9♥9♦ Multiway on the Flop, what would you do here?

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DECISION POINT: In a live $1-2 game you raise from Under the Gun to $12 with 9♥9♦. A Middle Position player, the Cutoff, the Button, and Small Blind all call. The SB checks the 7♥3♦2♣ flop and action is on you. What do you do here?

PRO ANSWER: We raise to $12 in Early Position with pocket 9s and get 4 callers. If a preflop raise size of $12 is regularly getting us more than 2 callers we should probably reevaluate our sizing to an amount that is more consistently thinning the field. It is not uncommon in some $1/$2 games for this amount to be closer to $15. Assuming $12 is normally doing a proper job of thinning the field, this result of 4 players following us to the flop is just an unfortunate circumstance.

In this case the 7h3d2c flop is rather dry. There are two major factors that go into how likely it is for our opponents to have hit a flop. The flop texture (more coordinated flops hit more calling ranges) and the number of opponents. When this many players see the flop it is very likely that more than 1 of our opponents hit it in some meaningful fashion.

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The problem is when this many players see the flop the average hand strength at showdown is going to be at least two pair, even though we might have the best hand right now with an overpair. Our hand could be the best hand now, but it is unlikely to improve on most turn and river cards. We are also out of position against most of our opponents.

This is a spot where many players make a mistake and tend to be overly concerned with “Do I have the best hand right now?” instead of “What is the most profitable way to play this hand?”. Given that we’ve established that with this many opponents calling preflop more than 1 player is likely to have hit this flop, and winning hand at showdown is likely to be two pair or better, proceeding with caution is best.

That is not to say we should check/fold here 100% of the time, however checking and evaluating our prospects of profitably navigating this hand across multiple streets is important here in the long run.

Checking is the best play.

What would you do here?
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