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Poker Strategy: The Art of the 3-Bet with Daniel Neilson

Posted at 14:09 2011-04-12

One of the most easily misunderstood practices among the lower-stakes cash games is when and how to 3-bet. Ben Blaschke spoke with one of Australia’s top high stakes players, and reigning PokerNetwork Player of the Year Daniel Neilson, about in the ins and outs of 3-betting.

A lot of inexperienced players don't fully understand the art of 3-betting. What situations are you looking for before you consider 3-betting pre-flop?

There are a number of different situations where 3-betting is appropriate. The most obvious one is when we have a premium hand and want to get more money into the pot. By 3-betting our premium hands and getting more money in the pot pre-flop, it makes it much easier to get all of someone’s chips post-flop.

However, there are also other situations where 3-betting is a good idea. If we think someone is opening a wide range of hands it can be a good idea to 3-bet them with a wider range. This allows us to take the initiative and put our opponents on the back foot. They will either have to fold a lot, in which case we will be showing an immediate profit, or they are going to start calling with weak hands which will often force them to make mistakes post-flop.

It's also important to make sure we stay balanced. If we are only 3-betting hands such as AA and KK, any half decent opponent will be able to catch on quickly and start playing perfectly against us.

Can you talk a bit about hand ranges and how they might differ against certain player types?

Against an unknown opponent, I think it is best if you have a fairly strong value based 3-betting range – something like TT+ and AQ+ is probably a good starting point. However, once you start to learn more about your opponents’ tendencies you should be altering your range.

Against players who almost always fold to 3-bets (he re-raised, he must have AA right?), you can basically 3-bet any hand and show immediate profit. But if we start 3-betting every single hand they will soon catch on so it can be a good idea to flat call with hands that play well multi-way post-flop, such as 78s. Also, since these players are going to be folding most of the time, sometimes you should flat call with premium hands such as AA and AKs. Keep in mind though that these types of players are extremely rare, especially online.

A lot of players in today’s games will hardly ever flat call a 3-bet – they will either 4-bet or fold. Against these types of players you want to have a polarized 3-betting range. This means that you should only 3-bet hands that you are willing to go all in with or complete trash hands such as 72o. As they are never calling, it really doesn't matter what hands you choose to bluff with. At the same time, 3-betting hands such as KQ and mid pocket pairs against these players is a bad idea. If they 4-bet you are going to fold while if they fold it doesn't matter what cards you have. So you should keep these types of hands in your flat calling range which allows you to see a flop when they have a weaker range and exploit them post-flop.

Your range should heavily depend on how often your opponent is 4-betting compared to folding. If they are folding a lot, you should increase the number of trash hands in your range and decrease the number of hands in your value range. Likewise, if they are 4-betting more you should reduce the frequency with which you 3-bet trash hands.

If an opponent begins to 4-bet with a high frequency, you can increase your value range to hands like AQ and 88 but remember, once you 3-bet these hands against these players, you need to be 5-bet shoving over their 4-bet. If you're not prepared to go all in with them, you shouldn't be 3-betting to begin with.

How do you counter players that like to call a lot of your 3-bets?

Against these types of players, you want to widen your value range and have a smaller bluffing range. How often they are raising and how often they are calling your 3-bets are very important in determining exactly what your range should be, but a good basis would be something like AJ+ KQ+ and 88+. The wider they are calling, the more hands you can add. As these players are often calling your 3-bets, it's a bad idea to 3-bet complete trash hands as they play so bad post-flop. However we can now bring hands like 78s into our range as they play well post-flop.

Another factor in determining our range should be how our opponents are playing post-flop. If they are calling a lot pre-flop but then just folding to c-bets post-flop, we can 3-bet a wide range of hands and then just constantly c-bet 1/2 pot knowing it is extremely profitable. Against these types of players it's good to have more suited connector type hands in our 3-bet range because when high flops come out, we can represent them and when the low, draw-heavy flops come out we are likely to connect well with them. If our opponents are aggressive and tricky post flop we should be 3-betting more hands that are likely to flop top pair or strong draws. Since they will be making life difficult for us, we want to have a much stronger range against them.

Keep in mind in all of these situations that the wider people are opening, the wider you should be 3-betting and obviously the tighter people are opening, the less you should be 3-betting. It's important to keep track of how wide you think people are opening as they can often change whilst playing.

How does position influence your decision to 3-bet?

Position is very important when deciding when to 3-bet. For starters, the opening raiser’s position will heavily influence how wide they are opening and as such, if someone opens UTG, you should be 3-betting them less frequently than if they were to open the button.

It is also extremely important to take note of whether you will be in or out of position post flop (obviously this depends on if you're in the blinds or not). If you're going to be out of position post flop, you should have less bluffing hands in your 3-bet range as it's going to be much harder to play post-flop. When out of position it is best to have more top pair type hands in your 3-bet range, as they are easier to play out of position compared to drawing type hands. When in position we can also 3-bet more frequently, as it's going to be tougher for our opponent to call and play out of position post flop.

Obviously if you're against the 4-bet or fold type player it is irrelevant where you are going to be post-flop. However it's important to note that some types of players will change depending on their position. For example, they may 4bet or fold out of position but may flat your 3-bet more often when in position.

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Daniel Neilson explores the art of three-betting Daniel Neilson explores the art of three-betting