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Three-Betting a Polarized Range
If you're not three-betting light at least some of the time in six-max no-limit, you're playing the game wrong.
Three-betting light works for a variety of reasons. The games, first of all, are so aggressive that your average regular is raising 18% of his hands or more.
Of that 18%, very few can stand up to a re-raise. Meaning your aggressive opponent is going to be folding very often when you re-raise.
Also, when you three-bet light, your opponents take notice. They in turn play back at you, netting you more profit on your big hands: AA-QQ and AKs.
If you only three-bet monsters, why would your opponents ever play with you? They wouldn't. When you three-bet more, your opponents can't be too sure what you have when you do it.
But we already knew all that. What we're getting into in this article is three-betting a polarized range.
Three-betting a polarized range means you still three-bet your good hands for value but your "light" three-bet hands have no value in seeing the flop.
The basic idea is you want to take a hand you'd normally fold and three-bet it as a bluff to try and get your opponent to fold.
What those hands are vary by opponent, position, prior history, etc. It's a sliding scale. The unchanging aspect is it's a hand that's not profitable to call in that very situation.
You want to three-bet light with a hand that you would normally fold because it adds value to a hand that would otherwise have none. For example you don't want to three-bet T♥ 9♥ on the button because there's far too much value in seeing a flop.
So what hands make good polarized three-bet hands?
There's a simple rule for that. The best hands to three-bet light with are at the very top of your folding range.
Say, for example, that a good regular in the cut-off raises and the worst possible hand you could profitably call with is A9o. Your best possible three-bet light hand would then be A8o.
But if I can't call with A8o, why can I three-bet with it?
It's different because when you call with it, you're playing post-flop poker. You either have to hit and somehow extract money from a worse hand, or you have to make him fold after the flop.
When you three-bet him instead, your goal is to make your aggressive opponent fold. But if he doesn't, you still have your hand strength to fall back on.
Which is why we choose the very top of our folding range to three-bet. It's our back-up plan.
If we think about our opponent's likely calling range, it makes perfect sense. Our opponent is going to four-bet AK, AA-JJ, and he's going to call with AQ and some smaller pocket pairs. Everything else he's going to fold.
When we three-bet the best portion of the range we would normally fold, we have that back-up. If our opponent is going to call with TT, we can still flop an ace and win.
If we choose to three-bet a hand like 56o, we'd have to hit both our cards to beat TT. So we pick the hand with the best possible equity should we be called.
How often does our opponent have to fold to make our three-bet profitable?
If your re-raise is three times the original raise, your opponent only needs to fold 66% of the time to make your re-raise profitable.
That means instantly profitable, with no more streets. If your opponent folds to more than 66% of your three-bets, then the second you three-bet him it's a profitable play.
That doesn't even take into account those times he calls and you either out play him on the flop or you hit your hand and win. So take a look at your opponent's "fold to three-bet" stats before three-betting.
A word about domination
For a long time the common mantra was to not three-bet dominated aces because our opponent's calling range will crush us and we'll end up flopping an ace and going broke.
But that really isn't the case. Our average opponent's (aka the people we want to three-bet) calling range actually will rarely consist of dominating aces.
After all, he'll be four-balling AK and really only regularly calling with AQ - even sometimes four-betting that. So our opponent's calling range will usually be made up of pair hands, of which we can choose to barrel him off or hit our hand and win.
There's a small risk of domination, but it's just that: small. And our goal isn't to flop a hand and play for stacks. Our profit comes from those times we make our opponent fold before the flop. The rest is gravy.
So keep that in mind. Your goal is to make your opponent fold before the flop.
If he folds to more than 66% of three-bets, your re-raise is instantly profitable. You three-bet the best part of your folding range as a back-up plan.
Those times you do get called, you can still hit and suck out. It's just like double-barreling. When you turn equity, your goal is to make him fold. But if he doesn't, you can still hit and win.
So go out there and make your opponent fold - because he's going to. A lot.
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