If you've been playing short-handed cash games with any frequency lately you may have noticed a new trend.
The TAG (tight-aggressive) style which used to dominate the games has really started to evolve into a much more LAG (loose-aggressive) style. This of course leads to tougher games and you're liable to find yourself being forced into some rather difficult spots.
One situation that comes up time and time again is when you've opened a pot for a raise and then another TAG/LAG three-bets you. It's up to you to determine if he is three-betting light and what your best plan of attack is.
What is a Light 3-Bet?
Because, as mentioned, the predominant style in these games is fairly loose and aggressive it's key to educate yourself about the three-betting-light trend.
The majority of players open with a wide range of hands pre-flop. The light three-bet is basically just a re-raise before the flop with a hand worse than what they would normally three-bet for value.
One solid defense: Cock your head to side and look at them like they're crazy to three-bet you.
This play is designed to exploit the aggressive players who are opening a wide range pre-flop. Usually the three-bettor hopes to take the pot down immediately, knowing the original raiser will hold average hands the majority of the time.
This begs the question, what is the best defense against a player who employs the light three-bet?
Obviously your primary recourse against a tough player who has position on you is to just leave the table and move on to softer ground.
However, let's say for the sake of the example there are some real big fish at this table that are worth sticking around for... or you're a glutton for punishment.
How to Defend the Light 3-Bet
There are quite a few defenses you can employ. For one, you can try calling these three-bets lighter than you normally would.
This of course is just an example of multi-level thinking. If you know that he knows that you are opening light then you know that he's capable of three-betting light. Thus if you have a hand like A-Q it probably stacks up pretty well against his range, whereas if this were against a normal three-bettor it would be an easy fold.
Put your opponent in a spot where both a call and a fold are wrong and you cause him to make mistakes. Then come the eBucks.
One problem with this modus operandi is that it gives you no momentum - you let your opponent seize the initiative in the pot and you're now forced to play defense. Also, you usually have to hit a decent flop to continue.
Two, you can use calling in conjunction with a donk bet on the flop. A donk bet of course is a bet where you called a raise and then bet into your adversary on the next street. You can do this with or without a hand.
This usually causes an opponent who has raised you light and missed the flop to fold. However, if your opponent is savvy to this move he may just continue his aggression and re-pop your donk bet, forcing you to relinquish the money you invested.
Three, you can call the pre-flop three-bet and then check-raise the flop. Once again you can do this with or without a hand. This is an extremely aggressive counterpunch. The obvious drawback: you're risking a lot of money if you do this on a bluff.
What is a Four-Bet?
Or, there is the ultra-aggressive light four-bet. This move - another instance of multi-level thinking - should be used very sparingly because it will definitely get you into some very tricky situations.
I won't go through all of the levels of thought because then it just seems like a rehashed comedy act from Friends (I know that you know that I know...).
Long story short, if a player is three-betting you ultra-light you can four-bet him for the exact same reason he three-bet you in the first place. The downside to this is the same as with all your other options: you're risking a good portion of your stack usually on a bluff/semi-bluff.
Nonetheless, any of these methods is a decent starting point for defending your raises out of position. Another one you can add to your arsenal when you're in position is to smooth-call the three-bet before the flop. Then on the flop you can raise his c-bet or wait until the turn and float him once he checks to you.
There's no way to say which defence is best. In fact there is never one best defence in poker. Ideally you should have all of these moves in your pocket and you should be able to bust whichever one out as the situation dictates.
Pay attention to your opponents; if you're not, you'll just be throwing money away.
Should I 3-Bet Without a Hand?
Obviously you're going to be just throwing money away if you do any of these without proper reads. So you must always be paying attention to your opponents.
How often are they three-betting? How do they react when they are three-bet? How do they react when they get four-bet? Do they always c-bet the flop after three-betting? If they are called do they give up? Or do they check-raise the turn?
You must constantly evaluate and reevaluate your reads while you are playing.
You may have noticed me repeating the phrase "with or without a hand." I'm harping on it because you must be able to use these moves both with and without hands. This is called "balancing your ranges."
If you only, let's say, call the three-bet and check-raise the flop as a bluff, then you are extremely exploitable. But when you can do that with a monster, a bluff or even a marginal hand, it makes you extremely difficult to defend against.
If you put your opponent in a situation where both a call and a fold are incorrect, then you cause him to make mistakes. And as we know in poker, if you can force your opponents to make mistakes then the eBucks are sure to follow!
Nice Article. I realise your advice is applying to cash games, however i am curious about any general pointers you may have regarding defending against 3 betting in tournament situations (say 30-50 bbs), where playing a lower volume of hands against an opponent leaves me with little data on which to assess the strength of a 3 bet. I have defaulted to 4 betting solid hands, but suspect this may be sacrificing a bit of value. Any tips?