There is a machismo associated with aggressive 3-betting. The idea is to put a lot of pressure on your opponents to make yourself harder to play against. But does it really make you that tough to play against?
When someone starts 3-betting you all over the place
before the flop, they’re saying one of two things:
1. They can run you over preflop, or build up a big pot and exploit a larger edge postflop since there’s more money out there.
2. They cannot outplay you postflop, so they’re willing to take a small preflop edge instead of utilizing their position in a more sophisticated fashion. In this case, they’re tacitly admitting that they can’t outplay you after the flop. They’re trying to end the hand now by 3-betting and hoping you fold.
Assuming that you’re neither folding to 9 out of 10 re- raises, nor calling preflop and pitching on most flops, the edges they’re trying to squeeze out of you before the flop are very small. The thing is that when they have position on you, they should usually be trying to see flops with you and create larger edges for themselves after the flop. Instead, they see a small edge now and they seize it. We call this the lazy-edge syndrome, and it results in mindlessly 3-betting hands that play better for a call. When you’re in their position, you can do better.
The hands where this makes the largest difference are ace-queen, king-queen, pocket twos through tens, ace-jack suited and the like. When you 3-bet these hands, competent opponents will usually fold the hands that you’re dominating and continue only with the hands that dominate you. Furthermore, they’ll often 4-bet with their biggest hands, forcing you to fold before the flop. Instead of taking a flop against a strong hand and getting a chance to stack your opponent when you flop a set, you’re sticking 9 blinds into the pot and folding.
So before you drag the slider bar to size your 3-bet, think about what range you’re likely to get called by and whether you’d prefer to play a big pot against that range, or a smaller pot against a wider range. Consider the following hand:
In the above situation, you probably have a small equity edge against your opponent’s range. You can re-raise, get some folds now, some more folds after the flop, and occasionally lose a huge pot against aces, kings, queens, or ace-queen. It’s quite likely that this line has a small positive expected value.
Instead of re-raising before the flop, however, you can call and see a flop. Now when the flop comes ace high, your opponent will likely pay you off on all three streets with hands like ace-jack, ace-ten, and maybe some weaker suited aces. When the flop comes queen high, he’ll pay you off with king-queen, queen-jack, and maybe some smaller pocket pairs. Those are all hands that he would have folded to your 3-bet. You can extract more value from those dominated hands by calling than by raising.
Additionally, calling preflop doesn’t mean that you’ve given up your right to bluff at the flop. Your opponent will flop nothing more often than not. He’ll usually fire out a c-bet that you can raise as a bluff, or call, planning to outplay him on the turn or river. If he checks the flop instead, you can try to take the pot away right there.
Now, when a bad player opens ahead of you, go ahead and 3-bet a wider range. He’s going to call with those dominated hands. That’s half of what makes him bad. By re-raising, you get to play a big pot against a bad player who will pay you off with many dominated holdings. And when he misses, he’ll just fold and you’ll win a nice big pot. But against a good player, you’re just not going to get the response you’re looking for.
Chart No. 2 shows a set of defaults for which hands to call and which ones to re-raise when you have position against a competent opener. The first column on the left shows the open raiser’s position, which is the number one factor you should consider when deciding how to play your hand. Each hand listed in the chart is the minimum hand you should play in that situation (e.g. if you have JJ against a LJ open, you should call; whereas you should 3-bet the same hand against a CO open). If you get 4-bet, you should be happy to get the money in with the hands listed in the re-raising column.
Note that these are defaults for stacks of 125 blinds or less. As stacks get deeper, you can generally play more hands. A host of other factors should affect your decision as well.
• How often does the raiser fold to 3-bets? In the last chapter we mentioned that the mere fact that a raiser folds to 3-bets more than 67% does not mean you should re-raise with any two cards. Still, against a player who will fold a ridiculously large portion of his range (say, 90%), you can use this play. This can also be an incentive to cold call more against players you’d like to see flops against.
• How often does the raiser fold postflop? If your opponent calls a lot of 3-bets, then folds a lot after the flop, you can profit a lot from 3-betting looser. If his strategy against your re-raise is to fold his medium strength hands and 4-bet his strong ones, then you can make more from his postflop nittiness by calling with a wider range before the flop. This way you allow him to commit a few more chips after the flop before you take the pot away from him.
• Will the cutoff play tighter preflop if you 3-bet him a lot from the button? Whenever everyone folds to you on the button, you’re in a profitable spot. If harassing the cutoff with aggressive 3-bets will make him tighten up, it’s usually worth it to hammer on him until he gives up. That doesn’t mean you should start re-raising with any two cards. Hands like king- six suited and ten-seven suited provide a good backup plan for the times your opponent calls your re-raise and takes a flop. You can make flushes and straights, pick up profitable semi-bluffing opportunities, and hit your overcards to their pocket-pair-heavy calling range.
• Do the blinds squeeze a lot? The more often the blinds squeeze, the fewer speculative hands you should call with. Now you’re better off 3-betting these borderline hands, since you’re more likely to see a flop. Conversely, this is a good spot to cold call with some of your strong hands, hoping that one of the blinds will squeeze and you can make a suspicious looking 4-bet, enticing them to get it in light. Taking this to the extreme is an unbalanced strategy, but it’s an effective exploitation of your opponent’s aggressive tendencies.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether to 3-bet or cold call. Only with experience and knowledge of your opponents will you learn which factors are the most important in any situation. When in doubt, start by asking yourself these three questions:
What will happen after the flop if I call? What will happen after the flop if I raise? Which outcome would I prefer?
If you’re still learning the fundamentals of the game, it’s best to stick to the chart. As you develop your game, you’ll learn to recognize the above conditions and take advantage.