Don't Overuse the Light Three-Bet

Erica Schoenberg

Poker is an ever-evolving game. A style that won in the '80s isn't going to be as profitable now. The style you play now isn't going to be as profitable in the future.

Point is, to be a winning poker player long-term, you have to have the ability to adapt.

In the past, the standard tight-aggressive game was the most profitable style to play. Sit back, wait for premiums, and bet when you have a good hand. Most opponents were bad and would simply pay you off.

As the overall standard of play has improved over the last few years, however, that simple tight-aggressive style has become too predictable. And when you're predictable, you're easy to exploit.

The Birth of the LAG

As players improved and the six-max game became more popular, a more aggressive style emerged. Players wielding this new style, known as loose-aggressive (LAG), were able to take advantage of more predictable TAGs.

LAG is still the most profitable style and the one most employed by the best professionals online, but even it has evolved. As the LAG style was adopted by more and more players, three-betting light became more and more popular as well.

Dario Minieri
A hyper-aggressive style can wreak havoc on TAGs. But it won't stay profitable forever.

This is because when most people are playing LAG poker, they're raising pots regularly with a wide range. Since most of these raises are with average hands, they often cannot stand a reraise, and a reraise will win the pot immediately fairly often. So began the trend of the light three-bet.

If you play six-max at any level higher than $25 buy-in No-Limit, you will have noticed that players love to three-bet light. And although the light three-bet should be a part of every player's arsenal, most players use it far too often.

You'll frequently see your average LAG three-betting middle- to late-position opens with hands like 5 5, 7 7 or A 9. This is fundamentally wrong.

When you come in for a raise you want to do one of two things. You either want to make a better hand fold, or have a worse hand call.

The problem is, when you three-bet light, most players fold the hands that you're ahead of and continue with hands you're behind to - leaving you with a bloated pot and a likely second-best hand.

Gavin Smith
Gavin Smith: Strong proponent of the flat-call.

So stop folding out your opponent's worse hands. Don't be afraid to see a flop and - gasp - play some poker. It's OK to flat-call raises pre-flop.

Doing so allows your opponent to continue with his whole range, and if you are doing the flat-calling, chances are your range will be stronger than your opponent's opening range.

Today's overaggressive opponents are all too pleased to take the lead and will often continue firing away in hopes that you'll fold.

Where Your Value Comes From

A lot of regulars at small stakes tend to play post-flop very poorly. They rely on bullying pre-flop and continuation betting the flop. When they are called, they often have no clue how to play the turn and river.

On the later streets the pots are bigger and so are the bets. This is where most of the value comes from in Hold'em.

If you allow them to continue with worse hands than you hold, and you play better post-flop than they do, you'll ultimately win more money. So stop trying to make them fold their inferior hands before the flop.

Allen Kessler
Eliminate the three-bet entirely, however, and you risk becoming predictable.

Of course you should still be willing to three-bet light on occasion, as eliminating it completely makes you predictable. And if your opponent is the type to flat-call three-bets light, you can obviously open up your three-bet range.

In that situation your three-bets actually are for value, as he will still call with worse hands.

Always be cognizant of the types of players you're playing with. A cookie-cutter approach to this game will not work.

This isn't to say stop three-betting completely. Just think about the hands you're doing it with and why. More often than not, your reasoning will be that he's raising all the time and he's going to fold.

That's not maximizing your edge. Put post-flop play back in the game.

If you're the better player, your edge will only get greater when you see more flops, turns and rivers. You can still three-bet; just don't do it all the time.

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