Preflop 3-bet Flatting

Around 2010, 3-betting regulars in position became the new hip thing. These 3- betting regulars realized that professionals were opening wider and wider in early position. Their response to it was pretty intelligent, which was to just re- steal from these early position abusers.

I was a great fan of opening from UTG, so I wasn’t too keen on this new play. My choice was to start opening fewer hands or begin playing back. For a while, 4-betting indiscriminately turned a large profit, but eventually they wised up. I didn’t know what to do then. One day I was a little tired and not exactly sober, and I decided I would just flat and see what happens. What occurred blew me away: no one touched a chip after I called.

You were not allowed to flat them in that spot back then. They assumed no good player would do that with a weak holding. It was just too obvious, and a boneheaded play when done with a suited connector. Why would someone want to play out of position versus a re-raiser? Eventually, I’d learn they even had a name for it. “I hate how much Alex hood flats me.” I would continue doing this play long after people had figured out what I was doing. Then, I would justify to myself that I didn’t need to win that often in order to turn a profit. They were offering me a good price.

One day out of curiosity I filtered for the hands where I had flatted 3-bets. I found that while in 2010 and 2011 I was making money hand over fist, from 2012 onward I lost money. This puzzled me. If anything I’d become much better postflop in the past couple years. What could be holding me back?

I tried a few different simulations in CardRunners EV to see what was up. The first one I tried was a very basic hand. I always try to begin with a very simple example. If that kind of uncreative player can turn a profit then usually the play is almost always profitable. In my first example hero opens with 5-5 from middle position. He makes it 24,000 at 6K/12K blinds. MP+2 makes it 56,789 with 12% of the hands; a very typical 3-betting percentage from aggressive players. I made sure to make the 12% range as strong as possible.

The player with 5-5 then flats and plays a very simple strategy: with an open- ended straight draw or a set he moves all-in. If he has less than that he folds. Villain continuation bets all flops in position, for simplification’s sake. I don’t think is too far off from what normally happens. If anything he’s now bluffing the 5-5 out and not giving free cards so often that it negates any benefit he’d derive from having a checking range. Villain will call the jam with top pair, flush draws, and straight draws (Figure 56).

As you can see from the value that the arrow in Figure 56 directs you to, the simpleton with 5-5 is making a profit here with an extremely dated strategy.

Many have pointed out in this model that the stacks are very deep, thus giving a set of 5s substantial profit when called. So, I halved the hero’s stack, and found it brought their profit from 21,285 on average to 20,231. The play still remains wildly profitable. I filtered through my database to find similar situations and found when I was doing really well at poker I was flatting primarily these kinds of 3-bets. It was easy to make a profit when you were given such great odds. However, once I started making some good money I became arrogant, and began flatting larger bets.

What I found out with later analysis was that flatting larger 3-bets caused my profits to go down, in some cases very dramatically. Creating a “flat all 3-bets” strategy was really sinking me.

While there are times to flat larger 3-bets we can determine from various equity models that they are harder to come by. After I did this research I decided to stop flatting 3-bets that were 2.5x or larger. Instead I would 4-bet them or would flat with the intention to donk lead jam on the flop or do a similarly large lead. Versus 2x 3-bets I never folded. I would make sure to do something.

My final table count started to skyrocket because of these adjustments. Prone to large swings before I soon found myself mincashing more often, and being in less horribly confusing postflop spots.

Position is of the utmost importance when flatting 3-bets and I have found that in position versus postflop inefficiencies you can make a considerable profit. Trying to execute the same moves are troublesome out of position. Your opponent has the option to check back and make it a two street game if he chooses. This interrupts your attempts to bluff him away from mediocre pairs by the river.

Additionally, your opponent gets to see what you do first on every street. This doesn’t matter as much on the flop where most of your range is checking, but if you want to check-raise it does matter. If you check-raise small than it doesn’t cost much to see what you do on the turn, and if you check-raise large your play has to be much more effective on average in order to turn a profit.

If you want to see the effect of position on your preflop flats you can do this easily in Hold’em Manager. First go to tab “Reports” and make sure you are in the tournament section. Click on the button “More Reports” and select “Position.”

From there is where the buttons become harder to find. First click on “More Filters.” It’s next to button that says “More Reports.” In the bottom right corner there’s a box that says “Quick Filters.” Select the one that says “Call vs. 3bet.”

The hands that you should flat 3-bets with are typically hands that play well postflop. One hand that does not do especially well when you flat a 3-bet is a weak ace. It will either hit the board, be good, and get little action, or it will hemorrhage money to a superior ace. It’s also not a card you want to check-raise bluff a board with, as it blocks all the A-x combinations you want bet/folding. Since there are more A-x combinations than anything in your opponent’s bet/folding range this isn’t good.

Any high-card hand or small pair plays well as a 4-bet jam if stacks are short enough. You can find what hands exactly by playing with CardRunners EV, but in general if a person’s 3-betting 12–13% there is a wide variety of 4-bet jamming possibilities with 40BB or less.

Hands that play well as 3-bet flats are suited connectors, unsuited connectors, suited gappers (if the person is 3-betting more than normal), and broadway cards. The suited and unsuited connectors provide many combinations in a different ballpark from the typical high-card intensive 3-betting range. It also gives a number of backdoor draws that allow equity padding on further streets.

Broadway cards struggle with being dominated as well, but the boards they hit are much less obvious. Ace-high boards when check/called usually mean someone has an ace. A jack-high board check/called doesn’t necessarily mean someone has a jack. It could be an under-pair or over-cards. Thus, the mediocre broadways get a few more value bets through than the weak aces. The broadways are also fantastic cards to check-raise low boards on. If the board is

7-3♦-2♦ that’s a better board to check-raise with K♦-J♣ than A♥-10♥.
While the A-10s started as a better hand it is blocking all the A-x combinations we wanted bet/folding the flop. If we turn the ace we don’t know if that was a good or bad card. If we hit it and they didn’t then we are unlikely to make a heavy profit. People tend to shut down on ace-high boards. Yet, if our opponent has A-7s, A-3s, or A-2s they have all just made two pair while we’ve

made top pair. This is going to get pricey, especially if we’re out of position.

With the K♦-J♣ if a diamond turns you can keep barreling the new draw, and a king or a jack is not an obvious out. It’s also much less likely to be dominated. Our opponent probably did not 3-bet with K-2 or J-3.

I’m not sure at what point exactly it happened, but poker players these days are enamored with 3-betting and flatting 3-bets. In the mid-2000s there was so much money floating around in poker the name of the game was controlled long sessions. If you played a tight game you were likely to make a large profit. Eventually, with training sites working as a catalyst, most regulars began playing a tight style. This gave rise to a loose-aggressive style’s effectiveness. Hyper- aggressive online players such as Sorel Mizzi and the late Chad Batista dominated poker in 2007, 2008, and 2009. If you watched me play back in those days you likely saw a player seeking to emulate these profitable pros.

In an attempt to mimick these professionals around 2011 people started 3- betting and flatting 3-bets with impunity. Oddly, when I’ve gone through different players’ databases, I’ve found the tight aggressive professionals of yesteryear are making a huge comeback!

In our game we’re trying to create an amalgam of the formerly dominant tight players and the newly popular loose types. When someone just doubles our bet or raises slightly more we should try to call more and make something work. If they raise 2.5x or higher, especially if we’re out of position, we need to find reasons to fold.

This is not popular in today’s poker literature and videos. This strikes me as odd.

It’s strange how poker progresses. People saw creative players from years past flatting and re-raising constantly and then winning. Their friends shared their admiration of this style. They sought to imitate it. End of story.

Poker players often espouse their love of science, which is hypocritical: the process described in the previous paragraph is the exact opposite of how a scientist operates. A scientist would set up their own experiments to see if they can recreate the results. A poker player trying to do this wouldn’t just play and see what happens… that’s far too small a sample size. They would run filters on databases and run equity calculations, and then they’d run them again. They’d come to their own conclusions.

I don’t worry about how “hard” poker is getting, because most poker players are not analyzers of experimentation. They are like Perez Hilton, reposting and reiterating something with no private investigation. They seem to say, “Hey, ___ said it, and he’s won a donkament before, so it must be true!”

If one wants to grasp how much variance there is in any variance-intensive market, I really recommend you read Fooled By Randomness or play around with Pokerdope.com. The same player with the same return on investment (ROI) can have vastly different results over years of play. Yes, I said years. Figure 57 shows a guy with a 20% ROI playing the Sunday Million every day for 10 years.

As you can see, 55% of the time he doesn’t even turn a profit! More than half of these winning players will lose in the Sunday Million after a decade of playing every week. Even if we double his ROI he is still losing 42% of the time over the 10 years. I don’t say this to frighten you. Realistic monthly profits can be attained through diversification of your tournament load and also by selling pieces.

What I am trying to show you is that trusting the guy who is one out of 10,000, who made $350,000 can be foolish, considering he can be equal in playing ability to the 5,500 players who failed to profit over a decade. Instead, it becomes pertinent to make your own experiments, using simulations to increase your “hands played” by millions every few seconds, complemented by diagnostics unavailable through mere experiential learning.

To reiterate, through our work we have found generally speaking that flatting large 3-bets (2.5x+) is not a good idea. Even in position we need to know a considerable amount about the player. Generally what I look for in my opponent is his 3-bet percentage. This is obvious, but it requires some expansion.

If you recall from an earlier section, 8% or lower is a player who generally 3- bets good hands. We do not normally have to worry about this player exploiting us. It’s when they get beyond 12% of the hands in their 3-bet range that things start getting goofy.

It is very difficult to construct a value-intensive 3-betting range with 12% of the hands. If you did put the premium suited connectors in there and broadways you’d still get a range which bricks many flops. However, blessedly, most people flat their mid-pairs, decent broadways, and suited connectors. That makes a 12%+ 3-betting range contain many suited gappers and dry aces. As a result of their dysfunctional nature on a number of boards, these hands are easier to get to fold postflop.

To get a more precise idea of what the person’s 3-betting range is we should use a program like NoteCaddy, which graphs and charts what hands a person’s shown down. For example, sometimes you will see a person has a 20% 3-bet. Wow! That sounds high! But when you look closer at their NoteCaddy read out you see another story.

Figure 58 shows my customized NoteCaddy HUD looking at a player who has a 20% 3-bet.

You’ll notice that the two hands we’ve seen tabled by this particular tournament participant were premium holdings – 10s and kings. These must-play hands have thrown off the percentages. This is why I hate playing with a HUD which cannot take notes on particular hands shown. We should take that 20% 3- bet with a hefty grain of salt, but if we don’t know the player had kings and 10s we’re likely to try and bluff versus their “expansive” 20% range.

Consequently, let’s look at the breakdown of this particular player who is 3- betting 11% of the hands (Figure 59).

While this person’s 3-bet statistic is almost half that of the first player’s our NoteCaddy here has picked up a clear bluff. This player 3-bet with A-5o, a very easily dominated hand that most folks would fold to the first raise. We now know this player is capable of bluffing preflop. If they could have any bare ace in their re-raising range that expands their range extraordinarily.

While both players are good candidates to make a play against we would only attack the first one if we were going by the numbers. It is important to take notes or have a program take them for us. You’ll also notice in these pop-ups that there is a statistic called “vsHero.” This is a very interesting statistic to use when someone 3-bets us.

Poker players are a very particular bunch. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they pick someone to try and mess with. It could be because they don’t like your screen name, your country, your icon, or your stack; it doesn’t really matter. For some reason they’re gunning for you, and necessary adjustments must be made. To see this we can reference the versus hero statistic. We can also play back the value hands the person has in their NoteCaddy breakdown to see if any of them were against us. If they did generally have good holdings when they 3-bet us that would skew the data.

Sometimes you’ll also see a guy who never 3-bets you. For one reason or another he doesn’t believe that is the correct strategy against your raises. Against these opponents you obviously want to fold more, and versus the previous vengeance-seeking competitor you want to open your range up. Do not tighten up: most people’s instant reaction to someone who keeps re-raising them is to wait for a monster. Others will get into a pissing-for-distance war with the bully.

They have plenty of experience with both options. They’re not suspecting a calm and measured approach where we slightly widen our value ranges. The adjustments are slight; you don’t want to just start flatting with 9-4s. My typical flatting range against tight opponents might be J-10s or above for suited connectors. Versus very aggressive players who I have position on I might widen the range to 8-9s – that’s an addition of exactly two hands. If the person really has exploitable postflop tendencies I may add 8-7s or 7-6s.

Those postflop tendencies can really change how we approach the situation. Say a person constantly fires flop, turn, and river. (You can know this very easily by placing all of the continuation-bet statistics next to each other on your HUD.)

If you see someone who seems to be firing 40%+ of the time or more on the river you need to rethink your preflop flat. In No Limit Hold ‘Em you do not have a hand good enough to triple barrel the river 40%+ of the time. Someone who bets flop, turns, and goes for it on the river most of the time is bluffing, thinly value betting, or a combination of the two. This doesn’t have to be a problem. Say you see someone who 3-bets 20% of the hands, and your NoteCaddy text shows that he does it with many unsuited gappers and dry aces. You would love it if this person triple barreled you 100% of the time, because your superior holding will be ahead on the river more regularly.

However, if the person has play style that is confounding you, and they are the type of person to lay the pressure on postflop, then perhaps you should pass on this opportunity so you can observe more and form a more solid read.

You’ll find most often that people really do not have much of a turn or river game. They 3-bet and continuation bet because that’s what works against the vast majority of players. After that they are lost. You can identify these players by 40% or less turn continuation bets. You generally have a value hand there 30% of the time, so 40% or less indicates very few bluffs.

There are occasionally players who try and set up check-raises on the turn. This is where things get tricky. NoteCaddy in my experience has done the best job of helping me decipher which player is which. If you see check-raises on the turn with value hands on the program you know to be suspicious. If you see double barrels with nothing you know not to take that 40% turn bet statistic at face value.

Generally speaking if you see a low turn bet then the person does not bluff on that street. Your eyes should be darting to that specific number right as you get 3-bet. “How often will this guy put me to the test?” is what you need to ask yourself. This befuddles most people at the beginning. “Why should I be looking at the turn when we haven’t even seen the flop yet?” It’s when you’re looking two or three streets ahead on the HUD that you really are becoming a complete player.

When someone doesn’t apply pressure on later sections of the hand then you can call more comfortably with broadways and weaker aces. You’ll know if that person fires the second barrel they tend to have it. This is another point of contention. Most people when they flat preflop with A-9s are not in the business of folding on the ace-high board. Yet, take a typical board for the ace. A-Q-4-5 rainbow: when the guy who never double barrels there fires, what do you beat? He likely would have checked weaker aces for pot control. You’ll see people who academically understand the numbers, but won’t follow through on them. Do not be one of these misguided souls.

Another number that is of remarkable importance in 3-bet pots is for the continuation bet. If you see this is 80% or higher, and you know the person’s 3- betting with a bunch of junk, that means you’re regularly going to catch them on the flop with nothing. Versus these player types it is worth throwing in a number of flop raises and floats, especially if the person’s turn check/fold is high and their continuation bet is low.

There are two final statistic categories we should bring up before we leave this discussion. This is the “skip continuation bet and fold” statistic on NoteCaddy. This lets you know how often someone will be the preflop raiser and then just check/give up on the flop. These players are rarer when they 3-bet, but you will find a number of guys who will go, “Oh, my play didn’t work. Okay, how can I get out of this as cheaply as possible?”

If you think that perhaps the person is far less protective of pots when he opens, not when he 3-bets, then you’ll need to prove that. To find out how a person behaves when they 3-bet you can select “3-bet pots” or “in 3-bet pots” in most statistic-tracking software. You’ll often see people who have remarkable discipline when they continuation bet in normal pots, but just go ahead and bet with their entire range when they are the 3-better; that is a very dangerous habit when you’re 3-betting too much.

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