The type of pot that you are playing in, your hand strength, and your position are going to be the three most critical factors that are known to you. There are other variables at play as well, such as your other opponents that are also in the hand, but how these affect your hand aren't going to be known right away. Look at it this way; you have things that you know and things that you don't yet know. Once you take the known information, you'll be able to better figure out what you don't know. It may sound like I am talking in circles, and it's partially because I am. You have to connect this line to that line in order for everything to make sense. Ok, this article is becoming a bit too philosophical, so on to the examples and real life illustrations.
Type of Pot
The type of pot that you are playing in is in reference to whether the action is limped, raised, re-raised, and so on and so forth. If you are in a limped pot you should automatically be assuming that your opponents do not have exceptionally strong hands. If you are in a raised pot, you should give more credit to the players who are still hanging around. If you are in a re-raised pot, you better have a very strong hand if you are continuing on. Hopefully this basic outlook on the type of pot that you are playing didn't confuse you, as it is the framework for anything that you do from here on out in the hand.
Hand strength is something that you should already have a feel for. No one has to tell you that pocket queens are a good hand. The time where hand strength comes into play will be when it alters your decision. Using the pocket queens example, pretend that you are in late position and a middle position player makes an open raise. Yes, you have pocket queens, but they are hardly the nuts. Do you have to raise? Of course, but what if the big blind calls? What if the small blind re-raises? These are the types of things that you should really be thinking about, not just how much you are going to raise.
One of the worst ways to approach poker, especially pre-flop is to think only about your own actions. Before you raise 5x, think about what will happen if you are re-raised. A 3x raise could give you room to stay in the hand whereas a 5x raise could price you out. Hand strength is obvious, but you need to carve the value of a hand into the situation that it's a part of. Everything is relative, and this is never truer than with hand strength.
Position, position, position: it seems like a recurring theme in poker because it most definitely is. You'll have a much better chance at isolating when you are in position than when you are under the gun, for example. Likewise, a big hand (like pocket queens) is going to raise more from early position than it might need to from late position. You want to push a lot of people out but keep a few in at the right price when you are in early position with a big hand, but in late position you just want to keep the field firm. These are the types of adjustments that will need to be made when considering position in multi-way pre-flop pots.
Your opponents are the one thing that you can never be sure of. Even if a player has been mucking every hand the entire night, there's no guaranteed way to know that they are going to fold when you 3-bet from the button. Your ultimate objective is to use all of the things that are set in stone (type of pot, hand strength, and position) in an attempt to set yourself up for the most likely of outcomes. If you are in a raised pot with a loose player while holding a big hand in late position, you'll be able to raise big. If you are in a limped pot against a tight player while holding a moderate hand in late position, a small raise will do the trick. Note that every base was touched in those two examples and that the proper move was affected accordingly.
Much, even most of pre-flop play is easily understood by most players. The problem for many is being able to put all of the information together in order to form one coherent, profitable play. You may play poker and have a reasonable idea of what the proper move is, but it's the fine adjustments that will ultimately separate the losers, break even players, winners, and big winners. For a few sessions, take the time to really think out your pre-flop moves in multi-way pots before you make them. Odds are that you will consider something that you hadn't before and you'll shift up your play as a result.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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