3 Betting on the Button

Understanding the dynamics of 3-betting from the button is essential for online cash game players at all stakes in today’s games. Having guaranteed position post-flop means the player on the button can 3-bet a wide range of hands profitably which has the effect of increasing their win-rate and making them much more difficult to play against.

There are a number of considerations you must understand however, before you go 3-betting with impunity on the button. Things to consider are the image of the player who has open raised and the frequency with which they are opening and the frequency with which they will 4 bet you.

Imagine two cases, one where our opponent is a loose-aggressive (the LAG) player and one where the player is extremely tight (the nit).

3-Betting Early Position Raisers

Let’s assume in both cases they are under the gun, and Holdem Manager tells us the LAG is opening 20% of hands from this position. A 3-bet of his under the gun raise represents significant strength if we have a solid image, and he should only be continuing with AA, KK, QQ and AK, which is only 2.5% of hands. This means, assuming he doesn’t 4-bet bluff in this spot that he will be folding to our 3-bet 87.5% of the time, meaning our 3-bet shows an immediate profit.

If we risk 12bb to win 4.5bb we have to win the hand 73% of the time for our 3-bet to show a profit, so we can see that even if our opponent is 4-bet bluffing us some percentage of the time, we still show a profit. Typically a good ratio to maintain according to game theory is 2/3 bluffs and 1/3 for value in any given situation.

That means that in the above scenario where you would typically be 3-betting only AA, KK, QQ, and AK for value which represents 30 combinations of hands, and so you should be 3betting a further 60 combinations of bluffs in order to maximise the expected value of your 3 betting range. This means 3-betting about 7.5% of the time on the button when this opponent opens under-the-gun.

In the case of the nit, let’s imagine he’s only opening 10% of hands under-the-gun and continuing with the same range as the lag. This means he will fold to our 3-bet 75% of the time, making its immediate profit much smaller. In this instance, it is probably better to call with a much higher frequency and use our position post flop. Against this type of player, we would realistically only be 3-betting AA and KK for value, which is 1% or 12 combinations of hands and so we should only be bluffing with a further 24 combinations at most.

3-Betting Late Position Raisers

If we move to the case where the opener is the LAG player and he is on the cut-off and opening 30% of hands, things change somewhat. In this case, we might be value 3-betting hands as weak as 99 and KQs or about 5.5% of hands, meaning we would have a total 3-betting frequency of 16.5% of hands if we keep our 2/1 bluff to value 3-bet ratio. Of course players give 3-bets in this dynamic a lot less credit and will be 4-betting wider for value and 4-bet bluffing much more often, and they will also be more likely to call the 3-bet and play post-flop with medium strength hands.

There are two schools of thought on the value of aggressive 3-betting on the button. The first suggests that it in fact benefits the initial raiser, because if he chooses to continue, the pot is played with a much shallower stack to pot ratio than if it were a single raised pot, which very much dilutes the positional advantage of the button.

The second suggests that it will be very difficult to show a profit if you are consistently playing bloated pots out of position and therefore it is in the button’s interest to play as many large pots in position as possible.

As with so many decisions in poker, the ultimate decision on when to 3-bet an initial raiser when you are on the button comes down to many factors such as how you view the player, how he views you and how well you think he plays in 3-bet pots.