Amateur to Pro 3-betting

Amateur to Pro 3-betting

Monday, 1 August 2011

This is the fourth part of a coaching series featuring Bluefirepoker coach Alan Jackson, the purpose of which is to create a roadmap that gives amateur poker players the greatest chance for success when trying to take their games to the next level. In this latest installment we look at the 3-bet.

What is a 3-bet?

Back to basics: A 3-bet is a move in poker when a player makes a raise after someone has already raised the pot. In a simple example, Player A bets, Player B raises and Player C re-raises. Player C is the 3-bettor because it is the third sequential bet.

When I first started playing poker, my 3-betting range was very narrow and, predictably, for value only. Then, after I had increased my knowledge and understanding of the game, my 3-betting range widened, as I started to incorporate bluffs as well as value bets in my range. One of the first flaws Jackson identified in my game, however, surrounded my 3-betting strategy, or, more aptly put, my lack of a 3-betting strategy.

When you choose to 3-bet, you are either 3-betting for value or 3-betting as a bluff. Before I met Jackson I didn’t have a defined 3-betting value range; instead, I just went with the flow, so to speak. The most obvious 3-betting hands are A-A, K-K, Q-Q and A-K, but I would also 3-bet hands as low down the pecking order as A-J and 8-8. When deciding whether or not to 3-bet for value, it was always based on the strength of my cards and I gave very little thought to the characteristics of my opponent.

If you think my 3-bet value range is a little haphazard, then spare a thought for my poor old 3-bet bluffing range. In short, I simply didn’t have one and, when it came to deploying the 3-bet bluff, my holdings were irrelevant. Instead, my decision to bluff was based on my opponents’ actions and tendencies. If I was playing in a game where I felt that an aggressive opponent was exploiting me, then I would throw in a 3-bet bluff, irrespective of my card strength.

The other glaring mistake I was making was not to give due thought to position. Before I met Jackson, I actually made most of my 3-bets from out of position. My opponent’s position was not considered at all. This meant, when in the blinds, I would regularly 3-bet an under-the-gun raiser as a bluff.

Over 130,000 hands prior to my coaching, I had a 3-bet percentage of 8.2% and in the 70,000 hands post my Jackson sessions it had reduced to that of 6.6%. The reduction in 3-betting activity actually brought with it a kind of serenity to my game.

So what changes did Jackson make to my game?

Let’s focus on the part of my game that had more leaks in it than a Welshman’s kitchen cupboard, my 3-bet bluffs. Jackson made me realise that a 3-bet bluff was only successful if my opponent had actually folded a better hand than the one that I was using to 3-bet with. His detailed analysis of my Hold Em Manager (HEM) database revealed a simple truth: people were not folding to my 3-bets. If people are not folding to your 3-bets, then you need to be aware of this dynamic and adjust. It seems that I was neither aware nor did I adjust. Three-bet bluffing against people who do not fold is the same as lighting your cash and throwing it to the wind.

Jackson taught me how to identify profitable spots in which to 3-bet bluff. They were based on position and opponents’ “fold to 3-bet” tendencies. We created a pop up on my HEM Heads Up Display (HUD) that allowed me to quickly check if my opponent fell into my new range for 3-bet bluffing. If my opponent’s HEM statistics showed that they folded to 60% of 3-bets, then he became a candidate to 3-bet bluff.

The next consideration was be position. In order to reduce the chaos in my game we decided to remove my 3-bet bluffs if an opponent opened up UTG or UTG+1. As my game improved, this situation became more relaxed, but at the beginning we steered clear of 3-bet-bluffing an opponent who was opening from early position. The ideal position became 3-bet-bluffing from the button versus a cut-off opening bet, and defending the blinds against the cut-off and the button raise.

The next consideration actually became the value of my holding, and this was something I’d never applied to my thinking before. Jackson’s approach ensured that, if your 3-bet bluff was called, you would be seeing a flop with a hand that had some post-flop value. If an opponent folded to 60% of 3-bets, we would open with suited aces; 65% of 3-bets, suited connectors; 65%+, unsuited aces 2-5; and 70%+, suited kings. The suitedness of the hands was critical because it gave us more opportunity to barrel post flop when we flopped flush draw- or backdoor-flush draw type hands. The unsuited aces 2-5 were placed into my 3-bet bluffing range, firstly for card removal effect (ie, it meant my opponent was less likely to have an ace) and secondly for their ability to flop wheel draw type boards. Flopping gutter and flush draw boards really do help us make moves post flop.

Jackson was keen to stress that the statistics should play second fiddle to actual game flow. So if an opponent had a FT3B statistic of 75% but all of a sudden started 4-betting you with impunity, then you had better wake up and smell the coffee, adjust and play accordingly. These simple rules reduced the chaos and variance that was destroying my game because my bluffs became fewer and far between and more profitable.

After we had dealt with the 3-bet bluffing range, we then incorporated some rules for my 3-bet value range. If we identified a player who was calling our 3-bets a large percentage of the time (ie, had a FT3B% of less than 65%), then we would incorporate an extended value range of A-A to T-T, A-Q, A-J and K-Q. For players who were folding a large percentage of time, we would incorporate some cold-calling with the top of our range, such as A-A and K-K.

Jackson also made me realise how vital position was. Given the difficulties of playing post-flop when out of position, it made more sense to 3-bet out of position but make more calls when in position. We also removed the 3-bet from our game when faced with opening raises from early position. We did this because we did not have any 3 bet bluffs in our range, so, in order to be less exploitive, we decided to call with our monsters as well as our normal cold-calling range of hands. It’s important to note that there is also some value in 3-betting for value versus UTG opens, but for the purposes of my tuition it was important for me to have this balance.

Today, when I play my six-max online game, I feel like my 3-betting strategy is sound and far less chaotic than it used to be. I find it easier to lay down my hands when I am faced with a four bet and, when my 3-bet bluff is called, I always know what type of boards to proceed with due to the equity rules we incorporated into my game.

Tags: Alan Jackson, Strategy, Lee Davy