It’s a Friday night and a seat is finally open (I say ‘finally’ and it had really only been a 10-minute wait, lol). I sit down in the only available seat and immediately scope out the table. There are some older gentlemen to my direct right, and my direct left looks a bit younger. After 5 minutes it became totally obvious that I was pinched between the nits on my right and fish on my left…and little ‘ol me stuck in the middle.

Now, there are worse situations of course…at least there are fish at my table. But having multiple fish on your direct left can make for an interesting dynamic. At this table, almost every raise was called by the guy on my immediate left, and once he called the others 3 players behind him called a lot as well. And they weren’t calling with good implied odd hands or anything, they routinely showed hands like T4s, K3o, and one even showed 72o. Yup…a group of winners with winning strategies!

table with fish on your left

These tables can be frustrating though. If you open to $10 (say it’s $1/$2) and end up getting 4 callers, you are seeing a flop with $50 in the middle before any cards are seen…which makes for an awkward SPR even when stacks are $200 effective to start the hand. So raising becomes difficult since it won’t usually thin the field, and limping is odd because coaches have been hammering it in your head not to limp preflop for the last 10 years. So what should you do?

As always, ‘it depends’. But here are the 3 ways I tend to adjust when I get sat in this situation:

Use Huge Raise Sizes

One of the first things I tend to try in this situation is using an above-average raise size to try and avoid the 4+ way pots. If the table standard is $10 at $1/$2, try raising to $15 and see if that thins the callers from 5 down to 1-2. What about $18? Or will they keep calling any size that you raise to?

The issue is that even AA drops a ton of equity when you start introducing more and more players. If you take AA vs 2 players with random hands, you have 73% equity…but against 4 players with random hands you only have 56% equity. This may not seem like a huge difference, but it is. And things only get tougher when you start looking at hands like 99, AJ, KQ, etc.

AA vs 2 Random Hands
AA vs 4 Random Hands

Limp More Often

In today’s day and age, where everyone preaches aggression, it may seem odd to see advice such as “limp more often preflop”. But in this dynamic you are going to see a lot of flops whether you raise or limp, right? And if raising doesn’t really accomplish anything other than bloating a pot and putting you OOP with really tough hands…limping is a viable strategy to counteract this situation.

This doesn’t mean that you should start limping everything. But if you start limping with hands that make sense and play well, you find yourself in some favorable situation. For instance, say you have 44 in MP. If you open, you are getting a slew of callers and will find yourself OOP in a pot where your only chance of winning the pot is smashing a set (which happens very rarely). But if you limp and they’d just limp behind you (because folding is obviously not something they want to do), you can still try to flop your set but at a much cheaper price. This same concept carries over to suited connectors, suited gappers like QTs, and in some games even AJ.

Seat Change Button

I should start this by saying that I’m not a huge proponent of getting the seat change button (which gives you first option to change your seat if a seat you want becomes available). I think poker players would improve much faster by learning how to deal with an uncomfortable left than by jockeying for position. BUT, this isn’t a “tough left” in the sense that you have good players on your left. This is a “tough left” because you are forced to get dealt a specific range and to actually hit things postflop in order to continue (since bluffing in this dynamic is often futile).

The truth is that games like this are super soft. It’s an easy game, it’s a profitable game, but it’s frustrating when you have terrible position in this game. So for that reason, I will try to jockey for position and request the seat change button so that I can find myself on the left of these players, rather than on their direct right. I’ll still be forced to have some sort of hand to continue in these pots, but it’ll massively increase the chances I have position going postflop and allows me to use my edges 20x more often since I won’t be OOP every damn hand.

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I will say this; I see too many players spew in this dynamic. They try to force raises that will never work, get frustrated because every pot is multi-way, and try to bluff players that have no interest in folding. The truth is that these games are boring. You have to wait for hands to develop because bluffing is a waste of money (especially preflop), but just know that your patience will be rewarded more often since there will be some random middle pair ready to pay off your top set when it finally happens. This isn’t an exciting game to play in because it forces you to be patient…and it may not even be optimal if you have the skills to play LAG on a tighter table…but recognize the dynamic and put a +EV counter-strategy to work if you find yourself in this situation.

Now this is how I tend to deal with really passive lefts. Dealing with aggressive lefts, when all of your opens are getting 3bet and all of your calls are getting squeezed, is a totally different beast that we’ll discuss in a future article. But for now, knowing how to handle these really fishy game dynamics will give you a leg up…especially if you are playing in these kinds of $1/$2 cash games regularly.

Showing 20 comments
  • Adam

    I think your math is wrong. It makes no sense (well often not) to raise big to force the ranges tighter. Sure AA looses win % against multiple players, but multiple players with wider ranges give you better odds and higher EV and thats what I want not a higher win percentage.

    Sure with a hand like AA if I can make a bigger raise and get the same ranges to call I make the bigger raises, but in loose games I don’t make bigger raises just to force the ranges tighter, I want to play against wide ranges because to paraphrase Willy Sutton “that”s where the money is”

    As far as hand like 44 raising generally still makes sense, unless you can get the same money in post flop form a $12 pot then you can form a $50 pot. Unless your games pretty short stacked this is not generally the case. In addition if your not making large “silly” raises, your raise size often blocks the big raises of other players (at least in passive games). In fact with deep stacks if raise sizes or elastic, I raise bigger with small pairs, and smaller with AK type hands. I want to build big pots with potential big pot hands, and smaller pots with hands that tend to flop top pair top kicker.

    Multi way pots also make value betting much easier, because someone is much more likely to hit something…If I have AK and a K hits the flop…I block top pair (one of the annoying realities of holdem), if people are calling with K4o or whatever, Its much much more likely someone will have some “reasonable” part of the flop and pay me off. Sure they sometimes hit bigger hands, but those are hard to hit, and when I hit a monster its much more likely someone also can hit big enough to pay me off. With AA you have a much better cahnce of stacking someone on a Axx board then you do heads up.

    Finally I love large multiway pots because they are so easy to hand read in. Despite this fact 1-2 loose opponents still refuse to hand read…I believe these pot give you the largest hand reading advantage in these games then any other situation in poker. Being the only player in the game with a more or less marked deck is a huge advantage. as far as the SPR problem since they tend to play so ABC in multi way pots, 3 and 4 spr can easily be folded with one pair hands to aggression….and these players almost never slow play big hands in these “bloated” pots.

    • Thanks for the comment Adam. I didn’t say we should raise bigger with AA to tighten ranges…rather we should raise bigger with AA to get more value. Since our opponents are more inelastic in this dynamic, larger raises go a long way towards generating a ton of extra value.

      As for building pots with sets and such, even in a limped pot it’s easy enough to get 100bb through the middle. Pot the flop (which gets a couple callers), then pot turn and jam river for about a PSB. Very possible even without overbetting.

      • jeffnc

        “As for building pots with sets and such, even in a limped pot it’s easy enough to get 100bb through the middle. Pot the flop (which gets a couple callers), then pot turn and jam river for about a PSB. Very possible even without overbetting.”

        Yeah, this is exactly the tricky SPR of 13 discussed in Professional No Limit Holdem. This is exactly the issue that we hope to trap our opponents with, as we avoid 13SPR spots with only TPTK, and our opponents do not. This is only possible with a raise of no more than 3BB assuming 100BB starting stacks. So assuming we can get our opponents to stack off in that scenario, we really don’t prefer to put in more than 3BB preflop. Whether we prefer to limp vs. raise to 3BB is another conversation. I suppose it has to do with ROI, but I don’t know the answer.

        • jeffnc

          I was talking about heads up by the way. Multiway, we can achieve the same SPR by limping and don’t necessarily ever have to raise to 3BB, but I was just saying you want to put in 3BB or less preflop in these games, IMO, for a hand like 44.

        • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

          You can avoid 13 SPR by raising smaller…or by raising larger.

  • Simon

    Raising bigger is the nus in these games. I have been experimenting with 6x opens in 5-10 past few weeks and the action has been favorable – been getting HU and 3-ways almost all the time.

    The problem “getting value” pre is that in reality vs. even a 40% calling range hands as good as QJ are not value hands – they are bluffs. And bluffs destined to go 5-ways are spew.

  • Anton

    I’m not in any way disagreeing with Jedi Master Splitsuit, this is only my personal opinion about very specific casino where i play most. I personally adopted the smaller raising amount on “fishy” tables, that pointer was given to me by Christian one day and i didn’t get it till later. I noticed that if they call either way, the smaller pot gives more ability to maneuver when SPR does not get smaller with a bloated pot. I think there are benefits to both bigger and smaller opens and it’s up to the player to feel out which works better. Not all fishy tables are exactly the same, textures of the dynamic might seem similar but they can be very different.

    I 100% agree with more limping part, which is also a recent discovery for me, where before i was getting frustrated by trying to force the dynamic instead of adjusting to it. Like Bruce Lee said about water: “When water is in the glass it becomes the glass”, so when you figure out the dynamic of the table, just get in there with adjusted game instead of trying to force it. Can’t win money from idiots that way, but you sure can play same pre-flop dynamic, cause in the end you still have massive post-flop advantage over them.

    Isoing simply does not work that well on tables where ppl just don’t fold pre-flop. Like hands of type 87s/T8s/22-99 on the BTN become just fine to limp with when you have 5 limpers in the hand already, and chances are blinds will come in and all of them will follow, and you’ll end up with a $80-$100 pot (at $1/$2 game) and 7 people in the hand. It becomes even worse when some of the tards keep limping in with AK/AA/KK/QQ by trying to be “tricky”. It works so sweet when you catch a concealed straight with suited one gappers (or even more concealed with double gappers like T7s, 96s, Q9s) while in position and they just loose everything to you because they are incapable of folding the KK that they limp called with, or accidental two pair they caught. So just keep seeing flops, and if poker gods favor you by letting you make a skilled adjustment, your stack gets this dynamic: -2, -2, -2 + -10, -2, -2 + -10, -2 + -18, -2 + +250, -2, -2, -2 + -20, -2, -2 + +150, -2, -2, -2 + +200, -2, -2 + -20, -2 + +135… and by the end of the night if you play this type of game well you look at $1200 in chips in front of you, being up almost a grand in pure profit.

    I apologize if i said anything stupid, and great article Split, you are the man – as always 🙂

    • You didn’t say anything stupid at all. BTW, your point about smaller opens is super awesome in deeper stacked games.

  • RuxtonAtheist

    Between elevations, water flows; between pressures, air flows; among poker players, money flows, because there must exist a difference. If your opponents are also trying to see cheap flops and hit hands, how can this strategy be profitable? Where is your edge in these games?

    • Our edge comes in multiple forms. But primarily, against these players we use better ranges (often times tighter and ones that offer less IO). We value bet better than they do postflop. We have more discipline so we don’t spew as hard when we have second-best hands. And we bet size a TON better than they do (which again, helps us maximize our value when we have the winning hand)



  • jeffnc

    Thanks for the article James, I face these sorts of tables all the time.

    Just wondered if you could clarify a little with math on AA, because I think it will be misleading to some people. In fact, I think a lot of people misunderstand how AA fares in multiway pots and we don’t want to perpetuate that. Yes, your equity goes down against multiple opponents, but your profit goes up. We’ve all heard the familiar example – a player somehow gets all-in with AA, then says “I only want one caller, no more than that.” The fact is, you want the whole table all-in with you when you have AA!

    Using the example of being up against random hands, 30% of $2,700 is better than 85% of $300. It’s more complicated when you have to play poker of course, but I was just trying to compare apples to apples with your equity numbers.

    Using your specific equity scenarios, 73% of $900 is $657, and 56% of $1500 is $840, so more is better.

    Alternatively, maybe the equity value of AA isn’t the best example to use if you want to show the value of thinning the field 🙂

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

      Thanks Jeff! The equity is hot/cold equity…so it’s not the purest thing to look at. Rather, consider the number of tricky spots you’ll encounter as the SPR goes up and the number of players seeing the flop goes up. Your mistake propensity likely raises as well. Whereas if you could create a more ideal situation for yourself, and of course do it with a range that is NOT just AA…that’s beneficial.

  • jeffnc

    Yup, exactly. That’s why I thought putting the hot/cold equity in the article for AA are kind of misleading. The real issue is “playing poker” with them postflop.

  • davidsharff

    Master Splitsuit, @splitsuit

    I play in a similarly fishy 1/2 game. The standard open is $12 or $15 depending on the table’s particular makeup (note: the buy-in is capped at the highest chip stack so we are regularly playing 250+ BB deep).

    I’ve learned to feel good about the multi-way, larger pots. So, I’m wondering if I’m missing something in your message to try and isolate more pre-flop. Here are some gross generalities about how I’ve handled multiple callers:

    * I only limp with small pocket pairs (set mining for the implied odds), fold to three bets with AJ or worse (they don’t come often), 3-bet with TT+, and try to balance my range by raising suited connectors that’ll I’ll consistently use for semi-bluffs.

    * If my value bets are called on the flop and turn I generally check the river – ready to turn my hand into a bluff catcher / hero fold depending on their sizing. Although, if draws aren’t improving, I’ll get mostly folds by the turn.

    * I get good fold equity re-raising weak donk bets on the flop

    * C-bets in position still takedown the pot at a high frequency

    It’s these reasons that keep me from wanting to increase my opening raises at the expense of less callers and a smaller pot. Any obvious leaks / areas for improvement?

    • The issue is that you have to hit in MW pots to win decent sized pots more often than not. Whereas in HU pots you only have player to bluff through, which means you don’t need hands quite so often to pick up pots. The only other point I’ll make is that your value betting strategy is almost certainly leaving money on the table if you are playing strong, but non-nut, hands like that on the river. Try VBing more instead of trying to bluff catch as much and see how wide they really give action =)

  • Knampf

    Extremely helpful article. I have the same problem online. Often, you go multi-way and/or you get 3bet very often. I think, assuming ranges and adjusting are the biggest problems I have right now. It is confusing and you first have to know how this guy plays. Especially if you play zoom changing the table every hand. Also, you have to know what mistakes he does. Does he call me down? Does he bluff everything? Does he call raises or does he make mistakes further on? It happens quite often that I expect something and it seems to go the complete other way. I have to admit that I’m generally quite lazy and that I could have been much further now. I will train online at a static table to understand individual players better and to avoid dealing with this soup of everything. Do you have tips?

    • James "SplitSuit" Sweeney

      This short video explains my thoughts on playing zone/zoom type games vs normal games:

      As for your question, you need to study the player pool and understand common lines/ranges/frequencies if you are going to keep playing zoom imo.

  • mcgavel1

    Cool points, all – thanks for the info – games are fun – gl – find those spots – never give up!