An Introduction to 3-Bet Pots

Originally, when this book was written, all content on the subject of 3-betting was relegated solely to the advanced section. This is because 3-betting becomes much more difficult to deal with when playing against aggressive players who 3-bet at high frequencies and with wide ranges. The basic assumptions I use when playing against passive players seemed obvious, and thus I left them out. This was a mistake. I’m going to outline the basic assumptions to deal with somebody 3-betting me at a lower stakes game. Then, we’re going to discuss how we should approach 3-betting ourselves at small stakes.

Let’s say that we open in mid-position and the button 3-bets us. Each of us has 100bb. The blinds fold. We’ll start with assumption #1:

1) People’s 3-betting ranges are tighter than we want to believe. Don’t assign somebody a loose 3-betting range unless you’ve seen them 3-bet a lot—and even then, it’s still probably tighter than you think.*

This obviously means that we want to start folding anything that we can’t reraise for value. But what about hands like TT? AQ? Can’t we call OOP with these hands?

2) Our equity with TT is much worse than we want to believe. If he’s getting crazy with QJ, we’re going to be coinflipping with him postflop. We also are going to be forced to fold any A or K flop, as these are too likely to have hit our opponent’s 3-betting range for us to call-down profitably.

So, if we can’t call OOP with TT, we certainly can’t call with 99-22. This leads us towards a major conclusion:

Don’t call any 3-bets OOP with 100bb stacks if it’s HU. **

Sometimes, the button will 3-bet us and the BB cold calls. If we’re sitting with 88, we are usually getting correct pot odds to call and hope to hit a set.

The next question would be about a hand like JJ or AK. Can we call OOP with one of these hands? If I 4-bet it and get it in, I’m rarely going to be ahead, right?

If somebody has a wide enough range to call OOP with AK or JJ, then there is enough dead money to profitably 4-bet these hands and get it in preflop.*** Conversely, if somebody has a tight enough range that we can’t call OOP, we should just fold our hand preflop. If I raise UTG in a full ring game with AK and a super-nit 3-bets me in MP, I’ll probably just fold. That’s okay.

The difficult thing about calling 3-bets OOP is that, in theory, it could be okay. However, knowing when and how to do it is extremely difficult and relies on a lot of advanced concepts that are elucidated in Volume II. To keep things simple (and profitable) for people playing in smaller stakes games, you should never call a 3-bet OOP given 100bb stacks in a HU pot.
Now, what about 3-bets in position?

 People’s 3-betting ranges are tighter than we want to believe. We still have to play tightly in general unless somebody begins to 3-bet us noticeably too often.

Low cards are bad in 3-bet pots for a variety of reasons. Their hot-cold equity is worse, which is important in 3-bet pots. Low cards often rely on implied odds, which are reduced in 3-bet pots.

Being in position means that we can call 3-bets, as opposed to being OOP when we really can’t. Essentially, we can defend with high cards and pairs, both of which play well in 3-bet pots. How low we can go (in terms of both high cards and pairs) depends on how lightly somebody is 3-betting us. For example, 88 plays fantastically well against somebody who 3-bets 67s, but only reasonably well against somebody who just 3-bets hands like KJ. Thus, given 100bb stacks, we sometimes call a 3-bet with 88 and sometimes fold, leaning towards calling in general. However, if we have 44, we might still sometimes call, but we’d lean towards folding in general.

It’s not too tough to figure out what types of hands people are 3-betting with—just watch to see when somebody gets to showdown. If you see somebody c-bet and then give up with 86s on a A53J9 board as the preflop 3-bettor, just make a quick note that this person 3-bets with low suited connectors. Suddenly we’re not folding 77 preflop. You can use discretion as for how low you want to go, but in general it’s bad for us to be defending with an 86s type of hand.

If you’re ever unsure about whether or not your hand is good enough to defend, just compare its equity to the weaker hands in your opponent’s range. So, if our opponent is 3-betting 86s, we can feel very comfortable calling with 99, but if the weakest he’s 3-betting is QJ, we feel less comfortable. The reason why we don’t want to defend with a hand like 86s ourselves is that it suffers in equity. Compare 86s to even the weakest hands in our opponent’s range and we find that we’re a significant underdog— too significant to be compensated by the value of our skill and our position given the worse stack-to-pot ratio.

In short, ranges for 3-betting in small-stakes games are usually significantly tight. We’ll usually give our opponents a lot of credit for big hands, and thus we’ll just fold to their 3-bets. Folding JJ to a 3- bet might seem extremely weak and exploitable, but it’s NOT if the person only 3-bets you once every five thousand hands. On the other hand, we can 3-bet our opponents with a wide value range, as even a hand like QJ has a lot of value in a 3-bet pot if our opponents are consistently calling with 55, 67s or A3. Hopefully this is a good stepping stone to the advanced section’s more detailed description of 3-betting and the metagame effects of developing image through preflop aggression.

*Despite changing game dynamics, this remains significantly true—especially at small stakes.
**There are absolutely times to call 3-bets out of position (even 4-bets or 5-bets!) but the theory that goes into it is complicated. The second half of this book will discuss it more thoroughly. However, the circumstances necessary to call a 3-bet OOP generally don’t exist at small-stakes. So, if you’re playing SSNL, I’d recommend continuing to never call 3-bets OOP.
***Just because something is profitable doesn’t make it best!

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