Breaking Down the Three-Bet

Annette Obrestad
Annette Obrestad.

In today's ultra aggressive online games, it seems like you can't sit at a table for more than one orbit without facing at least one reraise before the flop.

Many players, however, don't even understand the reasons behind their actions. They just three-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 3-bet for value and the "light" 3-bet.

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 image, your opponent's image/playing tendencies, etc.

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

Allen Kessler
Three-betting too tight makes you predictable.

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 are going to 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 reraise, 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.


If you have the image of a supertight player, you are going to have a hard time getting paid off on your big hands.

That's because they know you're tight and that if you are coming out shooting, you must have a hand.

Isaac Baron
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.

Balancing Your Range

Three-betting light is essential to making sure your reraises are more balanced.

If you only three-bet a tight range - say AA-QQ and A-K - then your opponents know that when you three-bet, you can only have one of four hands.

Obviously, not a balanced range.

When your reraising range is so narrow, your opponents are always able to make the right decisions.

As mentioned, though, when you add the light three-bet to your arsenal, your opponent can't be certain as to what you hold.

You could have double aces or you could have 4 3. They'll be left guessing.

And when they're left guessing, you leave the door open for them to make mistakes.

They will end up calling you when you have the goods, and folding when you have nothing.

What's a Good Light Three-Bet Candidate?

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 have the ability to flop a strong draw and potentially stack a guy.

William Reynolds
Keep yourself in check.

This just isn't going to happen if you are three-betting T 4.

Keep Yourself in Check

Remember, most of the value from the light three-bet stems from the fact that it's a semi-bluff.

You are 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.

It's Not Rocket Surgery

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.

However, if your three-betting range is too tight, then your opponent will adapt and just fold every time you three-bet.

Three-betting light balances your three-bet range and leaves your opponents guessing - and when they are left guessing, as we saw, they're going to make mistakes.

And as we all know, those mistakes are just numbers added to your bankroll at the end of the night.

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derp 2013-10-02 14:31:35

Thanks for demystifying this. 2012-08-09 16:59:43


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.

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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