You need to be well-versed in 3-bet pots if you want to win in 2020.
3-bets are much more common than they used to be, which is why it’s more important than ever to know how to play well in 3-bet pots.
This article will zoom in on one specific, but relatively common situation: playing Ace-high flops in position after calling a 3-bet.
Note: This analysis is based on a new Upswing Lab lesson in which Fried Meulders (aka mynameiskarl) breaks down how to play in position after calling a 3-bet. He covers many different flop textures and even shares insights on how to exploit common player tendencies.
Note: Learn step-by-step how to become the best player at the table when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Elite pros have been adding new content every week for the past four years, and you get all of it when you join. Learn more now!
Defending Against 3-Bets In Position
The spot: You raise any non-blind position (lojack, hijack, cutoff, or button) and call a 3-bet from either the small blind or the big blind.
The dynamics: The pot is already going to be pretty big on the flop, ranging from 17 to 25 big blinds (bb) depending on the size of the 3-bet. This creates a situation where the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) is low and small bet sizes are considered optimal by the solvers.
Smaller bets are favored because stacks can easily get in by the end of the hand with no raises or overbets involved.
Since the pot is already bloated on the flop, mistakes in these spots will have a great impact on your win-rate, which is why learning how to maneuver in them is essential.
You raise on the button to 2.5 big blinds, the small blind 3-bets to 9 big blinds, you call, and the flop comes A♠ 8♦ 3♠. This will be our example for deep analysis.
The 3-bettor will have a range advantage on ace-high flops. On this specific ace-high flop, the small blind (SB) will have over 55% equity of the pot as you can see in the image below:
Given that the SPR is so low, and the fact that there aren’t any overcards to the board (meaning there is not a strong need to deny equity when holding top pair), the best continuation bet size is small — around a third of the pot — and the frequency is not that high.
Here’s a visualization of the small blind’s range on the flop:
Against a small continuation bet (c-bet), the button should defend quite a lot given that the small blind is risking a small amount of money to win the entire pot plus his bet back (see: Minimum Defense Frequency).
As the button, the hands that you need to call with here to remain unexploitable are:
- All top, middle, and bottom pairs
- Most pocket pairs without a backdoor flush draw
- All pocket pairs with a backdoor flush draw
- All flush draws
- Some double backdoor hands (like 7♦ 6♦).*
*The solver elects to raise with some of these hands as a semi-bluff raises at some frequency, as I will describe below.
When the Button Raises on the Flop
The raising range for the button will be pretty narrow and will consist of hands such as:
- Bottom set
- Top two pair
- Top pair top kicker
- Weak 8x (at a low frequency)
- Backdoor flush draws (at a low frequency)
Here is a visualization of this range:
The small blind will have a pretty tough time defending against this raising strategy, but you’re not going to stop there. Fried proceeds to show that, after raising, the button will continue to barrel very aggressively with small bets (around a third of the pot) on almost all turn runouts:
When the Button Calls on the Flop
If the button just calls the c-bet on the flop, the small blind will need to slow down quite a bit on the turn, especially when the flush draw completes. This happens because he will not have a range advantage on the vast majority of turns (pictured below).
Against a two thirds pot double barrel on a T♥ turn, for example, the button should continue with:
- Two pairs and sets
- All top pairs
- The vast majority of second and third pairs
- Most of the K-high gutshots (KQ/KJ)
- All flush draws
The button should shove with some hands as well. The value shove range will be made of two pairs (AT, A8, A3, and T8), while sets (TT and 88) still just call. The bluff shove range will be consist of 8x with the spade draw:
Your intuition may be to shove the spade draws without a pair instead of the 8x spade draws, but the solver prefers to have that extra equity when putting the whole stack at risk. Those five extra outs to make two pair or trips make those 8x plus spade hands the best bluff candidates on this board.
When the Small Blind Checks on the Turn
We’ll look at a few different turns here: the T♥, J♠, and 8♣.
If the SB checks on the T♥ turn, the button should respond by checking back or using a relatively big (two thirds pot) bet size. The button should bet with top pair good kicker or better — no slow-playing.
For the bluffing range, the solver bets very frequently, but not always, with flush draws, straight draws, and surprisingly some of the lowest pocket pairs (such as 22, 44, and 55).
Now, let’s look at a different turn: the J♠.
On this card the SB will check even more of his range now that he has even less equity in the pot.
Against a check, the button is once again using only the large size of two thirds pot. There will be some slow-plays in this case, with the high flushes, presumably because they block too much of the SB’s continuing range. Those strong flushes also benefit from checking back to induce bluffs on the river.
The solver also elects to take a stab at the pot with small pocket pairs that have a flush draw to go with them, while checking with more natural bluffs such as KQ, KT, QT, and T9.
Now, on to the 8♣ turn.
The SB will once again check a lot of his range (74%) due to his newfound range disadvantage.
If the SB does c-bet on the 8♣, the button shouldn’t raise any hands. This likely is the case because the only bad rivers are the flush completing ones, and there aren’t any other draws out there.
So, the button can afford to give some rope to the SB, who may bluff on the river. Some borderline calls will be the 99-JJ pocket pairs (that don’t have a flush draw blocker) and the 54s gutter. Here’s the button’s full response:
Against a check, the preferred bet size is, again, two thirds pot with a very polarized range consisting of:
- All hands better than top pair good kicker for value
- The low flush draws, some KQ with a spade blocker, and the lowest pocket pairs* as semi-bluffs.
*The solver probably bluffs with low pocket pairs because they have vulnerable showdown value, can force folds from hands with two overcards, and have two outs to improve to a powerful full house on the river.
Here’s a visualization of that vs check range:
The last turn Fried analyzes for this board is the K♣. On this card, the SB will be barreling more than on the other turns we’ve analyzed.
Can you guess the reason why the SB gets to bet more often on this turn?
The answer is: range advantage coupled with nut advantage. The non-spade K, Q, and J are the best cards in the deck for the SB. A bunch of his range improves to second pair (which beats a lot of button’s range), two pair, or a set.
Now that we’ve reached the depths of this A-8-3 flop, let’s quickly talk about other ace-high flops.
Other types of A-high flops require vastly different flop c-bet strategies.
According to an excel sheet that comes with Fried’s lesson, it seems that the higher the second and third card are, the higher frequently the solver elects to c-bet. This will be a function of range advantage, as more of the small blind’s range will interact with the board and his range has a higher distribution of high cards than the IP caller.
Playing 3-bet pots in position as the defender can be pretty tricky. Given the current metagame, you will face very frequent small bets, which will require you to defend with a large percentage of your range.
The added complexity of turn and river runouts cannot be overstated — there are a lot of possible runouts — and navigating them correctly can lead to substantial win-rate gains on your part.
If you’re a Lab member, Fried’s lesson and 3-Bet Pots IP sheet will go a long way in helping you learn how to approach these crucial spots. You can find it in the Beyond Core section of the course (lesson #20).
That’s all for this article! I hope you learned something new that you can implement right away. Please leave a comment below if you have any feedback or questions.
Now that you’ve read about complex solver strategies, I recommend reading How to Simplify Your Strategy without Sacrificing Value. It will help you understand how to make complex strats more practical.
Till’ next time, good luck, grinders!
Note: Ready to join 5,000+ players currently upgrading their No Limit Hold’em skills? Crush your competition with the expert strategies you will learn inside the Upswing Lab training course. Learn more now!