Three-Bet Poker: The 3-Bet Poker Guide
What is a 3 Bet?
If you’re new to learning how to play poker, you may not be familiar with the poker term three-bet. A three-bet (or 3-bet) typically refers to the first re-raise before the flop. Here’s how it works: if a player raises before the flop, you will need to call, fold, or re-raise. If you re-raise, this is the definition of the 3-bet, making you the third bettor in the round. A subsequent raise would be considered a 4-bet, and so on. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Let’s dive a little bit deeper.
The Benefits of 3 Betting
3-betting offers a variety of advantages and should be a key part of your poker arsenal. Making a three-bet puts you in control of the hand, puts pressure on your opponents, and reduces the number of players in the pot. If you are 3-betting with the proper ranges, it will also make your plays much harder to read. As you place your re-raise bets, you can identify those weaker players and take advantage accordingly. Overall, 3-betting is part of any poker pros game and should be integrated into your own if you want to give yourself the best chance of winning.
3-Betting Based on Position
When you’re 3-betting, table position dictates everything if you’re in a round where hand strength is not a driving factor. If you’re the last to bet, you have the opportunity to apply pressure to the out-of-position player, regardless of your hand. A 3x re-raise of the original bet should be enough to get your opponent to reconsider calling but not enough to impact your stack if the move proves unsuccessful.
When out of position, you should re-raise more to wrest away some of the control from a player in late position. The bet size should be at least 4x the original raise amount. The idea is to scare the player off from making the call, as you will often be left guessing post-flop.
It’s crucial to balance your 3-betting ranges to get the most out of a particular situation. If you 3-bet a tight range, such as only face pairs or A-K, your opponents will suss out your hands pretty quickly as you are not betting with a balanced range. 3-betting with a light hand will help switch things up and keep your opponents guessing– you could be sitting with Aces or a modest 3-4, and they could be calling on your good hands and folding on your bad ones. If you find yourself 3-betting light (i.e., when you make a 3-bet with a less than premium hand), you should make sure your re-raises are more balanced. There’s no perfect light hand to 3-bet with, but suited connectors are a great light bet strategy because you have a better chance of hitting a good hand on the flop. These hands include combos like A-9 or K-8.
Three Betting Range Construction
There are two types of 3betting ranges a player can construct preflop – polarized and linear. These two ranges are opposites of each other and should be used based on the profile of your opponents at the table. Let’s have a look at the differences:
A polarized range is a range where you 3bet your best hands and your worst hands – your best hands for value and worst hands as a bluff. You use this kind of range when you expect your opponent to mostly fold to your 3bet, such as when your opponent is weak-tight or if they’re going to be out of position postflop. This is because you don’t want to 3bet a hand like AQ if they’re going to be folding AJs to your 3bet; instead, you want to call with those medium/pretty-strong hands in order to keep the weaker hands in your opponent’s range.
The other kind of preflop 3betting range you can use is a linear range. This range doesn’t have “bluffs,” but instead 3bets a wide range for value. We use this kind of range when we think our opponent won’t fold very often to 3bets, such as when they’re a loose player or when they’re going to be in position postflop. In these situations, we are 3betting hands like AQ because we think they’re going to be calling with hands like AJ and ATs, which means that it’s better for us to try and get as much money into the pot while we likely have the best hand.
What are good hands to three-bet light with?
When picking hands to make a light 3bet, certain characteristics make some better than others.
While being suited only increases a hand’s equity by a couple of percentage points, it increases the number of times you flop a decent amount of equity you can bluff with if you’re called. It’s always better to bluff with equity if you can, so having the possibility of flopping a flush draw to bluff with (or even a flush to value bet with), is valuable. For example, it’s much better to 3bet J9s, 76s, or 54s; than to 3bet J9o, 76o, or 54o.
When 3betting from the earlier positions, we need to limit the number of 3bet bluffs in our range. This means we can’t go crazy 3betting hands like Q9s or T8s from middle position; otherwise, we’d be bluffing way too much! We need to pick hands that flop the most equity when called, and those are connected ones, like 76s, T9s, A2s, etc.
High Card Blockers
When we’re 3betting as a bluff, we want to try and limit the number of strong hands our opponent has in our range. If we can reduce the number of strong hands in their range, our 3bet bluffs work more often, making us more money! This is why it’s better to pick hands with an ace or a king in them, like A5s, A2s, K5s, etc. By having an ace or a king in our hand, we halve the number of aces/kings combos in their range and bring the number of AK hands down from 16 to 12.
3 Betting Strategy Adjustments
You never know what move your opponent will make in poker, so you have to adjust based on their actions. When you 3-bet, you want your opponent to fold, but you still want to have a decent hand to rely on if they don’t. Therefore, you should play with the top of the folding range to three-bet. Your opponent will likely be four-betting with AK and AA-JJ, and they will call with AQ and smaller pocket pairs. Your opponent will need to fold just 66% of the time to make the play profitable, providing you are raising 3x the original bet or more. Of course, this doesn’t even consider the times your opponent calls and you beat him on the flop, or you hit your hand and win. You should consider your opponent’s “fold to three-bet” actions before 3-betting.
When to Make Adjustments to your three-betting strategy
Now, it’s all well and good knowing that you should make adjustments, but how do you know when to make them? Well, you need to be paying attention to how your opponents are playing. Opponent tendencies are the main reason we should adjust our strategy, so look out for these things next time you’re at the table.
How Often They Open
How often your opponents raise is a big factor in how often you should be 3betting them. If they’re the tightest player on the planet and will only play AA preflop, then you probably shouldn’t be 3betting them at all as they’re going to have the best hand unless you also have aces. However, suppose they’re a maniac playing almost every hand. In that case, you’ll want to take advantage of that by 3betting them often and either winning the pot preflop or having an advantage going into the postflop streets.
How Often They Fold
Another factor when deciding to 3bet should be how your opponents react to being 3bet. If they’re the kind of player that doesn’t like to continue against a 3bet because they assume it’s always a strong hand, then you’ll want to start 3bet bluffing more often to win the free money on offer. On the other hand, some people go the other way and never fold to a 3bet as they don’t want to be pushed around. If that’s the case, you should be 3betting a wide but strong range to punish them for that. How often your opponents open and how often they fold should be the two majority factors in deciding whether or not to 3bet.
The Players Left To Act
The final factor you should consider when adjusting your 3betting strategy is the players that are left to act behind you. Depending on the tendencies of those players, there can be a lot of money to be made by exploiting them. The biggest one to look for is an overly aggressive 3bettor. These players 3bet way too often and can be exploited by calling a lot of strong hands against a raise instead of 3betting them yourself. By doing this, you entice the overly aggressive player to 3bet, and you can either back-4bet and pick up a nice pot or lay the trap and call again, knowing that they’ll have a wide range.
Another player type to look out for is the aggressive 4bettor. If you’ve got a player behind you that likes to cold 4bet a lot, you’ll want to limit the amount of 3bet bluffs in your range. By creating a stronger 3betting range, you’re in a better position to punish the aggressive 4bettor by continuing against their raise more often.
However, if the players behind you are all passive and often fold when you 3bet, there’s no need to adjust your strategy.
How to Size Your Three-Bets
Now that we know how we should be constructing our 3betting ranges, the next thing we should look at is the size we should make them. While your 3bets should be a uniform sizing, regardless of whether they’re as a bluff or for value, certain factors should impact the size you choose. Let’s take a look at what those are.
Position Dictates Everything
Your relative position at the table should impact the size of your 3bet. The rule of thumb that you should follow at the table is that you should size smaller when you’re in position and larger when you’re out of position. We advise using a 3x size when in position and a 4x or larger size when out of position. For example, if your opponent raises to 3bb, we’d recommend a 9bb 3bet when in position and a 12bb or higher when out of position.
The reasoning behind this is that we want to discourage our opponents from calling when we’re out of position, and we do that by making our sizing bigger. It also means that if we do get called, the stack-to-pot ratio is lower, meaning that our positional disadvantage has less of an impact on the hand. Conversely, by using a smaller size in position, we get more calls from our opponents and play with a bigger stack-to-pot ratio, increasing the edge we can apply over our opponents.
We all know that size matters, but the size of your stack should impact the size of your 3bets. While 3betting to 12bb from a 100bb stack is a reasonable play, it’s not so great when you’re on a 25bb stack. When 3betting, you want to 3bet to a size where you can potentially fold if you face a 4bet. If you’re 3betting more than 30-40% of your stack, you will have a tough decision when facing an all-in, and you could end up folding a decent amount of equity. In these situations, it’s better to 3bet to a smaller size or to 3bet all-in. By going all-in, you get to realize 100% of your equity in the hand, and the possibility of making a mistake against an all in is eliminated.
Know Your Enemy
Knowing how your opponents will react to a 3bet will allow you to make exploitative sizings that maximize the money you make by 3betting. If your opponent is very sticky when facing a 3bet, you can exploitatively size up with your value hands and reduce the number of bluff combos in your range. Conversely, if your opponent frequently folds to your 3bets, you can exploitatively use a smaller sizing with your bluffs. By doing this, you’re risking less with each bluff, reducing the amount you lose when you’re called, and increasing the overall profitability of the play.
But what should you do if you’re 3betting against multiple opponents?
Three Betting and The Squeeze Play
A squeeze play in poker is the act of 3betting when there has been a raise and a call in front of you. It’s called a “squeeze” play, as the preflop caller ends up squeezed between the strong ranges of the original preflop raise and the 3bettor. As there are multiple players in the pot, your 3betting ranges should be tighter, as there’s a higher possibility that you’re up against a strong hand.
It doesn’t require a massive adjustment; say you were 3betting 12% of hands against the cutoff, make it 9-10% against a cutoff open and a button call. Ideally, we want to reduce the possibility of the hand going multiway, as that makes the hand a lot more difficult to play. We can do that by adjusting our sizing compared to a normal 3bet. A good rule of thumb when making a squeeze play is to size your 3bet as you would for one player, then add 1x the raise size for each additional player in the hand.
3 Betting Examples
Example of 3-betting with a light hand:
If you’re 3-betting pre-flop and get called, you need to use your initiative to stay ahead. You have the perceived strong hand, but what happens if you miss the flop completely? For example, you 3-bet pre-flop with T♠ 8♣ in late position, and your opponent calls. The flop comes J♦ 3♥ 5♠. Your opponent checks. Now is your chance to raise. If you 3-bet pre-flop, you should not check back, as it shows your hand is not that strong. The standard is to play and continue re-raising, hoping that your opponent folds.
Example of 3-betting in position:
It’s all about the position when you 3-bet! You 3-bet on the button with A♥ Q♥ and get one caller. The flop comes J♥ T♠3♦. If your opponent checks, use your better table position to your advantage and raise.
Example of 3-betting out of position:
You are out of position at the table, but you have Q♥ Q♣ in the big blind. Action folds to the button, who raises, so you should raise 4x and discourage further bets. The idea is to minimize your time playing out of position, so the bigger re-raise charges your opponent a premium to see your cards.
When you are making a 3-bet you want to signal to your opponents that you have a good hand, so your bet should be fairly significant. We recommend it being anywhere from 2.5 to 4 times the original bet size.
It all depends on your range, and what poker ranges you have assigned your opponent. If your opponent has a wide range that you think you could capitalize on, then call their bet.
A 3-bet is what is known as a re-raise that happens prior to the flop. There is the initial bet, a raise, and then a 3-bet or re-raise.
The reason it is called a 3-bet and not a 2-bet is that the initial blinds are considered a bet. So the first bet is the blind, the second bet is a raise, and then the re-raise is the 3-bet.