Punish The Nits!

When you see a player folding to a lot of re-raises, it can be tempting just to hammer on him constantly. In fact, if he’s folding to a ton of re-raises, then re-raising relentlessly is more or less the correct response.

The reason it’s only mostly correct instead of completely correct is that this is a fluid edge. No one wants to be exploited (no matter what misogynists, slavery apologists, or global corporations may tell you). Most players will make adjustments against you if you’re too obvious about the manner in which you’re exploiting them.

Some poker authorities will have you believe that folding to too many preflop re-raises is a massively exploitable leak. They go so far as to suggest that you should exploit this tendency in others by 3-betting with any two cards against an opponent who folds to 3-bets more than 67% of the time. Here’s an example to illustrate their point:

By ignoring certain considerations, the math is simple. There is $45 in the pot (LJ’s $30 plus $5 and $10 blinds). By re-raising to $90, you’re laying the pot 2-to-1 odds. If you win uncontested 67% of the time or more, you’ll make a small profit.

.67 x $45 – .33 x $90 = $.45

There’s a handy statistic that you can put in your Heads Up Display called Folds To 3-bet (FT3B). This number reflects your opponent’s behavior against all 3-bets. There’s no doubt that this stat can be useful and give you a general idea of how an open raiser will respond to getting re-raised. Here’s the trouble: it doesn’t tell you how the raiser responds when you re-raise.

You make adjustments against different opponents. Most of your opponents make adjustments against you. So while FT3B gives you a general idea of your opponent’s tendencies, you still need to keep your eyes open and make more specific reads as you play.

There are some additional problems that you will encounter if you start 3-betting too much (even against these “nits”).

Unless you’re the big blind, there are more players left to act. They can pick up a big hand or even 4-bet bluff if they see you getting out of line too often.

Further, there are three more streets to play. Let’s assume that your preflop 3-bet was immediately profitable in a vacuum (i.e. your opponent will fold often enough to overcome the chances of a third player 4-betting). Theoretically, you could just give up unless you flop a monster. But once you start checking back every missed flop, your opponent will become even more likely to adjust to your aggressive 3-betting.

Your alternative to giving up is to judiciously fire continuation bets, second barrel bluffs, and thin value bets. If you’re a master at these things, that’s great. We hope you get to that point where you know how to play J7 or 95 after re-raising and seeing a flop of Q92. But if you’re not there yet, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble by 3-betting too much.

You want to set up profitable decisions that you’re prepared for. So if you prepare for flopping middle pair in a re-raised pot, then you can get away with a little more light 3-betting. If not, be careful with it.

Please note that we’re not suggesting that you never re- raise a weak hand against someone who folds a lot. The keys here are to use your judgment and not to overdo it. Small preflop edges evaporate quickly when you get burned by large postflop errors.

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