3-bet pots tips

What is a 3-Bet? Why (And How) You Need to 3-Bet More Often

Great poker players are aggressive. Aggression leads to a lot of big pots.

You can’t be afraid of big pots if you want to be a great poker player.

In fact, you have to be willing to create big pots by 3-betting; odds are, you don’t 3-bet often enough.

Note: Prefer listening or watching to reading? Check out this episode of Upswing Poker Level-Up which is all about 3-betting strategy.

What is a 3-bet in poker?

The term 3-bet most commonly refers to the first re-raise before the flop, although the term also refers to the first re-raise after the flop. (This article focuses exclusively on preflop 3-betting.) Subsequent raises are referred to as a 4-bet, 5-bet, etc. 

For example, suppose another player raises preflop, leaving you with the option to call, fold, or re-raise. If you choose to re-raise, that action is known as a 3-bet, and you are the 3-bettor in the hand. 

You can set yourself up for success in crucial 3-bet pots by using a well-thought-out and aggressive preflop 3-betting strategy.

I’ll show you how to construct an effective 3-betting range in this article. But first, I will list the reasons why you should ramp up your 3-betting frequency.

Why you need to 3-bet more often

  • 3-betting makes your opponent’s decisions more difficult

Many players start out 3-betting with only premium hands. We’re talking QQ+, maybe JJ and AK if they’re in an ambitious mood. Such a strategy is far too conservative.

If you only 3-bet JJ or better, you become easy to play against. Your opponents can confidently fold all but their strongest hands against your 3-bets, preventing you from extracting value with your monsters.

Including a number of non-premium hands in your 3-betting range makes you much more difficult to play against.

  • You can isolate weak players by 3-betting

When you 3-bet after a weak player raises preflop, you force players behind to fold that may have played for a single raise. Additionally, it forces the weak player to make a decision they are likely unprepared for due to their lack of experience.

Unless the opener happens to hold a premium hand, they’re going to be up a creek without a paddle.

  • 3-betting reduces the average number of players in the pot

As more players enter the pot, the equity of your range decreases. Take a look at AK’s equity vs one, two and three random poker hands:

Multiway pots poker strategy ace-king

A 3-bet will usually force some players out before the flop, making it more likely that you will win the hand.

  • 3-betting gives you a chance to pick up the pot preflop

Calling an open-raise gives you no chance to pick up the pot preflop, but 3-betting does.

Note: A solid 3-betting strategy is almost useless if you don't know what to do postflop once your 3-bet gets called. Learn effective strategies for 3-bet pots when you get this free guide.

3 bet pot guide

Types of 3-betting ranges

There are two primary ways to construct 3-betting ranges:

  • Merged ranges usually consist of premium hands, strong hands and hands with great playability–no bluffs
  • Polarized ranges usually consist of premium hands and bluffs

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

When should you merge your 3-bet range?

Here are a few situations that warrant a merged 3-betting range:

  • The open-raiser is a strong player that will give you trouble postflop
  • You are in a position/situation that is not favorable for calling ranges–like the small blind
  • The open-raiser or player(s) behind are calling stations

Let’s say a strong player named Doug opens to 2.5BB from middle position and you’re in the cutoff. You want to avoid tough postflop spots with weak hands against Doug, so you decide to use a merged 3-betting strategy like this:

cutoff 3-bet strategy vs strong lojack

Note: You can call some of the strongest grey hands if you think it’s unlikely your weak calling range will be exploited

If you 3-bet with only strong and/or playable hands, you will hit the flop more often and Doug will have a tough time pushing you around.

Raising to around 3 times the open-raise is good when using a merged 3-betting strategy in position. When out of position, use a size around 3.5-to-4 times the open-raise. (These general rules assume 100BB stacks.)

When should you polarize your 3-bet range?

Polarized 3-bet ranges consist of the hands at the top and bottom of our continuing range. Here are a couple very common situations that warrant a polarized 3-betting range:

  • The open-raiser folds more than half of the time to 3-bets
  • You have a large number of hands that play better as calls rather than 3-bets

Imagine you are in the big blind facing a button open-raise to 3BB. You can profitably call with a relatively wide range of middling hands given your great pot odds–calling 2BB to win 4.5BB–like this:

bb 3-bet strategy vs button raise

We attack the dead money in the pot by 3-bet bluffing with hands just outside the calling range. Additionally, these hands help balance out our value 3-bets.

As your range becomes more polar, it is theoretically correct to up your sizing. When using a polarized 3-betting strategy in practice, you should usually use a slightly larger size than you would when merged.

WSOT Summer 2024

What factors call for adjustments?

Always be ready to adjust your 3-betting strategy based on your opponents’ tendencies. Consider:

  • How often your opponent folds

Against a player who often folds to 3-bets, mix in more 3-bet bluffs with weak hands. Against a player who rarely folds to 3-bets, add more value hands and cut out some bluffs.

  • The open-raiser’s postflop aggression tendencies

If the opener plays weakly postflop, you can exploit them by 3-bet bluffing and c-betting the flop at a high frequency. Conversely, you should cut down on 3-bet bluffing against players with fierce postflop skills.

  • The tendencies of the players behind

Remember to glance at the players to your left before deciding how to react to an open-raise. The more likely you are to get squeezed, the narrower your calling range should be.

3-betting examples

Vs a Weak Regular

200NL 6-Max. $200 Effective Stacks.

Hero is in the big blind with 6 4
folds to co. CO raises to $5. 2 folds. Hero…

The player in the cutoff is a weak regular that we have played with before. Our stats on him show that he open-raises at a standard frequency, but folds to 3-bets at a somewhat high frequency–55%.

64 fits neatly into our polarized 3-bet range and, given the likelihood that they will fold, we can comfortably 3-bet to around $20.

It’s not a big deal if the cutoff calls; we’ll still have a good chance to win the pot with a very playable suited connector.

Vs A Loose Opener

200NL 6-Max. $200 Effective Stacks.

Hero is in the cutoff with A♠ Q♠
UTG raises to $6. 2 folds. Hero…

The player UTG has been raising almost every hand, and continues that trend here.

The range charts from The Upswing Lab indicate that we can either 3-bet or call with A♠Q♠ against a UTG open in 6-max. In this case, the clear choice is to 3-bet for value.

Think of the three possible outcomes when we 3-bet:

  1. UTG folds and we win the $9 pot 
  2. UTG calls and we have position against a seemingly weak range
  3. We face a 4-bet from UTG and we can profitably call

None of these are bad situations for us when we have a strong hand like A♠Q♠. We either win the pot or get to play a big one in position against a loose player.

Vs A Late Position Open

500NL 6-Max. $500 Effective Stacks.

Hero is on the button with J♠ 8♠
CO raises to $12.50. Hero…

Our value range is relatively wide here as hands like AJs, JTs and TT are slam dunk value 3-bets from these loose positions.

We need to 3-bet a bunch of bluffs to balance this value range. A suited two-gapper like J♠8♠ is a great candidate because it is too weak to call, but plays well postflop.

Intro to Squeezing

The idea of a squeeze play is meant to take advantage of the great pot odds you are getting when facing a raise and 1 or more calls.

Squeezes aim to accomplish similar goals to standard 3-bets, but larger sizes are required to keep reduce the chances that the pot goes multiway.

In general, if you are squeezing against a raise and one call, you will want to raise to about 4 times the original bet. Against a raiser and two callers you will want to squeeze closer to 5 times. When out of position, add one more bet.

These sizing shortcuts are not carved in stone. You will certainly want to change your sizing based on your opponents tendencies and range. If you have AA against a group of calling stations, for example, you can size even larger.

For more info on squeezing like a pro, check out this article.

That’s all I’ve got for you guys today. Until next time!

Note: A solid 3-betting strategy is almost useless if you don't know what to do postflop once your 3-bet gets called. Learn effective strategies for 3-bet pots when you get this free guide.

3 bet pot guide

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Andy Stricklen

Andy Stricklen

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