pocket threes

How to Play Pocket Threes in Cash Games

You’ve probably been dealt Pocket Threes, also known as crabs, quite a few times.

Have you ever wondered if you played them well? Time to find out!

This article covers:

  • How to play Pocket Threes in common preflop situations
  • 3 tips for playing the crabs when you are the preflop raiser
  • 3 tips for playing this small pair when you are the preflop caller

Let’s begin!

How to Play Pocket Threes in Common Preflop Situations

Let’s run through every common preflop situation so you always know how to proceed with Threes.

Here are the table positions for your reference:

positions for ace queen 3-betting reference

Unopened Pots

When the action folds to you, the best play with Pocket Threes depends on your position.

When you’re seated anywhere between UTG through the Lojack, Pocket Threes should be folded by default. If you’re seated in the Hijack or later, Pocket Threes are definitely worth a raise.

Note that if you’re at a soft table with opponents who almost never 3-bet preflop, you can probably get away with raising Threes from the earlier positions as well. Just make sure you have a good reason for doing so.

As tempting as it might be to open-limp with this hand, I highly advise against it. Put simply, you will win smaller pots on average by doing so.

Against a Raise

Again, how you should play Pocket Threes against a raise depends on your position.

From the Big Blind: You should always call with Pocket Threes when you are in the Big Blind and face a raise. It is a perfect hand to call and set mine with.

From Any Other Position: While it may be tempting to call with Pocket Threes against a raise, you should fold this hand from every position other than the Big Blind unless you have a good reason* for doing so. At equilibrium, Threes are simply too weak to call or 3-bet with.

*In many live cash games, you can get away with calling raises with Pocket Threes for two reasons:

  1. The players behind won’t punish you with an aggressive 3-betting strategy.
  2. Your opponents are likely to make big mistakes postflop, which allows you to over-realize your equity.

One important caveat: the earlier your position and the bigger the raise size, the less likely you should be to make a loose preflop call with Threes.

Against a 3-Bet

When faced with a 3-bet after you’ve opened, you should call very frequently with Pocket Threes. Having a 12% chance of hitting a set on the flop and having a good chance of stacking your opponent if they have an overpair or top pair makes it a great candidate for defending against 3-bets.

I say almost always because if we look at solver simulations, Pocket Threes do get folded some percentage of the time from the Cutoff and always from Middle Position.

Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up, and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!

The Advanced Solver Ranges for cash games — one of six sets of preflop charts in the Upswing Lab.

3 Tips for Pocket Threes in Single Raised Pots as the Preflop Raiser

I will be talking about playing from the Button against the Big Blind specifically, since that is the most frequent positional match up in poker.

Tip #1: If you have an underpair to the flop, check back most of the time

Example: You raise 3♠ 3♣ on the Button and the Big Blind calls. The flop is J♠ 7 6 and the Big Blind checks.

Having showdown value means that checking behind will never be too bad of an option on most board textures.

There are some exceptions, of course. In certain situations, it’s better to c-bet with a hand like this. Luckily for you, I’ve written an entire article about when to bet with these hands here: When to Turn Your Low Pocket Pairs into Bluffs.

Tip #2: Never slow-play a flopped set

Example: You raise 3♠ 3♣ on the Button and the Big Blind calls. The flop is Q♠ 4 3 and the Big Blind checks.

It doesn’t matter how dry or wet the board is when you flop a set — you should always start with a bet.

When you flop a low set, you have an extremely high value hand. It’s actually even more valuable than top set because bottom set unblocks the most bluff-catchers (such as QJ in the example above) in your opponent’s range.

You need to start building the pot right away to give yourself a chance to win your opponent’s entire stack.

Tip #3: If the board is disconnected, fire a c-bet (especially if you have a backdoor flush draw)

Example: You raise on the Button with 3♠ 3 and the Big Blind calls. The flop is K♠ 7♣ 2♠ and the Big Blind checks.

Uncoordinated boards are great for the player who is in position. This is because he has a lot of overpairs and/or the strongest top pairs in his range, and those hands are especially strong when there aren’t many two pairs available (not to mention flopped straights or flopped flushes).

You can c-bet at a very high frequency and force a lot of overcards to fold their equity. Pocket Threes are a great candidate for this because your opponent will almost always have two overcards, and it’s a nice win for you to force those overcards out of the hand.

Having a backdoor flush draw is especially valuable because then both of your set outs are clean (i.e. when you turn a set, it won’t complete the flush draw).

3 Tips for Pocket Threes in Single Raised Pots as the Preflop Caller

Again, the focus will be on playing in the most common positional match up: as the Big Blind against the Button.

Tip #1: Don’t always fold versus a c-bet with an underpair, but be careful

An underpair is a very weak hand out of position. In order to call a continuation bet, you must have a few factors going in your favor.

You will need a combination of the following factors to justify calling:

  • Disconnected flop
  • Smaller c-bet size
  • Backdoor flush draw

So, for example, you should call with 3♠ 3♣ on a Q74 board against a 33%-50% pot c-bet. But you should fold if your opponent makes it 75% pot or more. On a more coordinated board (like J-T-9) you should basically never continue with such a hand.

Tip #2: On medium and low paired flops, check-raise at least sometimes

I’m talking about flops such as 9-9-2, 7-7-4, or 6-6-5.

These flops miss most of your opponent’s range. What’s more, your Pocket Threes are very vulnerable — almost the entire deck is an overcard.

For these reasons, you should protect your hand’s equity with a small check-raise designed to make the opponent fold a lot of those 2 overcard type of hands. You’ll also get a little value from the overcard hands that are strong enough to call (such as Ace-high).

Note that you should use the same small check-raise size when you have trips to make yourself as tough as possible to play against.

Tip #3: You should only call one bet with an underpair (unless you improve)

If you find yourself calling a c-bet on the flop, either in position or out of position, that should be the last chip you put into the pot. Don’t call any more bets unless you pick up a good draw on the turn (like an open-ended straight draw).

With only set outs to improve and no blockers to two-pairs or sets, these hands are simply too weak to call a second time.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, a 5-minute crash course on how to play the crabs better than 90%+ of the players you will encounter.

How did you play Pocket Threes before reading this article? Let me know in the comments section down below!

If you want to learn how to play other No Limit Hold’em starting hands like a pro, scroll down to “Related Posts” below.

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!


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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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