How, When and How Much to 3-Bet in Poker

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In today's ultra aggressive online poker games you can't sit at a table for more than an orbit without facing at least one re-raise (3-Bet) before the flop.

Many players, however, don't even understand the reasons behind their actions. They just 3-bet because it's the popular thing to do.

Some players three-bet way too wide a range and some way too tight a range. Both extremes can be very exploitable and understanding the underlying reasons behind three-betting will help you do it much more effectively.

There are essentially two types of three-bets:

The Value Three-Bet

The value three-bet is the "traditional" three-bet and is the same as any other value bet. You believe you have the best hand, and you'd like to get more money into the pot while you have the advantage.

Which hands deserve to be value three-bet is up for discussion. It really depends on a variety of factors - the table dynamics, your table image, your opponent's image/playing tendencies, etc.

how to 3bet poker

The key ingredient is that you have a hand that figures to be best against your opponent's range. 

Against a standard tight-aggressive player your three-bet for value might be fairly tight - something like AA-JJ and A-K.

If instead you're up against a loose-aggressive player or a fish who you know likes to call reraises light, your range might be much wider - something like AA-99, AK-AQ.

The problem with three-betting too tight a range is that you risk becoming predictable. If you play with the same opponents they'll catch on that when you three-bet you have a monster hand. 

If they can accurately put you on four to five hands every time you re-raise they'll be able to make perfect decisions against you.

The "Light" Three-Bet

The "light" three-bet is when you reraise a pre-flop raiser with a hand that does not rate as the best at the moment but that still has value for a variety of reasons.

A light three-bet is a semi-bluff. Basically your first goal is to win the pot immediately. You would like your opponent to fold to your reraise.

Thus, your ideal opponent to three-bet light is a player who is loose with their opening raises.

You know that they raise light and thus you can reraise them light, because you know that for the most part they are going to have to fold. This will win you the pot without even seeing a flop.

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How 3-Betting Light Helps Your Image

If you have the image of a super tight player, you'll have a hard time getting paid off on your big hands. That's because they know you're tight and that if you're coming out firing, you must have a hand.

3betting poker
Image is everything.

When you start three-betting light your image of being a nit will be thrown out the window. 

Let's say you three-bet a guy with 8 7 and end up showing down two pair. Now your opponents will start to look at you in an all-new light.

They'll be thinking, "Man, this guy isn't a nit after all. He just three-bet me with eight-high. I am going to call that guy down more often. He's clearly FOS."

Three-betting counters whatever tight image you might have established and allows you to play a more rounded game. If your opponents believe you're full of it then you're going to make thin value bets all day long until they readjust.

How to Balance Your Range with 3-Bets

Three-betting light is essential to making sure your re-raises are more balanced.  If you only three-bet a tight range - say AA-QQ and A-K - your opponents know that when you three-bet you can only have one of four hands.

Obviously, that's not a balanced range. When your re-raising range is so narrow your opponents can always make the right decisions.

When you add the light three-bet to your arsenal your opponent can't be as certain what you hold. You could have Aces or you could have 4 3. They're left guessing. And when they're left guessing you leave the door open for them to make mistakes. 

They'll end up calling you when you have the goods and folding when you have nothing.

What's a Good Hand to Three-Bet Light With?

There is no one "good hand" for three-betting but there are certain types of hands better than others. When you understand that the light three-bet is basically a semi-bluff it makes it easy to determine which is which.

Your goal is to win the hand without showdown but obviously that isn't always going to work. So when you're called you want to have a hand that can play poker on the flop.

Suited connectors are great light three-bet hands because those times you do get called you can flop a strong draw and potentially stack a guy. This just isn't going to happen if you're three-betting T 4.

how much to 3bet poker

Another way to look at it: The best hands to three-bet light with are at the very top of your folding range. Say, for example, that a good player 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?

Your Goal is to Make Your Opponent Fold

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 3-bet 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 and AA-JJ and he's going to call with AQ and some smaller pocket pairs. Everything else he'll 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 3x 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 3-bets then the second you 3-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.

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3bet poker strategy

Don't 3-Bet Too Much!

Remember, most of the value from the light three-bet stems from the fact that it's a semi-bluff. You're relying on your opponent to fold the majority of the time.

If you start three-betting too often, your opponents will stop giving respect to your three-bets and start looking you up more often.

When that happens your fold equity is gone and there is less value in three-betting light. Now would be a good time to switch gears and benefit from your confused opponents paying you off light.

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3-Bet = Value

The primary reason to three-bet is for value. Everything else is just a product of that. You want to get value out of your good hands.

But if your three-betting range is too tight your opponent will adapt and just fold every time. Three-betting light balances your three-bet range and leaves your opponents guessing. When they're left guessing, they make mistakes. And those mistakes are numbers added to your bankroll at the end of the night.

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How to Size Your 3-Bets Properly

As mentioned above there are two reasons to three-bet:

  • 1) for value, i.e. you have a good hand (AA, KK etc.) and would like to get value from worse hands, or
  • 2) as a bluff/semi-bluff - in which case it's known as a light three-bet

When you three-bet light you're making a semi-bluff at the pot. You know that your opponent is raising light, you can three-bet him light and have him fold, winning you the pot immediately.

Chip Stack

This leads to you winning more pots without showdown as well as getting action on your real, three-bet-for-value-type hands.

Bet Sizing Not Equal to Hand Strength

But although the practice of three-betting light is commonplace these days, many players still routinely size their three-bets incorrectly.

Some players size their re-raises on the strength of their own hand. They bet a bigger amount when they have a weak hand and want their opponent to fold and bet less when they are betting for value.

This is incorrect thinking. A skilled opponent will pick up on this and exploit you. Your bet sizing should not be determined by the strength of your hand.

Position Dictates Everything

So if hand strength isn't the deciding factor, what is? The answer is position. You hear it over and over again - position dictates everything in poker.

For determining the size of your three-bet it's no different. When you're in position you can get away with a smaller three-bet size.

This is because you will be last to act for the entirety of the hand. Since acting last is such a huge advantage, you can punish the out-of-position player often, regardless of your hand strength.

When you are in position a good re-raise size would be around 3x to 3.5x the original raise. It's big enough that your opponent does not have an automatic call, yet it doesn't risk an unnecessary amount of chips.

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An example:

Six-max $1/$2 No-Limit game; effective stacks $200. You're on the button with A Q. Action is folded to the cut-off, who makes it $6.

You re-raise to $18. Your opponent calls and you see a flop of J T 3. Your opponent checks and you bet $24. He folds.

Since you're in position you gain information with him acting before you. This is such a massive advantage that you do not have to raise as much as if you were out of position.

Rayan Nathan
Let them know you mean business with larger out-of-position raises.

Up Your 3-Bets Out of Position

When you're out of position, life is always tough. Your decisions need to be made without the advantage of knowing your opponent's action.

Since he always has the last say he's in control and you're at a disadvantage. To make up for this you always want to reraise more from out of position.

Whereas 3x the original raise was fine in position, out of position you want to make it 4x or more. You essentially would like to charge him for the privilege of playing in position against you.

When you're in position, you don't mind seeing a flop and letting your edge manifest itself. When you're out of position, you want to discourage him from calling as you will often be left guessing post-flop.

Giving your opponent good odds and position is a mistake so let them know you mean business with larger out-of-position raises. The larger raise helps negate your positional disadvantage.

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Another example:

Six-max $1/$2 No-Limit game; effective stacks $200. You have Q Q in the big blind. Action is folded to the button, who makes it $6. You make it $26.

The $26 bet is going to get the job done a lot more effectively than the $18 bet is. You want to minimize your time playing out of position, so with the bigger re-raise you're saying, "Fine, if you want to play this pot in position, you're going to have to pay."

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3-Bets in Multiway Pots

If you're re-raising a raise and a call, you have to make your re-raises even larger. That's because your re-raise will have to make it through two players instead of just one.

You don't want to size your 3-bet so that the original raiser calls and then the other caller overcalls. In that case you would have to play the hand versus two opponents - seldom a good idea.

how to 3bet in poker

When you're in position versus a raise and a call you should add 1x the original raise for every caller in the pot. So if one player calls the first raise, go 4x; if two, then 5x; etc.

If you're out of position and against multiple players add 1x for every caller and then at least another 1-2x the original raise for being out of position.

Remember: In today's games you'll be 3-betting fairly frequently. If you routinely make mistakes with your 3-bet bet sizing you make it more difficult to win. Keep your 3-bets sized properly to your position and to the number of players left in the hand and you'll make it easier on yourself in the long run.

How to Play 3-Bet Pots With the Lead

There's a ton of money to be made in three-bet pots by exploiting some very obvious weaknesses in your opponents. If you've played six-max No-Limit Hold'em online you know how aggressive the games are.

There's very little limping and every pot is typically raised or even re-raised. With so much three-betting going on you'd think everybody had mastered play in three-bet pots. Far from it.

As we've discussed above the idea behind three-betting is to counter-balance an opponent raising a very high percentage of his opening hands. Of those hands only a small percentage can continue on to more action. Meaning he'll be raise/folding a ton of his range before the flop.

That alone creates enough dead money to make three-betting profitable. But that's not the only reason. Three-betting also balances your range.

Take the Initiative with a 3-Bet

When you three-bet preflop and get called you have the initiative. You have the lead in the hand and with it comes the advantage.

You're the one with the perceived strong hand. You chose to re-raise and he chose to just call. Now what happens if you miss the flop completely?

Use that initiative. Look at the situation and think about his likely holdings. Know your opponent. If you know (or have a good idea) what his three-bet calling range is, then you'll know exactly how much heat his hand range can take.

Your opponent's breaking point is the most important factor in three-bet pots when you have nothing. You have to know your opponent and how he plays. Get a feel for what kinds of hands he will felt in three-bet pots and which ones he won't. In three-bet pots with the lead, you play your opponent's cards more than your own.

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An Example

$1/$2 six-max online; $250 effective stacks. Your opponent raises to $6. You three-bet to $18 with T 8. He calls and everyone else folds.

Your read on your opponent is that he is a thinking, but not great, regular. He tends to over-estimate his implied odds and plays too ABC.

The flop comes J 3 5. He checks. You fire $28. He thinks and calls. The turn comes 2. He checks.

A mistake a lot of players make here is checking back. Checking back in this spot is lighting money on fire.

If you c-bet that flop you have to bet almost 100% of turns. Why? Because your opponent will be peeling with an extremely wide one-pair range.

Think about it. Say you raise 99 before the flop and your opponent re-raises you. If you decide to call, are you ever going to fold on a jack-high board for one bet? No.

The "standard" play is to peel one street and hope your opponent shuts down. But when you're the opponent, don't slow down. Fire that second barrel. Most of his flop-peeling range is not strong enough to call a second bet.

Players like this are a dime a dozen. They call out of position, hoping to flop a set, and when they don't they resign themselves to calling one street and folding to further action.

These players are free money and are going to donate 25bb to you every single time in this spot. When you three-bet pre-flop and bet two streets, your opponent is regularly going to be putting you on a big hand.

3bet range poker

So exploit it and fire more second barrels. Think about your opponent's range and his playing tendencies. You want to put him outside his comfort zone.

Well-Timed Aggression in the Right Spots

Like everything in poker, this is situation and player dependant.

You can't just fire every street on every board and hope your opponent folds. That just doesn't work. You need well-timed aggression in the correct spots.

For example, if your opponent is on the tighter side and only flat-calls three-bets with JJ+, you probably shouldn't bother trying to barrel them off on a seven-high board. It's just not going to happen.

By all means though, if the turn brings an absolutely perfect second-barrel card like a king or an ace, then fire a second barrel. But if it keeps coming off bricks you should probably stop firing without a very specific read.

Your edge manifests itself in three-bet pots when you multi-barrel these multi-tabling, ABC TAGs who are just hoping you'll shut down after you fire a c-bet.

They're easy to spot too. Watch how players act in three-bet pots even when you're not in the hand. Chances are there are a few at every table you play it.

Put them on a range and find the breaking point for their hand. Then bring them to it. it's that simple.

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derp 2013-10-02 14:31:35

Thanks for demystifying this.

PokerListings.com 2012-08-09 16:59:43

@Steven

If you are light three-betting and get four-bet, you should be folding a lot of the time. What you need to determine is whether your opponent is four-betting light, or four-betting for value. If that player has identified you as three-betting light he may try to exploit that by four-betting light. Truth is, you'll need a lot of reason to put in a fifth bet light. As a beginner you risk making a big mistake by five-betting light.

Steven 2012-08-09 13:42:47

What if I'm 4-betted when I "light" three betted? Than what do I do.

Gambler 2011-12-10 10:49:56

Great write up on three betting. It definately pays to know your opponents range with which they'll three bet.

Johb Johnson 2011-05-26 22:48:01

Thanks for the explanation. It was quite succinct.

Ian 2010-10-30 20:52:50

Rocket Surgery?! I LOVE Rocket Surgery!

Chris 2010-02-01 01:17:38

for those of you confused on why they call it a 3 bet.

the BB was the 1st bet.
the initial raiser preflop put in the 2nd bet or the "raise".
and whoever puts in the next raise has just made a 3 bet.

on the flop the first action will just be called a "bet" // a raise on top of that will be called a "raise" // and if anyone chooses to put in another raise it will be called a 3 bet.

Sean Lind 2009-09-10 01:34:00

Alex and Kevin, a 3-bet is a re-raise.

Bet, raise, Re-raise.

It's the 3rd bet, making it a 3bet.

The term comes from limit where people will say bets in units rather than anything else.

Bet
2 Bets
2 Bets
4 Bets (or Cap it)

Kevin 2009-09-08 22:31:00

I really have no idea why they call it a 3bet; they can just say 'pre-flop reraise' but I guess its a shorter abbreviation.

alex 2009-09-07 05:13:00

3 betting what is it based is it betting on all 3 streets or is it bet raise and rerais pf ?3 betting preflop with marginal hands can be trouble.



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