Most NLHE players have a pretty good idea of how and when to 3-bet their opponents preflop. If you can believe it, there was a time where most players would 3-bet only if they had Aces or Kings, and rarely any other times.
As the game evolved players quickly realized that employing 3-bets preflop more liberally can help you to build bigger pots with value as well as take control of pots, giving yourself more ways to win.
Now that 3-betting a wider range is the norm, we need a comprehensive counter strategy to avoid bleeding chips open after open. The best way to counter 3-bet monkeys is to widen your continue range, adding in both more calls and more 4-bets.
4-betting a wider range opens up the possibility of 5-bets, so we’ll touch on both in this article. Lets walk before we run and start with 4-bets.
Why would you want to 4-bet preflop?
There are really only two reasons you would want to 4-bet your opponents preflop, though each can become rather complex when you break it down to its specifics. Nailing down these specifics is crucial in 4 bet and 5 bet pots, where the inflated pot sizes have a massive effect on your bottom line.
- You want to 4-bet for value.
This is the more straightforward of the 2 reasons. If you have a premium hand and think your opponent will put more chips in the pot with worse holdings, you are going want to be 4-betting them preflop.
A lot of opponents will be very tight with their 3-bet ranges preflop, only reraising premium hands. It is not the time to slow play if you find yourself facing one of their 3-bets while holding Aces. You are most likely going to want to 4-bet to get value from lesser premium hands.
Determining an optimal 4-bet value range requires taking into account a lot of factors, and hard set rules are tough to come by. In loose positional battles, such as Blind vs Blind or Button vs Small Blind, it can be correct to 4-bet for value as wide as AQ and 99 (and sometimes even wider).
Against earlier positions or tighter players your value 4-bet range will usually look like QQ+, AK and sometimes JJ. In live games you’re going to run into situations that call for an even tighter range, sometimes 4-betting only KK+. These should not be taken as hard fast rules, but just as general thought guidelines to start your journey into defining your ranges to 4-bet here.
You need to think intuitively about the situation to start defining these ranges. Ask yourself these questions when considering a value 4-bet:
- What is my opponent likely to be 3-betting?
- Will I get more value by 4-betting or calling to trap?
- Is it plausible that my opponent will continue with a worse hand?
- You want to 4-bet as a bluff.
4-betting as a bluff is a bit more complex, but in tougher games will become an integral part of your survival. If you are facing a 3-bet from a very tight opponent you should probably not plan on 4-bet bluffing much at all. It might be something cool you can tell your friends about later if they fold, but most of the time you’ll just be putting in money well behind with little-to-no fold equity.
4-bet bluffing is really a counter-strategy to be employed in tougher games in which opponents are 3-betting light, either as bluffs or for thin value.
The biggest challenge to an aggressive 3-betting strategy is the 4-bet. If you never 4-bet light when facing a 3-bet preflop, it will be very profitable for your opponent to continually 3-bet you preflop. After all, one of three things can happen if you only 4-bet super premium hands:
- You fold and they win the pot.
- You call and take a flop out of position in a bloated pot. Your opponent will over-realize their equity and you will under-realize yours.
- You 4-bet a predictably narrow range allowing your opponent to make tight folds.
None of those options are particularly appealing for us. By not having a comprehensive 4-bet range our opponent can almost 3-bet with impunity.
Example: The Hijack opens to 3 BBs with the top 20% of hands, which looks like this:
It folds to the player in the Cutoff who puts in a 3-bet to 9 BB with
The blinds fold and it’s back on the HiJack. Let’s look at those 3 possible scenarios again:
- HiJack folds the weakest 50%-60% of their range and the Cutoff wins the 4.5 BBs in the pot.
- HiJack calls with the middling 30%-40% of their range. The pot is 19 BBs and the Cutoff has 35% equity (and will realize much more than that) with 76s in position.
- HiJack 4-bets the remaining ~10% of their range. Cutoff would consider calling this 4-bet in position against a looser player, but has an easy fold with any non-premium against the nit in the HiJack.
This is clearly not an appealing situation for the player in the HiJack as he’s going to have a lot of trouble winning pots unless they smash the flop or cooler their opponent. Luckily all the HiJack has to do to prevent this ownage is 4-bet a higher frequency.
4-betting light can help to protect your opens as opponents will be less incentivized to 3-bet you light. Aggressive 3-bettors will simply not have enough hands to continue with against a 4-bet, forcing them to fold away their equity preflop or make loose-bad calls.
What hands should I 4-bet bluff with?
One of the biggest mistakes people will make when they start 4-bet bluffing is arbitrarily doing it with random cards without much of a thought process behind it. This is just asking for trouble.
You want to 4-bet bluff with hands that are just barely not strong enough to call the 3-bet.
The best hands to use as 4-bet bluffs are suited Aces, particularly suited wheel Ax (A2, A3, A4, A5). These hands are great choices for a few reasons:
- Card removal. When we hold an Ace in our hand it becomes less likely that our opponent holds Aces or Ace-King.
- Good equity against a calling range. Suited Ax will almost always have at least 35% equity against a 4-bet calling range.
- Solid playability. Suited wheel Ax hands have the ability to flop straight draws, pairs and of course the nut flush draw. This makes it fairly easy to continue on a multitude of boards.
Consider the above reasons when looking for other hands to use as 4-bet bluffs, and remember it isn’t always mandatory you check off all three. Some other reasonable hands to use as 4-bet bluffs include:
- Suited connectors with good playability like
- Offsuit broadway hands like that block multiple premium holdings.
I would lean towards calling or folding AJo in the above HiJack vs Cutoff scenario, but it is a reasonable 4-bet bluff hand from slightly earlier positions. Here’s a more in-depth chart, taken straight from the Upswing Lab, covering that HiJack vs Cutoff example from above:
4-bet bluffing is opponent and situation dependent. Stick to mostly suited hands, particularly suited Ax, and be very careful to not go overboard.
Why would I want to 5-bet?
5-bets are usually shoves, and are mainly restricted to value hands that you want to get all-in preflop.
In some very difficult, high level games will you run into players that 4-bet enough to merit 5-bet bluffs. Against these players a 5-bet bluff will help to protect the rest your 3-bets.
A specific hand comes to mind in from a $100/$200 6-max game online a couple years ago featuring high stakes juggernaut Isaac Haxton.
The Button opened and Ike 3-bet from the Small Blind with
The Button 4-bet (100 BBs effective) and Ike decided to jam with his A5s. If you think that sounds crazy, let’s take a look his equity vs the range of hands that will be calling his shove:
Not too shabby. If the Button folds enough to the jam this can be a profitable move, and A5s is a good candidate not only because of it’s decent equity, but it’s card removal as well.
Stuff like this will typically only occur in high level games. As per probably 99% of the games you will find yourself in, just stick to 5-betting all-in with the premium hands you’re willing to stack off with preflop.
(Note: If you’re serious about improving your poker game, check out the Upswing Lab from Doug Polk and Ryan Fee! Get access to Doug and Ryan’s personal 4-bet ranges for every position along with training modules and live play videos.)