Three bets have multiple uses, the primary of which is for
value with big hands. In this article we are going to discuss
three betting for value both pre-flop and post-flop. Tournaments
are going to create a dynamic that makes them very unique and
different from what you will find in cash games. You can’t be
three betting as thin in many spots, you are less likely to get
called, and so on and so forth. You are also going to need to be
exceptionally careful with your 3-bets in the early stages of
tournaments because one big loss could cripple your stack.
For the most part, three betting pre-flop is much better
defined than it is post-flop. You can all but have a set group
of hands that are worthy of 3-betting in some or most
situations, whereas post-flop play is going to create infinitely
more complicated spots. You won’t need to over think the
majority of pre-flop three bets, but this doesn’t mean that you
should be reckless. Since this article is focusing on the early
stages of tournaments, you need to remember that you can’t win
an event right when it starts. Aggression is certainly rewarded
in poker, but over aggression is going to be harshly punished.
Pre-Flop Three Betting
There are some hands that you are always going to be three
betting with, which include AA, KK, and usually QQ. The cut off range is formed in this
area, with AK and JJ being borderline and dependent upon the
exact situation. In order to most effectively define ideal three
betting ranges, we are going to look at some examples of JJ, QQ,
and AK. There is little need to really think about KK and AA
given they play themselves out. You may be thinking of making a
tricky move with these two hands, but it is almost always best
to play them fast, and this is even more important in a
The toughest time to have JJ, QQ, and AK (and virtually any
hand for that matter) is going to be in early position. You are
of course going to make an open raise, so facing a re-raise is
going to put you in an awkward spot. If you want to 4-bet, you
are now all but committing your stack to the pot. The problem
with this move is that you are basically playing for a flip, are
beating a light 3-bet, or you are absolutely crushed. Needless
to say, these sorts of options are not going to create a whole
lot of long term profitability.
In this particular spot, flatting a 3-bet and playing it after the flop will make the
most sense. You will be able to most effectively reduce your
losses and capitalize on your wins by slowing down. Weak hands
will value town themselves, big hands may allow you to back out,
and flips speak for themselves. It really depends what kind of
tolerance you have for variance. If you are feeling like taking
a risk or think you have a read, go ahead and 4-bet, but if you
are unsure, just slow down and wait for the flop.
When you are holding jacks, queens or AK in late
position and there is a raise ahead of you, there will be
some situations where flat calling can work. With that said,
however, three betting is usually going to be the way to go. You
may have a chance to flat a 4-bet (depending upon stack sizes),
you will get some folds and take down the pot right away, but
you will most likely get a call.
Getting a call of your 3-bet when you are in position is absolutely perfect. You can safely
assume that you have the best hand, you control the action
post-flop, and you have exercised pot control. As mentioned
earlier, flat calling an open against a notoriously tight player
pre-flop who can’t fold post-flop could make sense, but it is
almost always best to make a three bet. Use your position to
your advantage as much as possible.
Post-Flop Three Betting
Post-flop three betting is going to be a lot more complicated
and complex than it is pre-flop, mainly because everything is
not so cut and dry. You can’t polarize KK like you can the
second nuts post-flop. Sure, usually the second nuts will be
massive, but what if the board has four spades and you have the
Ks? It just isn’t that simple and clear.
One thing that you always need to keep in mind is that
players are deathly afraid of going broke or taking big risks in
the early stages of tournaments. While this is certainly a
reasonable fear, you can use it to your advantage and as a way
to measure your opponent’s strength. If you are playing a hand
very aggressively and are getting relatively quick calls from a
player on a scary board, you should be weary that you are beat.
Likewise, if a player is making bets into you and also calling
your 3-bets, expecting a fold is not the most optimal strategy.
Since players absolutely do not want to expose themselves to
busting early, the amount of hands that they deem worthy of a
3-bet are going to be pretty small when a tourney first begins.
Three betting comes in two different primary forms, either
for extreme value or thin value. There are some hands where it
could fall in between, but the real decision making will come up
in these two spots. What this means in the early stages of a
tournament is that you are going to need to maximize value with
big hands and decide when it is and isn’t worth it to bet when
you are going for thinner value.
The early stage dynamic is what
is most important. Going for big value implies that you have a
super strong hand, so there isn’t a whole lot of thought other
than bet sizing that needs to be considered. When you are thin,
however, you need to gauge whether or not it is worth it. Losing
a big chunk of your stack vs. the possibility of adding a decent
amount is going to be disproportionate when a tournament has
Thin value is something that you should tend to
steer away from when a tourney is still in the early blind
levels. You are going to end up value towning yourself all too
frequently, it is too difficult to gauge your relative strength,
and the risk vs. reward just won’t match up. By all means, 3-bet
your big hands hard, but don’t waste your time fighting for a
few extra chips when your stack is likely already small to begin
with. Thin three bets are best used in cash games, and they are
arguably worst put to use when a tournament hasn’t gone past the
initial level of blinds.
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