Until very recently, I was of the belief that our 3-bet sizes depended on only three factors: position, player type, and stack sizes. This was outlined earlier—against bad players we want to make it bigger always (because it’s always for value)*, against good players we would make it smaller in position and larger OOP to reduce our positional disadvantage, and we could make it large in general when deep. I now believe this is an unsophisticated overview of how to size our 3-bets. Essentially, there is a fourth factor that should absolutely influence our 3-betting game plan, particularly when we’re 3- betting OOP against a good player: image (or, as I will often refer to it, range manipulation). For the purpose of this discussion, “large” 3-bets will mean raises to 12-13bb when facing a 3.5bb or 3bb open, and “small” 3-bets will mean raises to 10-11bb**.
In our discussion of leverage, we learned that if we make our 3-bets large we cut our opponents’ odds at the cost of creating aggressive dead money. On the other hand, if we make our 3-bets smaller we give our opponents better odds and reduce our own dead money. We’ve started with our OOP 3-bets being large—let’s consider what happens if we make them smaller:
- We collect our opponents’ dead money for a cheaper price. This is especially valuable against opponents who raise their buttons excessively lightly.
- We get 4-bet less often (we’re creating less aggressive dead money, making 4-bets less effective).***
- We get called by a wider, weaker range. This is where the essential advantage begins. When we’re 3-betting for value (QQ+), for thin value (AT+, KJ+), or as a semibluff (Axs, Kxs, PPs, etc.), our opponents are getting slightly better odds to play against us. This opens the door to two common mistakes:
o Our opponents overestimate both their odds and the value of their hand and make too many calls preflop, leading us towards more profitable c-bets and more profitable value bets.
o Our opponents overestimate their ability to play back appropriately postflop and either fold too much (as noted above) or float or bluffraise too often into our 3- betting range (strongly weighted towards value)****.
So, through our bet sizing we can manipulate the likely ranges and responses of our opponents in these spots. However, beyond the immediate tactical advantages to 3-betting smaller listed above, there remain advantages to raising larger preflop. The opportunity to reduce our positional disadvantage, limit our opponents’ odds, and gain additional value means that 3-betting larger can certainly be a good strategy. If only we could 3-bet large for value and play against the same range that would’ve called if we’d 3-bet small!
Let’s figure out how to do it. If we 3-bet early in a session, our opponents will often give us credit for a big hand. They’ll give us even more credit if we make our 3-bet larger. So, without image I will often 3-bet large as a bluff in the beginning of a session. On the flip side, still without image, I’ll often 3-bet smaller with a strong hand to retain the weaker hands in his range (expecting for him to be unable to play back well enough to turn a profit against my strong hand). Then, as image develops, we become inclined to 3-bet larger with our value hands, expecting to play against a wider range of weak hands.
The ability to change our preflop 3-bet sizes and manipulate ranges has an additional psychological benefit. Regulars make mistakes when they get confused. Seeing several different 3-bet sizes from the same player, in the same positions, in the same session is likely to make our opponents confused—and confusion is still a good thing, even if we don’t know how it will manifest itself (does he bluff more? Fold more? Call more?). Maintaining a psychological advantage by being unpredictable can drive even disciplined regulars into making mistakes in evaluating our ranges and actions.
Using varied 3-bet sizes when OOP is something that has to be tinkered with. The concept is based heavily on our ability to feel out the right play—is this guy loose and aggressive already? Maybe we’ll make it bigger for value and smaller as a bluff. Is this guy super tight and straight-forward? Maybe we’ll make it smaller for everything. Is this guy an average, ABC regular? Maybe we’ll make it larger as a bluff and smaller for value. Get creative and start mixing it up—your opponents won’t know what to do.
*Given our new definition of bluffing we could more realistically say that we’re almost always two-way betting against weaker players. Needless to say, we expect these opponents to fold a lot postflop.
**We could even go smaller than this. Really, the benefits of raising to a smaller size exist even if we go very, very small—our opponents play with worse hands and we get a cheaper price on our bluffs.
***Of course, our opponent could 4-bet us lightly there, though it would be difficult to achieve a leverage point. In fact, if someone did start 4-betting against our small 3-bets, we could actually adopt a small 5- bet range (we’d end up around the same sizing as a “standard” 4-bet).
****We would only weight our range strongly toward value if we thought our opponent was likely to float or raise as a bluff often. I tend to assume that our opponents will play too passively in 3-bet pots. However, 3-betting small for value can definitely induce a lot of action from weak hands. Developing a read on how your opponents respond to 3-bets of different sizes will take a little time, but it will be worth the trouble—you’ll find specific ways to exploit regulars and develop advantages that you didn’t know existed.