Heads up and multi-way pots are very different things. The number of opponents that you are facing in a hand will play a significant role in deciding what the proper strategy is in any given situation. You aren’t going to play a flush draw the same exact way against one player as you would against five other players. Not only is there a defined difference between facing one or multiple players, but there is an even greater difference in the playing styles of each individual. Adjusting for play against a loose group of players is different than adjusting to play against four of the tightest players at the table. This holds even more true when it comes to heads up pots.
Heads up play is a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses one on one. Where in multi-way pots you can only weave through a hand, heads up play will allow you to exploit the exact playing style of one particular opponent. As contrary as it might sound, there is a lot more money to be made when you dwindle the competition down to one player than when you are up against an entire roster. Heads up play is an intimidating idea for some players but it means increased profits for winning players.
Multi-way pots come in many different shapes, sizes and forms. There aren’t going to be many heads up pots where the two players have limped into the pot, but this is frequently the case in multi-way pots. Likewise, a raised pot is much more likely in a heads up pot than a multi-way pot. As a result, you are going to be playing very different types of hands in multi-way pots; often times the types of hands that will enable you to stack your opponent. If you are in a heads up hand, it should be because your hand has significant showdown value. When you are in multi-way pots, however, you are looking to improve your hand and stack one of your opponents on deception. Multi-way pots are the product of minimal investment and minimal risk. As unlikely as it may sound, though, they also tend to create maximum profit.
Entering Heads Up Pots
Getting involved in a heads up pot means that you either raised pre-flop or called a raise pre-flop from another player. The one exception to this rule would be if there was a lone limper followed by a check in the big blind, but these types of hands are much too infrequent to worry about. With the assumption that you are going to be playing heads up pots when there is raised action, it means that you should be starting with stronger sets of hands. One of the most elementary elements of heads up play is the need for increased showdown value. Since you are only up against one player, your investment is going to equate to almost exactly half the size of the entire pot. Because of this, you are going to need to win more than 50% of the time. This is not going to be accomplished with speculative hands. A great way to lose a lot of money is to get in pre-flop raising wars with suited connectors, or anything along those lines. If your hand doesn’t stand a solid chance before the cards are dealt, there can’t possibly be a great chance that things will change significantly by showdown.
Entering Multi-Way Pots
Just as you shouldn’t be entering heads up pots with weaker holdings, multi-way pots provide an opportunity for players to turn rags into riches. It would be a terrible idea to raise, call raises, or initiate re-raises with suited connectors or other speculative hands in heads up pots. When there are a number of people involved in the hand, however, this is a very sound, winning strategy. The goal of poker is to make your risk disproportionate to your expected long term gains. In other words, if you can pay $5 for a 1:3 chance of winning $25, you should take it every time. This is why there is a lot of money to be made with weaker and more deceptive hands in multi-way pots. Most times you will end up winning big pots with raggedy hands, partly because they are deceptive, and partly because they will cost you little money to play with. If the price is high and the cards are weak, let the pot play out between made hands. If you can squeeze into the action at a fair price with a hand that has potential, however, multi-way pots can and will make you a lot of money.
Post-Flop in Heads Up Pots
Post-flop heads up play is different than pre-flop play, but quite similar at the same time. You don’t want to be making stupid plays for huge amounts of money, that is seldom a winning strategy, but you are going to naturally inherit a greater amount of risk with each pot that you play. Though you only need to beat one opponent to take down the pot, it should go without saying that this is also going to be your fiercest opponent at the table. If a player was willing to either call your raise or make a raise themselves pre-flop, you can bet that they will be willing to play post-flop.
The important thing to remember in heads up pots is that each street increases the likelihood of showdown and decreases the likelihood of a fold. If you are able to make it to the turn, for example, don’t expect your opponent to frequently give up their hand once the river falls. This is the exact reason that bluffs become less effective and suffer from lower success rates as a hand progresses. Counter to this, however, is the increased ability to effectively value bet your opponents as a hand gets deeper and deeper. Think about how likely you are to fold on the river if you called a bet pre-flop, on the flop, and on the turn. Not very likely, I would bet. With that in mind, you should be pushing your opponent to the limit when you are fortunate to find yourself in a heads up pot. Don’t be afraid to try and bully players out of the pot when you brick with your hand, but don’t get reckless either.
Post-Flop in Multi-Way Pots
Post-flop play in multi-way pots can get very tricky and very fast. In a heads up pot you will pretty much know what to expect. Either you hit your hand and go with it or miss and bow out. Of course this is over simplifying things, but it is meant to illustrate the fact that heads up play is not usually all that intricate in that your options will be somewhat limited. When you are in a multi-way pot, however, each hand is like starting on a canvas from scratch. Anything can happen on the flop, anything can happen on the turn, and anything can happen on the river. When playing against more than one opponent, you need to be prepared for innumerable variables and conditions that are ever changing.
Multi-way pots will play differently depending on your position, hand, opponent playing styles, and so on and so forth. Like most poker strategy, the optimal answer for multi-way play is highly conditional. You can not accurately state that one playing style or another is optimal or best for multi-way pots. Instead, the best advice is that you should be dynamic in everything that you do. Be willing to adopt to a change in the game plan, think of a new way to play the remainder of hands, and always re-assess your position in any given pot. One of the worst things you can do, especially in multi-way pots, is neglect to consider alternative ways to play a hand. The dynamic of any hand is ever changing in multi-way pots with each and every action that is made, so you should be changing too.