One of the topics in poker that can be opponent specific, is 3 and 4-betting. Once being a very uncommon practice in the world of poker, players who were keen on the tendencies of their adversaries were able to manipulate their pre-flop raising strategy to exploit them. First making its presence in the high-stakes world, and now being used heavily in the mid-stakes and small-stakes games, even players who are beginning in the micros will need to have a general understanding of 3-betting principles in order to be successful at that level. We’re going to cover most of the intricacies of 3 and 4-betting, including the appropriate hand ranges, positional awareness, opponent statistic evidence (HUD), and light 3-betting along with typical “value” 3-betting ranges. We have a lot of information to cover, so let’s get to it.
(If you’re not a complete novice to 3-betting principles, feel free to skip this part. It will be a very basic run-down of what 3-betting is, along with concepts of how it’s used, and the forums in which you can expect to see it.)
So what does it mean to be 3-bet? In No-Limit Hold’em, the small blind is considered the initial bet, with the big blind being denoted as the initial raise. (Since the big blind is technically raising the small blind.) Any raise that emerges consequentially, is considered the 2-bet, or more commonly referred to as the pre-flop raise (PFR). It’s in those seldom instances that the pre-flop raiser is then re-raised, which we call a 3-bet.
As stated earlier, 3-betting has been a prevalent practice over the past few years, a concept which online players are often pegged with perfecting. Although 3-betting had been used in a variety of high-stakes live games, its sporadic appearance rendered it as a very powerful tactic, which almost exclusively signaled the most powerful holdings and was very easy to counter. (Players easily just folded.)
However, in the most recent decade, players have taken full advantage of the power of 3-betting, in an attempt to both scare the weakest opponents, and also deceive the most observant. 3-betting has taken on a new context; it no longer only conveys the strongest pocket pairs or high face cards, but instead can contain weak to modest holdings that can flop disguised monsters, capable of winning an entire stack from even the most canny of opponents.
Virtual poker has traditionally been the tougher platform in comparison to live play, and this is mostly due to live beginners often being confined to small-stakes, or $1/2 blind play, while even seasoned players can start at the micro-stakes online if they wish. (Which they often do). Due to the increased competitiveness, online players likely began to recognize the importance of 3-betting to increase profitability. By increasing their 3-betting frequency, regardless of their actual holding, the weakest players would never adapt, and easy money could be accumulated from the extra folds.
As time has gone on, players have become very keen on 3-betting frequencies and have learned to adjust to specific opponents. Gone are the days of 3-betting your opponent with any two cards, and showing an immediate profit. (Ok, maybe not completely gone, but close.) 3 and 4-betting now require well thought-out strategies to gain additional monetary benefit.
(Before going into the details of 3-betting ranges, it’s important to know the ranges for 3-betting are very different dependent on the variety of game being played, the number of opponents involved, your position, and villain tendencies. You need to view these 3-betting strategies as a guideline — rather than a set of rigid standards — of which you can manipulate to extract maximum value. I want you to think, rather than recall.)
Typically, the first question that always arises is: “So, what hands should I be 3-betting with?” Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer. 3-betting ranges can be casually broken down into two parts:
3-betting for value
So, you have a good hand. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say AA. You’ve observed a raise in front of you. Obviously, no matter what position you’re in at the table, this will be a decent 3-betting opportunity. (I say decent, because whether a call may be better EV, is another topic in itself.) And because of the dominance of your pair, it will be a 3-bet for value.
3-betting for value is characterized by hands that usually trump an opponent’s hand strength in terms of overall equity. High pocket pairs almost always fit this bill (JJ-AA), along with strong suited and unsuited face cards (KQ, AJ or AK). However, players can often increase the size of their value 3-betting range by gathering crucial information from their opponent’s pre-flop raising range. Let’s dissect this hypothesis.
You’re playing a full table of $1/2 six-max online. You’re a typical tight-aggressive player; you raise your good hands, fold your weakest ones, and mix in a reasonable amount of deception. You’ve picked up the on the button. A nit, playing 12/10, raises from UTG to $6. Fold, fold, and the action is on you. Can you three-bet for value here?
It’s difficult to answer this question right away. Surprisingly, a lot of otherwise good players would respond with “no,” but even then we may be jumping to a pre-determined conclusion. Let’s examine a few things.
Look at your opponent’s “fold to 3-bet number.” If it’s unusually high (around the 75 to 80 percentile), you can literally three-bet your opponent with almost any two cards and show an instant profit. Even if you give up in each of the times your opponent decides to call, or 4-bet you, you’ll still win money overall by inducing a ton of folds. But this is a rare situation. Let’s consider other information.
His pre-flop raise statistic is very low for our given stake. In the micro stakes, a nitty style that incorporates raising only premium hands may be ideal, because weaker opponents won’t observe what you’re doing. There are enough of these droolers to avoid the stronger players, and still show a decent profit. But as you graduate to small stakes and mid-stakes play, players will closely observe your style, and abuse you. That’s right, ABUSE YOU. To counter that, we’ll need to use ALL of the information available to us.
In this case, our villain has a PFR of 10, and we could estimate that he might raise 6 percent of his hands from under the gun. A 6 percent range would typically consist of these hands:
Measuring our hot/cold equity with versus his UTG raising range (meaning the times we win given that the hand goes to showdown), we’re severely behind. Against his entire scope of hands, we’re nearly a 2-to-1 underdog (37% to win), which means that we should fold this hand due to the narrow range of our opponent.
3-betting in this particular instance wouldn’t have been profitable, even though we had a credible hand that usually warrants re-raising, especially in position. But by understanding that we can’t 3-bet our opponent because he normally holds cards that dominate us, in our best case scenario, we’re flipping a coin to decide an inflated pot. We’ll pick another spot for value 3-betting.
(Hopefully I didn’t disappoint you by giving you a situation where you couldn’t 3-bet for value right away. But I want you to understand both sides of the coin. I’ll make it up to you in a minute.)
With poker tracking software (such as Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker), players can easily become accustomed to this information in their Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) and make the correct decisions with a bit of mathematical deduction. Nevertheless, live players can find this information useful by doing their calculations away from the table, and finding concrete statistical data points by observing exactly what hands the opponents at your table have raised from various positions. As the game grows longer and your villains become more familiar, having solid notes and memories that you can fall back on will greatly improve your decision making over the long run.
Using the above example as a reference, when we value 3-bet we want to be raising a range that has good hot/cold equity in comparison to our villain’s entire range. My rule of thumb is to value 3-bet a range that averages at least 55% against my opponent. You may select a percentile that’s more comfortable for you, but I wouldn’t get too narrow or too loose. Remember, we want to WIN the hand on average if we get to showdown.
I’ve found through multiple calculations, that when we’re assembling our value 3-betting range, we’ll end up with a number of combinations that’s about one-quarter of the original pre-flop raiser’s range. In our previous case, if he’s raising 6 percent (~80 hand combos), we could safely value 3-bet 20 hand combinations that have at least 55 percent hot/cold equity, and show a good profit. Raising strictly AA-QQ, and AKs, we have 22 hand combinations where we don’t particularly mind if we get all-in pre-flop.
Remember: The more accurate our assessment of our opponent range is, the better we can construct our 3-betting ranges to exploit his behavior. If he instead raises 10 percent from UTG, rather than 6 percent, we’ve made a substantial error in our assessment, reducing our expectation.
You can practice your value 3-betting ranges by inserting different player styles, from loose-aggressive opponents, to tight-aggressive players, to nits. There’s a way to exploit everyone to a degree, and although it seems contradictory, sometimes the best way to exploit a player is to re-raise really wide or simply fold. There are different recipes for success, and you’ll need to explore several avenues if you want to maximize your earnings.
An online site, such as Evplusplus.com, is a great starting point for making equity calculations and determining pinpoint 3-betting ranges.
This is a unique range of 3-betting hands, and typically it includes holdings that have some merit but not enough to expect a positive outcome if the hand strictly went to showdown. Different than a calling range (which I’ll talk about briefly towards the end of this article), light 3-betting ranges contain hands that can flop disguised monsters; such as suited aces, small to medium pocket pairs, and suited connectors. These hands need a little help post-flop, but will leave you with easier decisions because they’ll either hit strongly or you’ll go away. (I’m not advocating fit-or-fold poker, but you’ll need to adjust your passivity.)
Three-betting light has a few criteria that we’ll need to note. These criteria are much more extensive than our value 3-betting criteria, since we’ll need to rely on our opponent’s tendencies and our perceived play to arrive at the best decisions. Let’s include the following when we’re deciding whether to 3-bet light:
- How often does our opponent fold to a 3-bet? (Check HUD.)
- Do we have position on the pre-flop raiser?
- What’s his PFR range?
- What’s our value 3-betting range?
- How many players are left to act and what are their statistics?
How often does our opponent fold to a 3-bet?
The more our opponent folds to a 3-bet, the more we should 3-bet him light. The general range for too high is anything over 70 percent. As stated previously, if he’s folding anything over 80 percent, we’ll probably be 3-betting this individual relentlessly.
But this comes with a bit of a dilemma. We want to 3-bet our opponents light, especially when they’re folding more than normal. However, you’ll want to exercise your aggression cautiously. If you’re playing against other mindful competition, they’ll realize that you’re 3-betting the fish light religiously, and they’ll likely start 4-betting YOU to pick up the free money. So try to gain the maximum profitability, but without making your play transparent.
If the range is considerably lower, in the 50 and 60 percentiles, this opponent is defending his 3-bets at about the right frequency. You can still 3-bet this opponent light, but maintain control if you see a flop. Good regulars are capable of defending against 3-bets.
Players who rarely fold to 3-bets — 40 percent and lower, are basically trying to see the flop at almost any cost. Three-betting light won’t be a major weapon of ours, so we’ll be 3-betting for value instead, looking to stack the “calling station” when we have a very strong holding.
Do we have position on the pre-flop raiser?
When you’re raised and you’re in the cutoff or button, you’ll likely be in position against your opponents post-flop if you decide to play. Since they’ve raised, and you’ve now three-bet them, they should be slightly more hesitant to play a big pot post-flop against you because you’ve represented strength. Because of this, 3-betting becomes a more powerful tool as you move closer to the button.
Let’s not forget, however, that they’ll be times when we’re in a hand in the small or big blind, and the cutoff or button will be the initial raiser. This scenario is special, because typically your opponents will be raising with a wide array of hands from these spots, trying to win the blinds. In turn, we want to 3-bet light to induce folds, but if we’re called, we’ll have to play the rest of the pot out of position, usually against a competent player.
Let’s examine this situation.
$1/2 NLHE six-max. Stack sizes $200. You’re dealt in the big blind. A loose-aggressive 32/24 regular on the button raises to $6. Do you 3-bet him?
Generally, you should. If you’re opponent has these types of numbers, you could likely deduce that he’s raising somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of his hands from the button. Loose players thrive on pre-flop aggression, and stealing blinds becomes one of their most profitable endeavors. Don’t let him pick on you!
How often you 3-bet light will depend on your opponent’s “Attempt to Steal (AS)” and PFR statistics, and if he’s stealing a ton, you could light 3-bet a range that’s equal or slightly larger than your value 3-betting range. Against tighter villains (PFR between 15-20), I would err a bit more cautiously and light 3-bet about half as many hands as I value 3-bet.
Using what we learned earlier, this would probably be our hand range for light 3-betting this villain:
Not all of these hands, of course, will be ahead of our opponents range. But, since he’s raising from this position so wide, we’ll use the fold equity from our light 3-betting range as a primary defense against a player who steals our blinds a lot in position.
(Note: There are other ways to defend from the blinds too. However, they’re usually more expensive. You might call pre-flop, then check-raise the flop. Or call, float, then lead the turn. You can mix it up, and you’ll need to with calling ranges that always see the flop, but don’t always make a hand.)
How many players are left to act and what are their statistics?
If you have multiple players left to act behind you, you’ll want to three-bet light less. The danger of players having a good hand, and the possibility of playing the rest of the pot out of position can be far too great to warrant frequent light 3-betting. If you have smart opponents to your left, you’ll want to use light 3-betting with trepidation. Keeping track of a 4-bet statistic in your HUD, will be helpful in your assessment of their potential aggression.
Calling Ranges and 4-Betting
I don’t want to get into detail about calling ranges, most importantly because this is a strategy article based on 3 and 4-betting. Nonetheless, this is a topic that deserves a little conversation. Realizing that there’s naturally a gap between your value 3-betting hands and your light 3-betting hands, this missing component should’ve been a concern that popped into your mind after reading through these dialogues.
When we look at the most useful and convergent online player statistics — VPIP and PFR — there’s typically a break in between these two numbers. 24/20, 34/24, and 10/8 have 4, 10, and 2 percent gaps respectively, indicating that there’s times in which players will perform an action other than raising pre-flop (such as limping or cold-calling). This discrepancy in number generally accounts for a player’s calling range.
If you take the player stats of 24/20, we know that since the figures are so close together, that this player enter pots aggressively by raising or 3-betting, rarely limping or calling. This 4% difference vaguely accounts for the hands that he’s willing to call a bet with.
A 4% calling range (52 hand combinations) might look something like this:
With a calling range, you’ll need to recognize that you’re regularly not going to hit the flop, and even when you do, more often than not you won’t be paid off. Because of this, you’ll need to be prepared to bluff more often in tough games where there are increased levels of aggression, to make a call better than actually folding.
I admit, it’s difficult to get the frequency correct, but typically you’ll want to bluff against players who continuation-bet a ton, because obviously if they’re playing loosely, they can’t hit EVERY flop they’ve raised. So don’t bluff every time you miss, but in order to be paid on your sets, two pairs, and possible flushes, you’ll need to bluff sometimes to allow your villains to make mistakes when you have the nuts.
In essence, once 3-betting became common practice, 4-betting took things a step further. If you’re being 3-bet regularly, it makes sense to toss in a 4-bet to protect your hand. You can still do this both for value and lightly, but light 4-betting is more thought-provoking and fun for an example. So I’ll lay down some groundwork there.
$1/2 NLHE. You’re a loose-aggressive regular who plays about 30/24, and you’ve dominated the table, flopping hidden gems that have been paid off generously. You’re sitting with $500. You’ve been particularly aggressive against the blinds, and you’re “Attempt to Steal (AS)” is around 40. In this hand, you’ve raised the button to $6 with , and you expect to win the blinds yet again. The small blind did fold, but the big blind, who seems smart and capable of recognizing your patterns, has now 3-bet you to $22. He started the hand with $200, and he plays 24/18 with a 10% 3-bet statistic. What do you do?
Eh, there’s rationale behind folding. Although, you should recognize this is a great spot for 4-bet bluffing! If the small blind is a thinking player, he’ll realize that he can (and should) 3-bet you light for a profit. He’ll begin to do this frequently, after he’s picked up that you’ve raised really wide in position.
By 4-betting to a figure such as $65, the big blind will truly only have two options: Push or fold. If he indeed has a light 3-betting hand, there’s too much money involved in the pot for him to just call and hope to hit the flop. He’ll either need to go away pre-flop like a sissy, or push EXTREMELY lightly. The latter is rare, but trust me, it’s been done by really crafty players.
On the flip side, if he shoves over you’re 4-bet, you started the hand with $500, and have plenty of equity to let this one go. He normally has a strong value 3-betting hand when he does this, and you can make the proper decision to fold. When you’re this deep monetarily, you can afford to make a few moves occasionally, if it means positive EV for yourself.
I tried to give you a bit of everything. Hopefully I didn’t ramble on too much here. As always, good luck, and I hope to see you at the tables.