Three Betting Light in Tournaments
Three betting light is largely one of the most notable advents of the new era in poker strategy. Before the poker boom, very few if any players would have known what a light three bet was, let alone how to use it most effectively. If you are unfamiliar with the term altogether, a light three bet means that you are making a re-raise with a weak hand. Your 3-bet is being made in an attempt solely to take down the pot before show down.
Light three bets have multiple purposes, which is something that some players fail to realize. Ideally you will be able to force folds right away and take down the pot as a result. If you get caught making a move, however, it is not all bad news. If you are caught in the middle of a light three bet, it means that your image at the table has changed drastically. You can use your failed moves to your advantage later on.
In tournament play, light three bets have their time and place. The mistake that many players make is attempting to three bet light when the situation just doesn't call for it. Three betting light in the first hand of a tournament is just not smart. Can you think of a benefit to a light three bet in this spot? Probably not a real good one, which means it isn't worth doing. Light three bets are going to be particularly risky when you are in a tournament.
For this reason they tend to be more widespread in cash game play. In ring games, players can three bet, fail, and reload. If you fail with a 3-bet in a tournament, you are out of those chips indefinitely. There is certainly a real art that is involved in three betting light in tournaments. One small misstep and you could be in a world of hurt.
Pre-Flop vs. Post-Flop
Your stack sizes, the blinds, your opponent's stack, their likelihood of folding, and your position tend to be the most important elements in pre-flop light three bets. If you are at a point in a tournament where everyone still has hundreds of big blinds, it is safe to say that three betting light is a waste of your time. If the blinds represent 10% of your stack, however, three betting light might be the best move you could make. Courageous moves are going to determine who survives in tournaments. While this is not always true, the chances are that you are going to be card dead at one point or another. If you can't make pre-flop plays in an attempt to steal the blinds, you may as well give up while you are blinded off.
If you are three betting light pre-flop, you better be awfully sure that your opponent is inclined to folding. This is even more important if you are nursing a short stack. It is much better to wait an orbit and shove a random ace when you are super short stacked than it is to 3-bet light with an extra BB or two. This is because you are much more likely to get called and a light three bet relies mainly on one player's folding. Light three bets pre-flop are most effective when you are able to spare the chips at hand, and they are the worst when you are going to absolutely cripple yourself if you are unsuccessful.
Post-flop is a different story than pre-flop in that the risk vs. reward is amplified. In fact, a light three bet post-flop could very easily mean that you are investing your entire stack. If you are making a light three bet post-flop, you should be confident in your move. Occasional plays can pay dividends pre-flop whether they work or not, but light post-flop 3-bets are dangerous territory.
The early stages of tournaments are the worst time to three bet light. You are going to receive very minimal benefit when you pull it off and are just going to wonder what you were thinking when they don't work. The true premise of a light three bet is to take a calculated risk in an attempt to win a decent sized pot. In cash games this is going to be a recurring theme, but this changes from level to level in tournaments. Where light three bets can pay major dividends at the final table, they are all but a total waste of time in the early levels. If it isn't clear already, the early stages just aren't a time for light three bets no matter how you look at it.
Later Stages (ITM, FT, etc.)
The late stages are a much better fit for light three bets. As alluded to earlier, you are going to need to be able to absorb the inherent risk that comes along with this move. The best time to 3-bet light in the late stages of a tournament is when you have a big stack. This is the most optimal time to accumulate more chips and add to your dominance at the table. If you are short stacked, you aren't going to have the fire power that is necessary for the intimidation factor in a light three bet. You have to have the chips in front of you that are capable of scaring away the other players.
In terms of effective strategy for light three betting late in tournaments, you should be trying to pick on certain players. You will likely notice which of your opponents are playing scared. These are the players who are either unfamiliar with late stage tournament dynamics or are simply trying to move up the money ladder. No matter what the case may be, your goal is to exploit them as much as possible.
Passive and scared players are prime targets for light three betting. You will be in even better position if a weaker player is in the blinds and you are in late position. This will not only give you a chance to steal their blinds, but you are also going to be set up for play in position post-flop.
Tangling with bigger stacks and legitimately skilled players is not going to be the easiest route to successful light three betting, so go after the players who are all but handing over their chips. You might get unlucky and run into a big hand from time to time, but you still need to be ready and willing to play the odds.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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