3-Betting in Live Poker
Three betting in live poker is a play that should be used for value more than anything else. There may be some rare occasions where a light three bet could work in your favor, but they aren't nearly as plentiful as they are online. In fact, frequent light 3-bets in live poker are one of the most common mistakes that players make. Learning how to effectively 3-bet with your big hands is one of the best ways to ensure that you are getting max value for your hands, each and every time. You aren't going to be able to make a monster hand on a regular basis, so you need to be sure that you are capitalizing when the opportunity presents itself. 3-betting is not a difficult skill to hone in and of itself, but it will take a fair amount of practice.
3-bets are much more of an art than they are a science. There will be some situations where flat calling is better than re-raising. Sometimes a big 3-bet will be better than a small one, and so on and so forth. Experience in these sorts of situations is what will benefit you the most. Anyone could read a book and learn what types of hands are generally good to bet with, but you'll need to know what you are doing if you are planning on 3-betting. There's such a difference between a player who knows that they need to re-raise and a player who knows how much to re-raise. If you are using blind aggression, there's inevitably going to be a number of spots where you are either missing out on maximum value or missing out on money altogether. As mentioned previously, three betting is very much an art, and the aim of this article is to look at the move more in-depth.
Three betting pre-flop is going to be much more standard and straightforward than what you'll encounter in just about any pre-flop situations. There's going to be a somewhat defined range of hands that almost always call for 3-bets, other hands that are sometimes worthy of three bets, and others that are simply calls or folds. If you are able to decipher one of these hands from the others, you are already on your way.
The most obvious three betting hands include AA, KK, and usually QQ. There are some more extreme cases where pocket queens might be better suited for a call, but this is going to be totally dependent on table image, dynamics, history, etc.
For the most part, however, QQ is going to be a three betting hand pre-flop. The problem with queens is that they are going to be in an awkward position if and when they are 4-bet. On one hand you have a very strong pocket pair, but on the other hand it's very possible that you are drawing to just a couple outs. This is the primary argument that is made for not three betting with queens. Of course, there are also going to be plenty of times where queens are 4-bet by jacks, AK, or other random hands that are mixing it up. This is largely where the inherent value and strength of pocket queens comes into play.
AA and KK are no brainer 3-bets, however, as if you manage to lose with one of these pairs, there's nothing you can do but shrug your shoulders and move on. Sure, you are going to run pocket kings into aces every once in a while, but this doesn't mean that you should be sacrificing all of the money that you would make when you have KK against kings or worse as is usually going to be the case. It's always about playing the odds, even if the 1% chance presents itself every once in a while.
Borderline pre-flop three betting hands are just a notch below QQ, consisting primarily of TT, JJ, AQ, and even AK. AK is a very strong hand, there's no doubt about it, but it's arguably the most acceptable of these three hands in which to flat an open raise.
The issue with AK is that if you call, your hand is going to be very transparent and unlikely to receive action from an (inferior) opponent when you hit a pair. As backwards as it sounds, you may often times end up in the best shape when you miss the flop with AK if you had called a 4-bet with it pre-flop. TT, JJ, and AQ are all of similar strength in pre-flop play. If the board comes with all low cards and you only got flat calls from a 3-bet with TT or JJ, you are in great shape. If it comes with any high cards while you are holding AQ, again you are in great shape (with a pair or with a continuation bet).
Three betting with these hands is pretty standard, but you should have a plan in place for how you would react to a 4-bet. If you are deep, try a smaller 3-bet to give room for a call of a 4-bet. If you are shorter stacked, plan on calling a shove. Preparation is crucial with these hands in these situations as you'll find yourself in many tricky spots.
3-betting post-flop is not so much for guaranteed value or finding out where you are as it is about making the most out of made hands. Three betting is just the first step towards the ultimate goal of 4-bets, 5-bets and all ins. If you are being too passive with your made hands, you are going to run out of time to make a lot of money from them.
It is very difficult to try and pinpoint the exact times where you should be considering three bets in post-flop play. This is going to rely heavily on very specific factors that change in every hand. With that said, 3-betting post-flop should be a primary concern when you are either worried about a scary board or when you are playing deeper stacked.
If you are playing against an opponent who doesn't have a whole lot of chips, you can more effectively flat call their bets in an attempt to let the players bleed themselves dry. The trouble with this strategy is that you need the player to both continue betting and also to bet enough to have all of their chips in the middle by the end of the hand. If you don't think that this is the likely outcome of passively calling, three betting is probably the best move.
Three bets in post-flop pots are best described in one of two ways: defensive and aggressive. You are either working towards ensuring that an opponent is not seeing cards for too cheap of a price, or you are doing your best to get all of the money in the middle. If neither of these is your ultimate objective, you may be three betting without any real plan in place, and this will get you into more trouble than anything else-playing without a game plan.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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