Flopping a Set - Too Many Opponents
2006 Randy Saylor  

Part One of this series discussed the classic slow play, and how to use it to advantage when you flop a big hand in a fixed-limit holdem game. This Part Two addresses another situation where waiting until the turn to show aggression is advised, but for a very different reason.

A Loose, Passive Table

Professional players who go fishing at loose, passive low-stakes tables differ on their opinions of the best strategy to attack tables where it seems that many players are fishing in with the following starting hand requirements: “I received two cards.” The word dominating the conversation at these tables is usually “Call.” There are few raises, especially pre-flop. Although online poker has generally evolved to the point where finding a 50 per cent table (half the players see the flop) is less common, live poker rooms bear witness to this gambling phenomenon regularly.

Strategies for dealing with these tables vary. Sometimes early position raises can scare enough players out of the pot. Sometimes a more passive approach is taken, only betting strongly with the nuts. Another idea is to play rock poker. Only premium starting hands are played, and then very aggressively. This method increases variance, since the inevitable suckouts for big pots will occur, but the wins will be much greater too. Getting a capped river when your AK makes two pair against someone else’s A7 two pair seems to make it all worthwhile.

Flopping Big Against Several Opponents

The right strategy for a loose-passive table is debatable. One tactic that can be used is the “Wait Until the Turn” play. This is available when you hit a big flop, but there are multiple draws and many players who could draw out on you.

Let’s go back to the same position we faced in Part One, holding 88 preflop in late position. This time, three players limp in ahead of you. The proper strategy (raise or limp) is debatable. A raise will be unlikely to thin the field. The blinds will have huge odds to call, and the loose-passive fish to your right will probably call too. Your 88 can’t be raised for value, because if six players see the flop, you’re very likely to be outflopped. A raise here only builds the pot and increases your swings. Aggression for aggression’s sake is gambling. Aggression that wins pots is sound play.

Considering the options, you decide to simply call. The small blind completes, and the big blind checks the option. There are 3 BB (big bets) in the pot, and six players see the flop, which comes 983. The small blind bets and three of the other four players call. There are now 5.5 BB in the pot. Do you raise or call?

There are probably going to be five players seeing the turn card. Raising here will probably not drop anyone. Even if you can reduce the field to three players, you’re only a 3-2 favorite if you are up against a straight draw and a flush draw. If five players are in holding AJ, T9, JT, 76, and your 88, you only have 46% pot equity. (We are going to eliminate the possibility of being against 99, in which case you’re almost dead.) Although you have the best chance of winning of the five players, you are an underdog versus their combined chances.

Making a “Wait Until the Turn” move here does two things: slow plays, which should get more bets in the pot at the double bet level, and decreases your variance when the scare card comes. The requirements here are:
- An already large pot for this stage of the hand
- Many opponents
- A draw-friendly board

As a reminder, the requirements for a classic slow play are usually:
- A small pot that you would like to build
- A ragged board with few draws
- A very good made hand

In this case your opponents will have correct odds to call your raise, since the pot is quite large already, and the only player who should technically fold to a raise is the T9. The others have expressed and/or implied odds to call. If the opponents hold a flush draw and both ends of the straight draw, they will be calling. If the board makes the straight on the turn and a flush on the river, how can you possibly call? Against three opponents, you can’t (against one you could, depending on the player).

In making the decision to raise or call, forget that you have four opponents and pretend you have only one (who holds the eight cards mentioned earlier). You are a 54-46 underdog to that powerful player. When you are facing many opponents, you only care who wins the pot if it’s you. If any of the others win, you’ve still lost, no matter how you spin it. If you consider the pot in this fashion, the question, as an underdog, is not “Do I raise?” but is instead “Do I have odds to call?” Of course you do! As a 54-46 underdog, you would need 1.2 to 1 to call. With eleven small bets in the pot, and it’s one to call, you are fine on odds.

The Turn

If a flush or straight card comes on the turn, let the betting decide your actions. You will probably have odds to call (remember your ten outs to the full house). If you don’t fill the boat on the river, you’re likely done here.

If a blank comes on the turn, now is probably the time to ramp up the aggression. Weaker players who bet and call the flop tend to check the turn when they miss draws. If one of the players before you bets, try to raise to isolate. You might get the T9 and the 76 to fold.

River decisions after the above sequence should be easy. If the board rags off, you probably won’t win much more, but you reduced your variance when the pot was already large. If the board allows a flush and/or a straight (and you haven’t filled the boat), you can usually safely muck against more than one opponent.

In the meantime, here’s a fantasy hand for you. The cards are as I described. The 7 comes on the turn, completing the straight. You have odds to call the bet. The 3 then comes on the river, filling the flush but also giving you the full house. Do you think you might win a few bets there?

May all your pocket pairs flop a set!

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