The 3-bet Semi-bluff

To my knowledge nobody was referring to “3-bet semi-bluffs” a few years ago till I couldn’t find a better term for this play between a value 3-bet and a bluff 3- bet. A 3-bet semi-bluff is when you are okay with your opponent flatting you, but not 4-betting you. You would prefer a fold, hence the bluff. However, you have something that can be played postflop if you are called. Hence, it’s not a total bluff.

Sometimes, the hand you are 3-betting is actually a value hand. Say you have A-Qo and the early position player raises. You know he opens at least 20% of his hands, which traditionally included all weaker aces. You see he doesn’t have much of a fold to 3-bet percentage, or a high 4-bet percentage. Therefore, logically, he is flatting most of the time. This is great, because he’s likely calling with many of his weaker aces, while he’s only 4-betting A-K+, J-J+. Playing against this person you’re technically semi-bluffing, because if he 4-bets you then you should fold.

Many people reading this right now are probably aghast. “How could you turn your hand into a bluff like that?” But you are not turning your hand into a bluff. All of the weaker aces are calling you. Only better hands are 4-betting. In fact, you’re playing your hand perfectly; you’re receiving more money when you have the best hand, and not allowing yourself to become exploited postflop if you don’t. You’re cutting your losses early.

This is a good indicator of why we should teach ourselves when it comes to No Limit Hold ‘Em. The play described above, while logically sound, was considered heresy in the community for many years, for the gross simplification and erroneous description of having “turned a hand into a bluff.” We may ask these people what they contend is a superior play? Should we flat, and allow additional flatters to come in with a great price? Then our hand is very likely to lose, because in multiway pots pairs seldom hold up, and our hand isn’t drawing to much else.

When we 3-bet semi-bluff there’s a litany of factors that can help our case. First, let’s look at the statistical assistance we may receive. We discussed some factors previously in our analysis that can assist. Can you remember what they were?

We want a low 4-bet primarily. A low 4-bet is 8–12%, which means the person generally 4-bets for value. They will seldom have a bluff in their 4-betting range. A 4-bet of 20% or higher means the person has a healthy bluffing frequency. Unless you can use NoteCaddy to verify that some of these 4-bets were value hands you should probably not 3-bet semi-bluff this person.

You also want to see the person is not folding too much to 3-bets. While this may sound odd, I am assuming you have a hand that can be played postflop. We are discussing designing plays that rely on preflop folds and flop folds. If we see the person’s fold to 3-bet is very high then we don’t need a hand that is good on the flop. Therefore, that player is more suited for a pure 3-bet bluff. If we are going to re-raise them with a hand that has flopping potential we should make sure our bet is smaller, or we should have the player so thoroughly ticked off that they’re bound to flat at a higher frequency.

A low fold to 3-bet percentage which is good for 3-bet semi-bluffing is around 0–54%. Higher than that and you’re running into 3-bet bluffing territory. Now when the person doesn’t 4-bet or fold to 3-bets they are naturally flatting. You can add that statistic as well, but if you use just these two stats you will not need it.

So, now you’re going to be on this flop with someone, preferably in position. This is a great spot to be in, because hardly anyone leads into pots when they flatted a 3-bet preflop out of position. Most likely the action is going to be on you, and you can choose whether to bet or not. Since we’re bluffing we need to bet.

What statistic becomes very important now? If you said fold to continuation bet you are right. We want to see that 55% or higher. This indicates the player is generally honest when facing a bet on the flop. We can also look at how they play specifically out of position or in 3-bet pots for further information, although a surface fold-to-continuation-bet statistic works fine. Just remember that number is likely to go down in position and up out of position.

If the player does not fold the flop that is fine, but make sure they fold on the turn and you have the chips to get there. You should be visualizing before you 3- bet: how is the entire hand going to play out? What stack will you have at each point? How much will you bet? What statistic will you be taking advantage of at that point? Be sure to put all the relevant statistics we discussed in this section together on your HUD so you can have a quick look whenever you have a potential semi-bluffing hand.

What is a semi-bluffing hand? Typically, the hands you 3-bet semi-bluff are hands just below your flatting range. Would you have flatted A-Qo here? Then A-Jo and below becomes your 3-bet semi-bluffing range; 10-9 suited you’d flat? 10-8 suited you’ll 3-bet. The further you get from your flatting range, the more the statistics should be in your favor.

That bears repeating. Many people I teach this lesson to begin 3-betting left and right once they’ve learned they can do so. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The idea is to sneak the play in there once in a while when the timing is just right, not to have the whole world thinking you’re out for blood.

Position also plays a critical role in your decision to 3-bet semi-bluff or not. Every player behind you after your 3-bet chips hit the felt presents a new liability. It makes sense to have as few potential cold 4-bet spots as possible. For this reason, I rarely 3-bet semi-bluff before the hijack.

Traditionally I tell people to carefully consider 3-bet semi-bluffing their broadway combinations, because they do poorly in multiway pots, but there is one particular situation where you will not be in a multiway pot that often. That occurs when everyone is fairly short. Perhaps the person raised from a shorter stack and the players behind you need to move all-in or fold. Here you can flat.

If someone behind shoves and the initial raiser folds then you will have enough equity to call the shorter all-in, typically. If those players behind fold the initial raiser is bound to wonder why you were so eager to flat in a spot where you’d get jammed on regularly. If you thought he was raising light then he is likely to shut it down now. Since these pots traditionally play out heads-up you can flat with the broadways.

Our 3-bet sizing is just as important as our preflop sizing. Again, 2.5x is the key. In my simulations very small 3-bets can be flatted profitably. The strategy can be as simple as “see a set, jam; if not, fold,” and the player can still turn a profit. Examine the CardRunners EV calculation shown in Figure 37 for instance.

As you can see in the text under the first node, the hero is turning a profit. He is opening for 24,000, flatting a 3-bet to 56,789, and doing nothing postflop but check/jamming a set or open-ended straight draw. He gives up otherwise.

The problem for the villain here is that he is 3-betting too many hands. Many players believe they can sustain a 13% 3-betting range. They think that they are exploiting people who open too much. However, we can see if our opponent out of position flats with a hand that rarely hits and he plays the most basic strategy he is turning a profit. Certainly, the 3-bettor is doing okay too, but if he made his 3-bet larger and still got a call he’d be collecting more most of the times his opponent misses. If he also clipped some of the lesser performing parts of his range he’d make more money. He could examine what those hands are in this particular instance by hovering over his range in CardRunners EV and looking at each particular hand.

If a 3-bettor cares to deter the preflop raiser’s profits they can make a large 3-bet that they can ensure will get called. This gives them a very wide berth in today’s game, as many players act as if their firstborn child will be taken from them if they fold to a 3-bet. Generally, a 3-bet of 2.5x, 2.6x or larger will stunt the flatting player’s profits, especially if they play a basic strategy postflop. They simply give away much more with all the times they raise, flat, and fold on the flop. However, the 3-bettor must be careful not to raise in such a way as to make the opponent feel as if they must 4-bet or fold… unless, of course, the 3-bettor is bluffing and does not believe the opener has a 4-bet in them.

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