Chapter 4: 3-betting and 4-betting
What is a 3-bet?
A 3-bet occurs when the original preflop raiser is re-raised by another player.
A 4-bet occurs when a 3-bet is re-raised by any player.
The reason it is called a 3-bet is because the automatic posting of the blinds is considered the first bet. The second bet (2-bet) is when a player raises the blinds instead of calling them, and the 3-bet is the re-raising of the 2-bet.
3-bet poker statistics take much longer to get statistically useful data than statistics such as VPIP and PFR. Once you get at least 1000 hands on your opponent, you can be reasonably certain that you have good information on their tendencies. If you only have 100 hands on your opponent, be very careful before changing your strategy too much.
What do we mean by changing your strategy?
Remember, you need to learn to play solid poker first. The second step is to exploit your opponent’s major flaws. As a beginner, many players will start by 3-betting only hands that are very strong. Understanding 3-betting at a deeper level and moving into a wider 3-betting range is a major step in your journey from beginner to intermediate poker player.
Why do we 3-bet?
There are two reasons to make any bet in poker. The first is for value. The second is as a bluff. Thus, all 3-betting will either be for value or to bluff your opponent off their hand.
A good first concept to understand is capped versus uncapped ranges.
If a player opens from the first position, he can have hands in his range as strong as AA and KK. His range is considered uncapped.
However, if a second player flat calls him preflop, then they have a capped range. Because they would almost always 3-bet hands as strong as AA and KK, they are essentially removing them from their ranges. They are going post-flop with a capped range against an uncapped range.
However, if a player 3-bets the original raise, then they can now have AA and KK in their range. If the original raiser simply calls, then he is now the one with the capped range as he would most likely 4-bet a hand as strong as AA or KK.
When you 3-bet, you have an uncapped range which makes it more difficult for your opponent to play against you. You go to the flop with initiative and have all your strongest hands available to you.
What is a good 3-bet percentage?
Strong, winning players are not only 3-betting their strongest hands. At the low stakes, a good 3-bet percentage will be around 5-9 percent. Players can win aggressively with 3-bet percentages as high as 11%, however generally for beginners it is much easier to play with a tighter 3-bet range.
It is much easier to play against a player that 3-bets only 2-3 percent of their hands compared to a player who 3-bets 6-8 percent of their hands. When you are against the first player, you know that they probably only have JJ+ and can easily fold hands against their 3-bet range.
When should you 3-bet?
It is easy to understand 3-betting for value. When playing solid, aggressive poker, you want to always be 3-betting your strongest hands against your opponents. This allows you to play much larger pots with your strongest hands.
This is just scratching the surface of 3-bet theory.
When you are deciding to 3-bet, you must look at the hand range that your opponent is opening from each position using the unopened preflop raised statistic (UOPFR). Using a hand range program such as Poker Stove or Equilab, you can see what range of hand they are opening, and decide what range of hands to flat call or re-raise them with. You want to be flatting your opponents with hands that beat their range, as you have a capped range against their uncapped range.
When choosing hands to re-raise in a polarized strategy, you need to be raising hands that are stronger than their range (value) and slightly too weak to call (your bluffs). It does not make sense to start 3-bet bluffing with a hand like 34 suited as a beginner. It is much better to use a hand like T9 suited which does much better against their calling range.
Let’s look at the statistics that help you determine when to 3-bet or not.
Before you attempt a 3-bet, you need to understand the relevant poker statistics and their acronyms in poker tracking software such as Poker Copilot. They are:
- Fold to 3-bet preflop in position (F3B IP)
- Fold to 3-bet preflop out of position (F3B OOP)
- Folded to cbet on flop in 3-bet+ pot (FCB_3)
- 4-bet preflop
Fold to 3-bet
The fold to 3-bet statistic is the most important one to understand. In a balanced strategy, you will have a fold to 3-bet of somewhere near 55%. However, at the lower stakes this will usually be higher because players are generally weighted towards value when they 3-bet.
If a player is folding 30% or less to 3-bets, then you need to raise them primarily for value. This will involve using a depolarized range.
If a player is folding 65% or more to 3-bets, then you need to raise them primarily as a bluff. This will involve using a polarized range.
The percentages of fold to 3-bet work on a sliding scale. The closer they are to 30% or less, the more you want to be weighted towards value. The closer they are to 65%, the more bluffs you want to work into your range.
Folded to cbet on flop in 3-bet+ pot
The most useful statistics that will determine your preflop strategy is “Folded to continuation bet on flop in 3-bet + pot”.
This statistic can change the way that you create your ranges. Against players who have a high fold to flop continuation bet, you can start opening your range to have a slightly higher concentration of bluffs.
Be wary of 3-betting a player who has a high 4-bet percentage. Against these players, you can develop a strategy of 3-betting a tighter range and 5-betting them (which is often an all-in preflop) if they are calling too much, or flat calling their 4-bets with your range advantage and playing post-flop.
Depolarized versus polarized 3betting ranges
When we 3-bet a range of hands that is stronger than the range of hands that our opponent is opening, we are raising primarily for value. This is called a depolarized strategy.
When we 3-bet a range of hands that includes both hands that are stronger and hands that are weaker than our opponents range of hands, then we are raising both for value and as a bluff. We balance this range depending on their fold to 3-bet poker statistics. This is called a polarized strategy.
Using 3-bets to defend the blinds
3-betting is a very powerful strategy against players who are attacking your small and big blinds.
The small blind is the most difficult blind to defend. This is because if you flat call preflop, the player in the big blind will have a very good price to call compared to the size of the pot. This puts you into situations where you are forced to play out of position against two other players. As well, your opponents know that the range of hands you have is capped, because you would always be 3-betting your strongest hands.
A stronger strategy for beginners is to use a 3-bet or fold strategy from the small blind. Unless you have a very good reason to flat call (for example you have a very passive player in the big blind and your holding is a pocket pair that has great implied odds when you hit your set) then you should be either folding your hand or 3-betting.
To defend your big blind, you will 3-bet depending on your opponent, but with the understanding that because you are out of position against everyone but the small blind you need to have a strong range.
In general, when faced by a steal attempt from the button, you can at least raise the top 15% of your hands. If you are against a player that is folding too much to 3-bets, is folding too much to cbets in 3-bet hands, or is opening too wide on the button, you can tailor your 3-betting range to be wider to exploit the mistakes in their game.
What do you do if you are facing a 3-bet?
If you have raised pre-flop and are facing a 3-bet, the first step is to look at their 3-bet percentage from the position they are in. Players may sometimes have a much high 3-betting range from the small blind than from middle position, for example.
You can then use a program like Poker Stove or Equilab to input their percentage and get a good idea of what the hands they are 3-betting are. For example, a player with a 4% 3-bet from the button may be only 3-betting 99+ and AQs+.
What do you do in this case? With almost all your range, you fold. Why? Against someone who is 3-betting purely for value, you beat them by folding exploitatively.
4-betting depends completely on the 3-bet range of your opponents. If your opponent is only 3-betting AA and KK, then you can only 4-bet AA against your opponent.
You can use the poker statistics folded to 4-bet preflop (F4B) to help your decision. If a player is folding 40% or less to 4-bets, then your range of hands that you 4-bet with needs to be primarily for value. If your opponent is folding 60% or more against 4-bets, then your range of hands to 4-bet can be more centered towards bluffs.
However, because of how tight ranges are in 3-bet and 4-bet pots, you need to start thinking of hands like AQs as hands that are bluffs!
What do you do against an active 3-better to your left?
It can be incredibly frustrating to play at a table where someone seems to be 3-betting your opens over and over. Against a weak, overly aggressive player, you can combat their strategy by either 4-betting light or simply calling them with a strong range of hands and letting them bluff of their stack when you catch a piece of the board.
Against a strong, aggressive 3-better to your left, you will be playing large pots out of position with a capped range versus their uncapped range when you flat call. This is one of the toughest spots to play profitably in poker. While using a good 4-betting strategy and analyzing their 3-bet range to discover which hands to call with is the long-term strategy for success, as a beginner it simply may be better to leave the table.
If you do decide to stay at the table, most likely because there are many other poor players at the table, then the quickest and easiest way to adapt is to simply start raising a tighter range of hands first into the pot so that your range can handle the heat of their active 3-betting.