“Plays Well Multi-Way”

The concept of hands which play well in multi-way situations was a difficult one for me to grasp as a beginning poker player. I read the phrase several times on-line and in books before I really thought about what it really meant. The presumption that I had from the phrase was that there were some hands that were stronger when more people were in the pot, while some hands were stronger when fewer players were in the pots. If you think about it, that doesn’t really make much sense. I mean, pocket aces have a better chance of holding up the fewer hands are drawing out on them, but the same should be true for a suited Nine-Eight when it’s in the lead after the flop. The addition of more opponents doesn’t add to the winning chances of any hand out there!

What I discovered is that the phrase “plays well multi-way” is a bit misleading. A more accurate phrase would be “requires high implied odds to be profitable,” but that’s a bit dry, isn’t it? And quite a few people get that glazed look every time implied odds are brought up, so that’s another problem.

Theory

Some hands have so much intrinsic strength that they are profitable against both a single player and against a full table of oppenents seeing the flop. Monster “made” hands are great examples of this situation. If you play one-million hands with pocket-kings against a single oppent, you’ll make money. If you play one-million hands with pocket-kings against eight opponents, you’ll make money.

Then their are the hands that have multiple draw potential, but not much high-card potential. That is, they can make multiple good draws, but if their single-pair power is difficult to play aggresively. These hands, by definition (drawing), are going to be winning hands a much smaller amount of time than monster starting hands. In order to be profitable, these drawing hands must bring in more money on the occasions in which they do win. Made hands win more often, so the profit per win can be lower and still be profitable over all the hands played.

Application

In practice, this means that a hand like Nine-Eight suited needs to have the potential to pay off well when it wins in order to be even considered as a starting hand. The effect in limit play is that you need to be in late position with several people calling ahead of you (say at least four not including the big-blind) and mostly passive players to act behind you. A raise behind you isn’t disastrous as long as most of the field stays in, but any aggressive play which actually cuts down the field drastically might put you in a spot where you need to let the hand go. The more people in the pot to passively call down bets, the more money you have a chance to win when you do make a winning hand.

Once again, you won’t win as often as with monster starting hands, so you need your winning pots to be bigger in order for the hand to be profitable over time.

Conclusion

“Plays well multi-way” is a misleading description for hands which have the potential to make several big draws. In reality, you’re looking at a hand that requires the chance to win a big pot, which means many callers in limit poker. It’s not that the hand’s winning chances go up the more opponents it faces.

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