Beginner Poker Tips from Pros: Sam Grafton Demystifies the 3-Bet

Sam Grafton 3
Sam Grafton

If you want your game to advance quickly from:

(a) - getting the crap beaten out of you to

(b) - beating the crap out of someone else, then you have to learn about creating three-bet ranges.

Who better to ask for help with that then RunitOnce coach Sam Grafton.

PL: What advice would you give beginners when deep stacked at the beginning of tournaments?

SG: The deeper stacked you are, in general, the more linear you want to make your range.

When you have 25-40bb you can 3-bet your really strong hands and hands you’re going to fold. But if you’re deeper stacked you may want to 3-bet a hand like 89s.

Ben Lamb's Chip Stack
The deeper stacked you are, the more linear you want to make your range.

Even though they’re going to call with better hands a high percentage of the time, the implied odds of playing in position and having control of the pot makes the play +EV.

You may also want to engineer a spot where you get to play in position  against a particular player and the 3-bet is an important move here.

You may be in the Cut-Off with a hand like KJs and three-bet to isolate that player. If he peels, even with a better hand, our position and our skill edge puts us in a very good spot.

PL: So position is very important for the beginner?

SG: It’s really important for a beginner. As a pro I’m loving life if an amateur 3-bets me small from the blinds. I don’t mind putting a few chips into the pot because I’m in position and have a stronger game.

Position, and identifying people you want to play pots with, are at least as important as your actual hand strength.

PL: What advice would you give to players when it comes to three-betting only: AA, KK, QQ and AK when pre-ante?

SG: If I take really strong hands out of my flatting range a good reg can put pressure on me. Also, without antes out there, if you 3-bet with AK or QQ, and get a lot of action, then often you are behind.

So, because of that, you don’t want to just be three-betting AA and KK. It’s sometimes good to not have much of a 3-bet range pre-ante except maybe AA and some suited Aces.

PL: Does it matter that a beginner has such a polarized 3-betting range?

SG: No. I don’t think so. People are playing lots of tournaments at the same time and they don’t have a lot invested playing online.

It’s not like you’ve travelled to Nottingham to play in a UKIPT and arranged the whole weekend. When you’re playing a $50 freeze-out online and get knocked out you can just fire up another one.

There are no shortcuts in poker.

So the importance of it goes down. You’ll need a huge sample size to identify when a player is just three-betting with AA and KK.

PL: So the best strategy for a beginner is to have a 3B range existing of only very strong hands?

SG: I think so, especially when starting out. There can be occasions when you flat-call and someone squeezes behind and you back-raise to take a big pot pre-flop with very little variance.

The thing is to keep things simple. Especially when there are no antes out there.

Keep your strategy very simple, play the streets and don’t get too invested in every hand.

Don’t feel stressed about three-betting, missing the flop and having to fold to pressure.

PL: When should beginners start incorporating 3B bluffing into their range?

SG: It comes with time and experience. You should experiment with it.

If you’ve been playing tight for a while and a spot comes up - say a limp from a weak player and a raise from a strong player – go for it.

If you have some equity and a blocker like A9o, or two Broadway cards, try and exploit that by putting in a hefty raise. You’ll be surprised how much respect you will get.

Make that move and with time you will see how effective it is and recognize future spots.

There are no shortcuts in poker. The main thing is to take your time over every decision.

A mistake might be to look at your hand, see A9o and think, “I’m going to fold.” But pay attention to the pot because if it goes raise, call, call, you now have a hand that can pick up a big pre flop pot with a well timed raise.

The games have developed slightly. There used to be a real strategy of never flatting 3-bets. When I first started making my living, if I got 3B I would 4B or fold.

The Mob Scene!
Look for opportunities approaching money bubbles where people are more uncomfortable.

People have started to flat with hands that flop well, or dominate their opponent’s bluffing range, but don’t play very well against their value range.

They make their opponent’s life difficult on boards that don’t hit the 3B range, and so the game has changed from a point where three-betting air is tougher because you do end up having to play the streets.

PL: When I report on a live tournament I hardly see anybody fold to a 3B

SG: You used to be able to click-4B or 5B, offering 8:1, and players would snap fold. These days, players flat-call a lot more and make people’s lives more uncomfortable.

Look for opportunities approaching money bubbles, deep in tourneys where people are more uncomfortable.

It’s all about what you think your opponent is comfortable with. A year, or two ago, I realized that players weren’t making many mistakes pre flop. So I started flatting them when I was in position.

Let’s say the board comes T97 and I raise the flop with air. Hands that would normally have been very easy to play suddenly become very difficult to play with 50bb behind.

So it’s about assessing your opponent’s weaknesses and evaluating how best can you exploit them.

PL: How important are stack sizes when it comes to building a 3B range?

SG: Identifying stack sizes you can leverage is a key skill, and is right up there with identifying players you think may be weak.

A good stack size to pressure is 20-25BB - where players have to go all-in or fold.

The good thing about three-betting these sorts of stacks is you can have a wide range of hands that you can call an all-in with. So if someone opens 25BB it’s not like I am only 3B calling AA and KK.

I am 3B calling as wide as ATs, 77-AA, and KQ. I can also have a reasonably wide bluffing range in this spot so they can’t pile it in with A2o and only think I am going to call with Aces or Kings.

Sam Grafton
Beginners make the mistake of thinking that making a move is just making a move.

One of the primary things that comes into consideration when constructing a 3B range is to take the best hands you can’t call with and always bluff with them.

Say someone opens UTG and I have KJo or AJo -- which are the best hands I won’t be flatting an UTG open with -- I will nearly always 3-bet.

I have to have a very good reason not to do it. In general I will always take the worst hands I can’t flat and turn them into a 3B bluff.

PL: When does a stack become too shallow to keep three-betting?

SG: One of the mistakes I see amateurs make is 3-betting their strong hands, off a 20BB stack, and only shove their weak hands.

Let’s say someone has raised. I have 18BB and I have aces and make a raise to 5BB. But if I have A4s I’m shoving - we call this splitting your range.

If you wouldn’t 3-bet bluff, then don’t 3B for value. Just shove all-in as it may look weaker and you may get looked up.

Stack utility is thinking about what your stack size is good for. So when you get to 16-18BB you don’t have a good opening stack.

You don’t have a stack size where you can put pressure on your opponent over multiple streets. If you bet the flop, as a bluff, you’re going to be left with a very awkward stake size.

So open less off those shallower stacks and re-jam more widely over CO/OTB and serial raiser openers and stacks of 22BB and downwards.

Another play, particularly online, is a cold calling 4B-all-in stack.

Player raises off a 50BB stack, he gets 3-bet by another 50bb stack, and with a 20-30BB stack I’m actively looking for those spots where I can cold four-bet all-in to pick up a lot of chips.

PL: Let’s talk about re-jamming stacks

SG: Position is once again the key because you don’t want to be re-jamming wide with a lot of players left to act. Also, the power of the pocket pair is something that I advocate a lot in my coaching.

When someone opens 22-25BB then your pair in late position becomes very powerful. His calling range is made up quite heavily of hands like AQ, AJ and KQs.

People sometimes just call off a 22-25BB stack with 33-66, with no real clue what they’re going to do when they get to the flop. So just stick it in with those pocket pairs and strong Broadway hands because they have great equity.

Everyone jokes about how nobody folds KQ anymore but those two strong blockers are so hard to get KQ dominated.

Beginners make the mistake of thinking that making a move is just making a move. They think that bluffing all-in with 86s or A5s is the same.

But having that suited-ace blocker, or big Broadway cards, is so much better when you run the equities - than let’s say T7s.

People say they are “making a move” but having that one overcard against KK or QQ is so important.

How many people have won tournaments after jamming with A4o and cracking KK or QQ?

PL: What’s your advice for beginners playing out of the blinds?

SG: I think players should peel a lot more from the BB but if you do then you need to be able to negotiate your ace-high hands to showdown, your second pair to showdown, or even value bet second pair at rivers.

In short you need to feel comfortable playing post flop.

If I want to peel with T5s in the BB then I have to add some stronger hands. You can also flat a big hand and check-raise flops and people don’t give you credit for having anything and will try and re-bluff you with a high frequency.

Grafton: "Ask yourself: ‘Would I raise KJo in this spot?''"

If you can’t go all-in pre flop then peel more and play tough down the streets a little bit more. Be stubborn and act like a station.

There also seems to be a tendency for the SB to be three-betting a lot. So you can incorporate some 4-bet bluffs into your range from the BB.

PL: What advice do you give to the people who click back with their 3B?

SG: Everyone is starting to make their 3-bets bigger these days and if you’re still making tiny clicks, particularly in live settings, then it’s probably a mistake.

If I was being min-3B I would call and take my pot odds.

PL: Ranges can be a bit confusing for amateurs.

SG: Imagine you’re playing tight. You raise KQo from UTG and get 3-bet.

Ask yourself: ‘Would I raise KJo in this spot?” and if the answer is no, then you probably have the worst hand you open with and you’re not going to be exploited when folding that hand.

On the other hand, if you’re on the button opening KQo, you know that this is a hand that is a lot higher up in your range. It’s one of your best hands so you’re not going to be folding.

You’re going to be going all-in, or flatting and playing the streets. That’s all range building is in terms of the 3B.

When someone opens and you’re about to fold with AJo, think “what would I do with AQo.” If the answer is, “I would call” then you have the worst hand you would fold and so you have a great hand to 3B bluff.

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