Since its explosive growth in popularity in the middle of the last decade, no limit hold ‘em strategy has advanced significantly. Through private study and forum discussion, good players figured out the correct strategy to beat online cash games, and the best players were able to stay ahead of the curve by introducing new facets to their game.
Several ‘fads’ developed over the years; plays which were ‘the next big thing’, and that everyone was trying to master while they remained profitable.
The first of these was probably the continuation bet. Players were quick to figure out that most of the time when an opponent called a preflop raise, he had missed the flop and would simply give up post flop. Next to rise to prominence was the light 3-bet. In the early days of online poker, a preflop 3-bet meant AA or KK almost exclusively, but clever players began to 3-bet much more frequently, which made them more difficult to play against pre-flop.
A more recent variant of this was 3-betting under-the-gun raisers light. It was perceived that people had their tightest ranges when opening under-the-gun and so, even though 3-betting light was rampant, 3-betting an under-the-gun raiser still represented significant strength and was given too much respect by a lot of players.
The Emergence of the Cold 4-Bet
The latest in the line of online poker’s pre-flop tactics is what’s known as the cold 4-bet.
Let’s take the example of a straightforward regular who plays with pre-flop statistics of 21/18 (VPIP/PFR) opening on the cutoff and an aggressive regular is on the button. The button in this case is going to be 3-betting a very wide range of hands, in many cases up to 15%. If you are in the big blind, this is a great spot to cold 4-bet (a cold 4-bet means that someone other than the initial raiser has made the play).
In today’s games, the cold 4-bet is given too much respect, just as the 3-bet of an under-the-gun raise was 2 or 3 years ago. If you 4-bet to 26 big blinds (bb), you’re risking 25bb to win approximately 16bb which is in the pot. This means you only need both players to fold 60% of the time to show an immediate profit on your cold 4-bet bluff. Given how wide the button is 3-betting both for value and as a bluff in this spot, he’ll likely be folding closer to 85% of the time here, representing everything but QQ+ and AK. In fact, if you have a solid image, some people will fold even QQ and AK to this action.
To keep your cold 4 bet bluffs balanced, and for card removal effects, it’s best to pull off this move with high card hands which are not good enough to call the 3-bet with. A hand like KQ are perfect. If you hold KQ, this removes 3 combinations of KK and QQ from your opponents range, as well as 4 combos of AK, meaning he is 20% less likely to hold a hand which he will go all-in over your 4bet with, further increasing the profitability of your 4-bet bluffs.
Remember of course to keep balanced with your cold 4-bet bluffs. If you begin to do it with too high a frequency, your opponents will start to shove all-in lighter, perhaps with hands like TT or AQ, forcing you into a large mistake when you cold 4-bet and thenfold hands like AJ or KQ.