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!
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.
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.
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.