3-Betting: The Fundamentals

“3-bet pots are normal pots on crack.”

The 3-bet is one of the most powerful plays you can have in your arsenal. It is extremely profitable to 3-bet in position, especially from the button. Even if players know you are 3- betting light, it’s tough for most of them to counter it. They usually over-adjust their pre- flop stacking-off range. This means more money for you since you are risking 10BB to see where you are at and they risk their stack with 99/AJ type hands.

The Fundamentals

In 3-bet pots, due to a smaller stack-to-pot ratio, your post-flop and positional edges decrease in value. This is because if you 3-bet a 30BB short stack, if he calls, he’s going to have a pot-sized stack left on the flop. If he flops anything, then he’s stacking off. Thus, you have little fold equity against opponents with short stacks. If the same player is OOP with 200BB+, then there’s more room for you to maneuver post-flop, meaning more opportunities for you to exploit your positional and skill advantages.

You also have a ton more fold equity with deep stacks because players are much more willing to stack off with 50BB than with 200BB. As a result, you will see more all-in pots when the stacks are 50BB. With 200BB, there is more cautious play because players want to protect their stacks. You probably can’t count more than a handful of times when you’ve seen a good, aggressive player 3-barrel bluff with ace-high and lose 200BB.

Below is a chart that illustrates how different stack sizes affect the game.

Creating an aggressive Image

3-betting lightly is an excellent way to create an aggressive image. Players will put you on a wide range of hands and pay you off lighter. Unless they fight back, you will control the

flow of the game. This allows you to isolate the fish more often, exploiting the regulars’ weakness and playing pots in position. So when is a good time to 3-bet?

You generally want your first 3-bet to be a semi-bluff (hands like J8s, 86s, 75s). This is because people tend to give you more credit for it, and people fear the unknown. If you’ve just sat down at the table and you 3-bet in the first orbit, they don’t know who you are or how you play yet. If you’re a regular, they may have an idea based on previous history, but they won’t know exactly how you’re playing on that day. So they will shy away from doing anything reckless until several orbits later.

After that, keep 3-betting until people give you a reason to stop—by 4-betting you, calling you down lighter, and/or check-raising the flop more. I’d also focus on targeting a weaker player at the table and 3-bet him. If you keep this up, you will end up tilting him and he will be ecstatic to get all-in pre-flop with AQ or 88.

3-bet Stats

Although 3-bet stats are helpful, don’t put too much emphasis on them. They are more reliable if you’re playing heads-up because his stats directly reflect his actions against you. In a 6-max game, if you open from the CO and he 3-bets from the SB, his stats aren’t going to give you an accurate reflection of his 3-betting tendencies. It gives you an overall representation of the game, which can be misleading. He might have recently lost a pot and is now tilting. Or he might have noticed that you folded to a 3-bet an orbit ago, so now he’s doing it lighter. Or he only likes to 3-bet the player to his right and no one else. You just don’t know. It’s more practical and reliable to base your reads on his previous actions. You’ll get better reads on him and really get into his head as a player. Of course, it is important to note that a player with 3-bet stats of 10 percent is looser and more aggressive than a player with 3-bet stats of four percent.

Polarized Range

When you 3-bet, you want to polarize your range. This means you should do it with your strong and weak hands (QQ+, AK, 96s, 76s and 65s). With medium pairs (66-JJ) and medium suited connectors (QTs, T9s), it’s much better to just call because we don’t want to fold to a 4-bet with these hands. They have too much value post-flop to risk folding them. The only exception is if villain is very loose-passive, never 4-bets and tends to check-fold the flop. Then you can 3-bet with 88-JJ for value.

If villain never 4-bets you, then there is less incentive to polarize your range because you will be able to see all flops with your medium-strength hands.

Calling Station

Against weaker opponents who call 3-bets too often, you should 3-bet more Broadway cards and fewer suited connectors. Your high cards, such as KTo, increase in value because you will be more likely to flop a strong middle or top pair than with a hand like 65s. Furthermore, if villain is calling a lot of 3-bets pre-flop, we don’t have to worry as much about reverse implied odds (he will have tons of hands like K2-K9s). Low suited connectors go down in value because you will rarely flop top pair. They also make smaller flushes than K8s and Q7s. We don’t have to worry about folding to his 4-bets with hands like TT, JJ and AQ, so we can 3-bet more liberally with them.

Another great thing about a calling station is that he plays very straightforwardly after the flop. His goal is to flop big hands and stack off. If he misses, then he folds. He doesn’t realize that you determine the aggression and how much money goes into the pot. With position, you can easily bet or check behind for pot control. Furthermore, he’s making a big mistake against you because your 3-betting range is so wide that he won’t be able to extract value when he flops two pair or better. And those hands don’t come along very often. Even if he does call your flop c-bet, you can still bluff when a scare card comes on the turn or river.

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