Three-Betting in Poker | When should you 3-bet?


It is common ground that you have to be aggressive to be a winning poker player. Most players understand that principle, yet, when it comes to three-betting, few employ correctly. Some three-bet less than they should, missing out on many opportunities, while others three-bet way too often, so their 3-bet range is too wide and can be exploited. Three-betting can be a powerful tool in your arsenal if you employ it correctly. Understanding why and when you should three-bet will help you use it profitably.

What is Three-Betting in poker?

Three-betting in poker occurs preflop when, the initial raiser, gets reraised by another player. So we have the blinds (1st forced bet), then a raise (2-bet), followed by a reraise (3-bet).

3-betting, aggression and fold equity

3-betting is a very aggressive play, with a lot of fold equity working for it! Nowadays, many players raise preflop too widely. This means that there is a large percentage of starting hands in their range that they will lay down if faced with a 3-bet. Against such players, the fold equity alone can make 3-betting profitable. 

Even more, when they call, you have additional ways of winning the hand. You can catch a favorable flop, or, under the right circumstances, you can choose to make a continuation bluff bet. By 3-betting preflop, you have taken the lead and earned credit for having a strong hand. So, you have set up a favorable situation that you can potentially exploit with a bluff c-bet on some flops.

When should you three-bet?

One of the basic poker principles is “small hand small pot, big hand big pot.” Three-bets may lead to huge pots, so the main reason to 3-bet is that you have a strong starting hand. However, the 3-bet can also be employed profitably as a bluff (also called a light 3-bet) in the right situation. By incorporating some 3-bet bluffs in your range, you balance your play and become unpredictable.

Three-betting for value

The most intuitive reason to make a three-bet is for value when you have a premium hand. You believe you are ahead of your opponent and want to induce him to commit more money into the pot. There are few situations in poker where slowplaying is justified. The three-bet is, in most cases, the best way to start building the pot! 

Most players understand the value of three-betting with a strong hand. However, if your only three-betting with value hands, you risk becoming too predictable and not getting enough action as a result!

Three-betting light, as a bluff

The three-bet is a powerful action that may scare many opponents out of the pot. It can be a strong move to make under the right conditions. You can employ the three-bet as an exploitative strategy against players that open-raise too often. Since you know that their range is too loose, you can reraise them occasionally light. Your opponents will be folding enough of their hands to make your move profitable.

Are there additional benefits to Three-betting?

There are some additional reasons why you should be three-betting. A three-bet can help you isolate an opponent. For example, let’s consider that a weak opponent raises from middle position, and you are sitting after him. Instead of calling, three-betting will increase the probability that the others will fold. This way, you will be able to play post-flop against your weak opponent having position on him. Undoubtedly a sweet spot for you!

Three-betting can also help your table image. If you play too tightly, opponents will eventually catch up on your betting patterns and may not give enough on your premium hands. It does not take much to throw your opponents off balance. Making occasionally a three-bet with a suited connector or a one-gapper will definitely help you create an image of being unpredictable!

What hands should you choose to 3-bet light?

As light 3-betting hands, you can choose hands that can flop a big hand and that have fewer chances of being dominated. Avoid hands like unsuited Ax, Kx, or QJ that can get you in trouble. These hands can often be dominated against your opponent’s range of hands that will call a three-bet. Even if they hit top pair on the flop, they can be second best because of the bad kicker and get you in trouble. 

Instead, it is better to three-bet light with hands like Ax suited, suited connectors, or suited one-gappers. Ax suited hands reduce the chances that your opponent has aces and can flop a flush or flush draw. If you flop an ace, you may very well ahead, but you still have to be careful in case your opponent has a better kicker.

Suited connectors and one-gappers, like 87s, 76s, or 86s, have fewer chances of being dominated and can hit hard some flops without it being obvious. For example, if you make a straight on a flop like 8♠5♥4♣, or a set on a flop like 7♠7♥4♠, your opponent may stack-off his chips, as he will not give you credit for having connected with the flop!

How can you Balance your 3-Bet Range?

As any betting in poker, your three-bets must also be balanced. From a GTO point of view, this means that there must be enough bluff three-bets in the mix to keep your opponents guessing and prevent them from exploiting your play. Too few, and observant opponents will know you mostly three-bet with premium hands and fold. Too many, and skilled opponents will be able to profitably four-bet you out of the pot with any hand. With a balanced range, you will have your opponents guessing and prone to make costly mistakes! 

It is hard to construct an exact balanced percentage, as there is more betting and bluffing to follow. Since your opponent is getting somewhere between 2-3 to 1 on calling your three-bet, including around 25-33% bluffs is a good start. 

Can your opponent 4-bet to push you out of the pot?

When your opponent 4-bets you, he has to commit more than just a call. With a typical 4-bet, an opponent commits more than what is in the pot, including your bet. Let’s take a look at an example. 

Your opponent open raises to 3bb, and you 3-bet to 9bb. There are 13.5bb in the pot, and your opponent’s typical 4-bet will be to 20bb-25bb total. So he would have to commit an additional 17bb-22bb to win 13.5bb. If you 5-bet or fold, he would need you to fold around 60% of your hands, to make a bluff profitable.

This means that unless you plan to fold the majority of the hands that you 3-bet with, your opponent is not getting the proper pot odds to bluff you.

How can you Size Your 3-Bets?

Some players tend to 3-bet lower when they have a premium hand, like AA, trying to induce some action from their opponents. Yet, they may 3-bet higher with bluffs, in an attempt to scare their opponents out of the pot. Even if their reasoning is sound, their opponents may eventually read their strategy. As a general rule, in poker, you don’t want to be giving away any information from your betting patterns. So, try to size-up your bets independently of your hand’s strength! 

Let’s examine other aspects that affect your 3-betting range.

Your position

Position plays a crucial part in your decision making in poker. Having position on your opponent gives you a significant edge. Most players understand this concept and adjust their opening range accordingly. Position affects your 3-betting range in a similar way.

Being in position means that you can profitably play more hands against your opponent’s range. Two consequences derive from this fact. Firstly, your value 3-bet range widens, and, therefore, so does your light 3-bet range. Secondly, as you can play more profitably post-flop, your bet size can be slightly smaller. The opposite applies when you are out of position. You want to tighten your 3-bet range and increase the size of your reraise. 

In position, in most cases, betting three times your opponents raise is enough for your opponents to fold their weakest hands. So, you do not have to commit more than that to achieve your goal. Out of position, you want to 3-bet four times your opponents raise to maximize the chances that he will fold. The larger 3-bet size out of position forces your opponent to put more money if he chooses to continue with a speculative hand. In that way, it negates your positional disadvantage.

The opener’s position

The position from which your opponent initially raises determines his range of hands. From early position, as he has to worry that other players behind him may have strong hands, and that he will be playing out of position, open ranges are usually tight. On the contrary, in late position, and in particularly from the button, open ranges can be considerably wider. This has a direct effect on your 3-bet range, as you can widen your 3-bet range when you know that your opponent’s range is wide. Let’s take a look at how your 3-bet range can look, depending on your opponent’s position.

3-bet range against an early-position raise, add these hands if the opener is in middle position, in the cut-off, and in the button.

Your opponent’s style

Your opponent’s style and betting patterns will determine what your 3-bet range should look like. Is he raising too much but folding most hands to a three-bet? Is he calling a three-bet but folds unless he hits the flop? Will he call on the flop a continuation bet but fold most of his range to a second barrel? Some of these tendencies are forged in your opponent’s play and are sometimes easy to spot and exploit. Knowing how your opponent’s out of balance patterns will show you how to take advantage of his leaks! 

Against a player that open-raises loosely, you can also widen your 3-bet range. Against a player that open-raises tightly, you can tighten-up your 3-bet range. 

Also, different opponents react differently to three-bets. Some will give you credit for having the nuts and fold most of their range. Against such players, you can profitably loosen up your three-bet range, and polarize it, meaning adding many bluffs 3-bets too. Others tend to defend their open raise and often call a three-bet, at least to see a flop. Against such players, you can mostly widen your value 3-bet range, as they will be calling with weaker hands. In some spots, you can also backup your play with a c-bet bluff.

These are examples of exploitative plays that can be very profitable against the right opponents. However, if you don’t know your opponents, or if you are playing against a skilled player, you must be able to balance your three-bet ranges.

Squeezing the Callers

If other players have called the initial opener, your 3-bet is also called a squeeze. In such cases, there is more money up for grabs, making the squeeze a very profitable play under the right conditions. However, as your opponents will be getting higher pot odds to call, you must increase the size of your 3-bets. 

You can add about 1x the initial raiser’s amount per additional caller. So, in position, against an opener and a caller, this would mean 3-betting 4x your opponents raise. Out of position, against an opener and a caller, you would want to 3-bet around 5x.

3-bet Range Polarisation

Your 3-bet ranges can either be merged or polarized. Merged means that the hands you 3-bet with are a continuum with the hands that you can profitably 3-beet in a given situation. The strongest among them will be value 3-bets, while less strong will be considered as light-3bets. Polarized means that you 3-bet with your top and bottom parts of your continuing hands while calling with the middle hands. Let’s take a look at when to use merged and when polarized ranges.

Example of a merged range:

Example of a polarized range, the green starting hands are the calling range:

The first thing to consider is your position. Position affects the number of hands that you can profitably call, making your 3-bet range more or less polarized. In position, you can successfully play against your opponent. So you can increase your calling range. Therefore, your 3-betting range will be polarized, containing premium hands, better than your calling hands, and speculative hands, slightly worse than your calling range that you do not mind folding to a 4-bet. The same applies when you are in the big blind. You are out of position (unless you are up against the small blind) but are getting a great discount on calling. Therefore, you can profitably call with more hands.

Your opponent’s calling percentage is also a factor to consider. If your opponent tends to call 3-bets, your 3-bet range must be mostly merged, containing value hands. On the other side, if your opponent folds a lot to 3-bets, you can polarize your range, 3-bets with premium hands that can take a 4-bet, and add light 3-bets to the mix that you don’t mind folding. With your middle, playable hands call.

A final factor to take into account is your opponent’s skill. Similarly with having position, playing against a weak opponent means that you can profitably call more hands, so your range is polarised. On the contrary, against a skilled player, you must decrease your calling range to minimize the number of flops you play with him. So your 3-betting range must be mostly merged.

Some examples

You are on the button with 7♦6♦. A weak loose-aggressive player raises from middle-late position, what should you do?

Your aggressive opponent’s open-raise range from middle-late position is very wide. You can 3-bet for value wider, call with some medium-strong playable hands, and balance your 3-bet range by adding some light 3-bets from the bottom of your continuing range. Your suited connector is weak to call with, but is a great candidate for to 3-bet light!

You are on the big blind with J♠J♦. An unknown player raises from the cut-off, what should you do?

Your hand is definitely in your value-3-bet range. As you are out of position, you want to make a 3-bet of 4x your opponents raise. Playing out of position is tricky. When you have JJ, 52% of the time, you will see a flop with at least an overcard without you having hit a set…


This tutorial is part of the Advanced Poker Strategy Course. You can continue to the next tutorial on The Gap Concept!

Author: Jose Bennett