Defending 3 Bets

In today’s online shorthanded no limit holdem games, 3-betting with less than premium hands is extremely popular, and understanding the dynamics of 3-bet pots and learning how to effectively defend against serial 3-bettors is very important.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to aggressive 3-betting strategy. Some players tend to avoid having a very high 3-bet percentage, because they believe they have an edge over most opponents at the table and wish to play pots against them where the stack-to-pot (SPR) ratio is as high as possible. Typically a single raised pot will have an SPR of 12-13, where in 3-bet pots it will be less than 5, leaving much less room for manoeuvring post flop.

The other school of thought is that you should be 3-betting with impunity to maintain a very aggressive image in order to get paid off with your big hands and make yourself unpredictable and difficult to play against. So, how do you combat a player using this type of strategy? The answer to this question varies depending on whether you’re in or out of position in the hand.

Defending 3 Bets In Position

Typically, if you’re in position in a 3-bet pot it will mean that you were opening on the cut-off or button and have been 3-bet by one of the blinds (people tend to play more straightforwardly against early position raises). In this situation, you need to look at how the player reacts to steals in your Holdem Manager or Pokertracker. Most rational players will be folding to steals about 75-80% of the time and 3-betting 5-10% of the time. If you encounter players in the upper end of this range, you will have to play back much more often in order to avoid being exploited.

You will need to know what type of hands the player is 3-betting with in order to do this effectively. If he is 3-betting a merged range when out of position as he should be, this means he will have more broadway hands in his range and you need to be careful about calling 3-bets with hands which could potentially be dominated, and stick to suited connector type hands, which will flop the type of draws that allow you to semi-bluff raise the flop, in order to discourage him from 3-betting you with such a high frequency in the future.

If he is 3-betting a more polarized range, you should switch up your calling range and include more broadway hands and medium strength aces in it. In this situation, you will have position and an equity advantage over him, and it will be very difficult for him to overcome both of these disadvantages.

Defending 3 Bets Out of Position

Playing 3-bet pots out of position and without the initiative is a tough proposition. In fact, some people recommend not doing it at all and just 4-betting or folding your entire range. Against players who are 3-betting quite often, this can be difficult to do effectively, however.

The first thing you need to do, as with the out-of-position case is to look at the player’s 3-bet percentage when in position, and the frequency with which he 3-bets opens from each position. Some players 3-bet bluff under-the-gun opens very often, because they are aware of how strong their move looks and the high frequency with which opponents fold.

If a player is 3-betting greater than 10% of the time in a given spot, you need to take some action in order to keep him in line. You should be 4-betting perhaps 15% of the time, typically using hands which have good blockers to make up your 4-bet bluffing range like KQ and AJ. You should also be looking at calling and check-raising all-in on the flop with a decent frequency.

You should mix up your range for doing this by occasionally just calling 3-bets with AA and KK. Bear in mind that a lot of players will assign you a very narrow range when you call a 3-bet out of position, i.e. hands which are too weak to get all-in pre-flop with, but too strong to fold, like AQ, JJ or TT. As you develop some history with the player, you should also be willing to 4-bet/call with a wider range to develop an aggressive image and further discourage him from 3-betting light.

Of course, if you are out of position to a good player who is 3-betting you a lot, leaving the table is also a perfectly valid strategy!