Standard 3-bet sizing tends to be 3–4 times your opponent’s opening raise, and sometimes slightly more out of position. In position you’ll tend to want to 3-bet slightly smaller (3–3.5x), to keep your opponent in with a weaker range out of position against you, and slightly larger out of position (3.75–4.5x) to cut down your stack to pot ratio and increase your fold equity. What you size your 3-bet to heavily depends on your opponent, your actual hand, and whether you’re looking to increase or decrease your opponent’s fold percentage.
Standard 3-bet Strategy
Against most regulars you should create a standard 3-bet sizing range for being in and out of position. 3-betting 3.5x your opponent’s opening size in position, and 4x out of position. Against fish or really weak players, you should deviate from your standard raise sizing and focus on a max size you think your opponent will call when you have a big hand. Typically speaking you’re going to depolarize most of your range against a fish, so a bulk of your raises will be for value, or to isolate with a quasi range. And you can deviate and change those sizes until you have some history with other regulars at your table who may begin to seize on your changed sizing. Then you’ll have to keep it more consistent, or occasionally flip-flop your value and quasi range sizing.
Applied Pressure 3-bet Strategy
For several years now players haven’t really adjusted well to their opponent’s opening ranges. When 3-betting became more popular, it was one of the first major adjustments to counter how wide a lot of opponents were opening from certain positions, and especially in 6-max cash games. It makes sense to try and fold out some of your opponent’s range and take down a pot without seeing a flop. There are rarely situations where you’re so much of a favorite pre-flop, so any time you can get your opponent to completely abandon the equity in their hand without further play is good.
Now of course you’d prefer to keep them in the pot when you have some equity advantage, but having initiative in a hand is a difficult thing for most opponents to overcome. It’s less difficult to overcome in limit holdem, but in no-limit when a player can make any sized bet, it’s not as easy to call down versus someone’s range until you know their bluffing frequencies at least a little bit. It’s one thing to put an opponent on a range of hands; it’s another to understand their weighted frequency distribution of each hand. That’s when reads, notes, and other statistics about an opponent can help sway a fold to a call or vice versa.
That’s when applied pressure pre-flop can drastically alter the dynamics of how your opponents respond to your 3-betting game. Most players still don’t respond well to 3-bets, so creating a table dynamic that keeps the pressure on, builds more pots in position against your better opponents, takes initiative in the hand, creates a lower stack to pot ratio, and allows you to isolate weaker players more often can be a very profitable strategy.
Instead of 3-betting 3.5–4x your opponent’s open raise sizing, you 3- bet 2.67x your opponent’s open size in position, and 3.5–4x out of position. To keep it simple, if your opponent opens 3x the big blind, then you’d 3-bet to 8 BBs. If your opponent opens 2.5x the big blind, then 3-bet to 6.7 BBs. The sizing will take some getting used to depending on the stakes you play, but you can easily work that out and make a cheat sheet if you need to.
This means that all of your value range and quasi range you’re going to be 3-betting 2.67x your opponent’s opening amount. The reason you’re going to do this is because it’s going to keep a bulk of your opponent’s range still in the pot against you. Additionally it’s going to place your opponent in a situation where they’re going to have to make a lot of moves against you post flop to make up for situations when they call with the weaker part of their range and whiff the flop. They’re going to have to do this out of position without initiative. There are very few opponents capable of doing this consistently at micro and small stakes games. If you are playing against one you think is capable, then just don’t use this strategy against them.
Let’s take a simple example with 100 BB effective stacks. Your opponent open raises 3x the big blind from MP and is currently opening 21.6% of hands from that position. You are on the button with KJs and you 3-bet your opponent to 8 BBs. Your opponent calls and you see a flop heads up. First of all, let’s look at the pre-flop equity versus your opponent’s opening range and calling range.
First thing is your pre-flop equity doesn’t really change that much. Yet now you have a re-raised pot, in position against your opponent’s 3-bet calling range, and you have initiative. Combine that with the fact that with two unpaired hole cards, your opponent is whiffing the flop 68% of the time, you’ve put them in a tough spot. Of course your opponent isn’t going to have two unpaired hole cards all the time, but between draws, and hands that can continue, you’re going to win the pot with a continuation bet more than half the time. Most opponents fold to continuation bets in 3- bet pots between 50%–60% of the time. If you make a slightly over 1/2 pot sized bet, it’s printing money in this situation. Of course the total expected value of this play also depends on how often you’re folding to a 4-bet. Let’s take a look plugging in some expected percentages:
F = (4.5(.20), B = (8(.20), C = .8[-10(.4)+9.5(.6)]
F – B + C = EV
F = How often your opponent folds to your 3-bet. We’re saying conservatively 20%. A good number is between 20–30% depending on your opponent.
B = How often your opponent is 4-betting and you’ll have to fold. 15–25% is a fair number and against better players who will start 4-betting as their adjustment this will get to ~30%.
C = How often a slightly over half pot sized continuation bet will be called. 40% of the time our opponent is calling, with the entire situation occurring only 80% of the time.
.9 -1.6 + 1.4 = .7 | EV = +.7 BBs
This isn’t even accounting for the equity you have in your hand when your continuation bet is called, which will jump this number up quite a bit. This is just the raw EV of a play until the continuation bet on the flop. Consider when you continue to do this against an opponent, and they decide to adjust at the incorrect time and you have a big hand (either a big pair pre-flop, or you flopped a big hand). Having position is huge in this situation and you can control the size of the pot post flop.
To be fair, let’s compare this against the EV of calling KJs in position. That’s a fine hand to call with and take a flop in position against most opponents. So let’s take a look at the hand against the same range, and same situation.
EV = (5.5(.47) = (3(.53) = +1
Looks like it’s just about the same EV if we take the hand to the flop, but this time our opponent has initiative, and they are continuation betting. We’re also saying we’re only folding to a continuation bet in position 47% of the time to a roughly 3/4ths pot sized bet (5.5). Again, this
doesn’t take into account equity when you call versus your opponent’s range. Everything is the same, except that it’s a single raised pot, and now you don’t have initiative and you’re not continuation betting. You’re also not applying much pressure to your opponent beyond calling and perhaps floating a decent amount of flops against them. Both plays are pretty close in EV, and exact in the case of using our numbers, but the goals are slightly different.
The primary reason you’d employ this 3-betting strategy over flatting a hand like KJs is to apply pressure, keep your opponent on the defensive and in re-raised pots out of position against you. You’re not going to be 3- betting this same hand nearly as often out of position. This is purely an in position strategy to use against certain opponents, and in certain games.
Applied Pressure vs Standard 3-bet Strategy
Either the applied pressure or the standard 3-bet strategy will be the optimal approach to take based on the specific table you’re at. If you fall in love with an applied pressure 3-betting strategy, employing it every time you sit down at a table will generally be a mistake. The kinds of players you have to your immediate right and left should be the primary determining factor as to which kind of strategy will yield the highest EV.
For example, if you have a bad loose aggressive player on your immediate right, and a bad fishy player on your immediate left, employing an applied pressure strategy won’t be ideal. You’ll end up pushing the fish out of the pot far too often if they keep seeing re-raises in front of them.
Having the bad loose aggressive player on your right is ideal, but the weak fishy player on your immediate left trumps the bad LAG player. If the fishy player wasn’t on your immediate left, and you had decent regulars to your immediate left, then the applied pressure 3-betting strategy would work great. Some better regulars might start to adjust after awhile, but in general it’s a great approach to take to isolate the bad LAG player.
In general, it’s best to use a standard 3-betting strategy until you have players at your table identified. Your goal with an applied pressure 3- betting strategy should be to isolate the weaker players, and force your better opponents into making mistakes, or reacting poorly against your 3- bets. If you do this effectively you’ll have a wider 3-betting range in these situations and at the tables where it makes the most sense. An ideal 3- betting percentage when employing a standard 3-betting strategy with a polarized range should be somewhere between 7–9%. When using an applied pressure 3-betting strategy, your 3-bet percentage can be anywhere from 10–15% on average.