The text below is based on Episode 2 of the Level-Up Podcast, hosted by Upswing Poker coach Gary “GazzyB” Blackwood and Upswing VP Mike Brady. You can watch or listen to the entire episode via the links above or by searching “Upswing Level Up” on your preferred podcast platform.
No matter what stakes you play, you need to develop a good 3-betting strategy to maximize your win-rate.
Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of 3-betting.
Why is it Important To Have a Solid 3-Betting Strategy?
Two major reasons that you need to understand 3-betting strategy include:
- 3-betting happens much more in modern poker games than it did in bygone eras. Many good players now play a 3-bet or fold strategy from many positions, eliminating preflop flat calls altogether.
- Because good players know that a solid 3-betting approach is crucial to a winning poker strategy, you’ll need to develop your own strong 3-betting approach.
As with all streets in No-Limit Hold’em, a good 3-betting approach includes strong hands (value), balanced with hands that function as 3-bet “bluffs”.
3-Betting for Value
Choosing what hands are worth 3-betting for value depends on your table position, as well as your opponent’s position.
As Blackwood says:
For example if UTG opens and we are UTG+1, our value range is much narrower because our opponent has opened from UTG and therefore has a tighter range themselves.
But if the CO opens, we get to really widen that value range up. A perfect example is that some preflop charts will have you folding ace-queen offsuit a little bit and folding A8s pure MP vs UTG [at a 6-handed table], but when the CO opens, we have AJ and ATo in our 3-betting range, along with all the suited Ax.
In other words, your 3-betting value range should be stronger when you’re in early position, as well as when your opponent is in early position. You can loosen up from and vs later positions.
3-Betting As a Bluff
As good players know, you need to have both value hands and bluffs in your 3-betting ranges from all positions. There are a few key reasons for 3-bet bluffing:
- We need to be balanced. If we only 3-bet for value, we’re not 3-betting often enough, and that costs us money.
- We need bluff 3-bets for board coverage. If we don’t have hands like 65s in our 3-betting range, our range will struggle on boards like 743.
- Good opponents will notice if we only 3-bet for value, and will exploit us accordingly.
What Hands Should You Use as 3-Bet Bluffs?
With the exception of the big blind, your 3-bet bluffing range from all positions is heavy on high-card hands. Combos like Ax suited, suited double broadway, and even unsuited double broadway from the later positions make great 3-bet bluff candidates. These hands are so strong that they blur the line between value bet and bluff.
Add some low suited connectors like 65s at a small frequency and your 3-betting range is looking good.
What Hands Should You Not Use as 3-Bet Bluffs?
Hands like the following are “disaster” 3-bets according to Blackwood include:
- Low pocket pairs like 33
- Unsuited broadway gappers like KT offsuit
- Ragged offsuit Aces like A9 offsuit
- Suited gappers like 97s and 64s
3-Betting From the Big Blind
An optimal big blind 3-betting range looks quite different than your 3-betting ranges from the other positions. As Blackwood puts it:
On to the big blind now and this is where we see some really funky hands, especially vs SB and BTN, we will have all the hands just mentioned, but also some Q8s, J7s hands vs the BTN, and then vs the SB we have such a crazy wide range including hands like K8o, A2o, T2s and so on.
I just wanna quickly say that BB vs SB we 3b so many hands like this and it’s so important that we do, and that’s because we get to deny so much equity from better hands that have to simply fold vs our 3b.
If you look at K6o, SB opens, and we 3b K6o, we fold out all the better Kx like KTo, K9o, K7s, and so much A4o, A8o, all those better hands, and if our opponent does peel, we are playing a 3b pot in position, which is actually a very profitable situation for us!
How Does Your Opponent’s Raise Size Influence Your 3-Betting Strategy?
It’s important to not have just one 3-bet size. As a general rule, you can 3-bet to 3x the original raise when in position (IP) on your opponent, and 4x the original raise when out of position (OOP).
You can, however, adjust those rules a bit depending on your opponent’s raise first in size. According to Blackwood:
People have gotten smart these days, they know that when they open from UTG and MP, they are going to play a pot out of position very often and therefore have used a smaller open size to counter this. So, if our opponent uses a standard 2.5x open size, then just 3betting to 3 times that raise size is fine, but if someone opens to 2.2x or even a minraise, they are doing this to keep the pot small OOP, so if we 3b to only 3 times the raise, we are allowing them to exploit us. Vs those smaller opens I tend to size up slightly to around 3.5x to stop that happening.
Other factors to consider when 3-betting:
- While your 3-betting value sizing can change based on opponent’s bet size, your range doesn’t change unless your opponent opens to 3.5x or higher.
- You can 3-bet smaller against a shorter stack. As the stacks get deeper, you can up your 3-bet sizing accordingly.
- Your 3-bet range is quite similar whether you’re IP or OOP (save for the big blind). The fundamentals of 3-betting a tighter range versus early-position opens, and a wider range against late position opens, stays the same whether you’re IP or OOP.
Playing a 3-Bet-or-Fold Strategy
Many of the top players you’ll run into never flat call a preflop raise from certain positions. Blackwood advocates that from the cutoff or middle position, you always either 3-bet or fold against an open raise:
We should also try and play a strategy that involves no flats in the cutoff or in middle position, and there are two huge reasons for this. Firstly, if we flat we kind of cap ourselves to never having aces, kings, ace king and then players behind can make our lives a misery by squeezing relentlessly, and we end up just out of position with a weak range so often and bleeding money.
Secondly, the rake. The rake is really high, higher than some of us might realise, and if we are flatting too much then the rake starts to eat away at our winrate, but if we 3bet correctly it has much less of an impact on our results. So let’s be sure we aren’t flatting in the cutoff, in MP or in the small blind, and playing 3bet or fold from all of these positions!
Brady goes on to mention some factors that could push you towards calling, though, such as when the raiser is a weak player and/or there are weak players behind. Or, of course, when there are antes in play, which improves your pot odds to call enough that you can start calling with a decent range of hands.
About The Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast
This lesson on 3-betting marks episode #2 of the new Upswing Poker Level-Up Podcast.
Hosted by cash game specialist Gary Blackwood and Upswing Poker VP Mike Brady, Level-Up aims to help players improve their skills and make more money in episodes that are less than 30 minutes.
You can suggest new topics for the podcast on Twitter using the hashtag #uplevelup.
If you missed episode #1, which is all about check-raising, check it out here.