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Using 3-Betting and 4-Betting Strategies in Poker

Tips and Tricks to Winning Poker Hands Using 3-Bets and 4-Bets

Starting Hand RequirementsPart of the beauty of No Limit Hold’em is that there is no limit to how much you can bet, as long as you have the chip amount that you would like to bet in your stack to start the hand. This opens the door for players to make moves known as 3-betting and 4-betting, which play a very important part in proper No Limit Hold’em strategy.

What exactly is a 3-bet and a 4-bet? For those who are new to the game, a 3-bet usually refers to when one player raises another player’s raise before the flop is dealt. For the remainder of this article, a 4-bet will refer to any time a player re-raises another player’s 3-bet before the flop is dealt. There are post-flop versions of these bets, but we will not be covering those today.

3-Betting Strategy

Now that you know what a 3-bet is, it is time to learn how to use them. Most players do not 3-bet very much at all since they feel it should be done only when they have a big hand. Some players 3-bet too often with the idea that they will run the table over and steamroll their way to victory.

Which one is correct? The answer is neither. You should never come to a table with a specific 3-betting strategy because you never know what type of table you will be sitting at. The amount of 3-betting that should be done is dictated by how out-of-line the players at your table have been getting.

Who Should You 3-bet?

One of the first steps to incorporating 3-bets into your overall poker strategy is to understand exactly who you should be 3-betting. Of course, the strength of your hand will play a part in this decision, but it is not the only factor that you should consider. If you start trying to 3-bet the wrong kind of people in the wrong situations, you will put yourself squarely on the road to Bustoville.

In general, you should be looking to 3-bet with weak hands against players who will fold to 3-bets often. If you do not have a heads-up display program to show you who is folding to 3-bets often, you will have to wing it and try to go from memory.

Usually, the types of players who often fold to 3-bets are the types of players who don’t play many hands at all. This may seem counterintuitive, because these tight players will have a stronger range, but they may choose to fold part of their range that beats you. Another perk to 3-betting these tight players is that they will almost never 4-bet bluff you, so you can be sure that they will not exploit your light 3-betting tendencies.

Staying active while you do not have a strong hand is a great way to get action once you get dealt a strong hand. By 3-betting players who fold to 3-bets a lot, you give yourself a way to stay active until you get dealt a premium hand.

When you have a strong hand and you are facing a raise from a loose player, you obviously will want to 3-bet the raising player often. One reason why this is true is that you open the door for them to try to 4-bet you, which would create a massive pot. Another reason for raising is that you do not let them see a flop for cheap with their wide range of hands.

When Should You Avoid 3-betting?

When you hold a very strong hand, such as pocket aces, and you are facing a raise, your first thought might be to re-raise the original raiser so that you make them pay extra if they want to try to get lucky on you. However, there are some scenarios where 3-betting this premium hand is a bad idea.

Let’s consider an example where the original raiser is a very loose European player who has shown that he likes to continuation bet on every flop. This is a great time to avoid 3-betting with your pocket aces because you are nearly guaranteed to get more chips from this guy on the flop whether he hits it or not. Not only will you get the continuation bet from him, but he might think you have a weak hand due to the fact that you did not 3-bet pre-flop, and he might give you his whole stack.

Another time when you should not be 3-betting your opponent is if you have a hand that cannot withstand a re-raise and your opponent is an aggressive psycho. It does not do any good to try to bully players who do not care about losing, so we do not advise trying this.

Here’s an Example

Let’s say you are on the button with queen-jack off-suit and there is a player who is raising nearly every hand. This player is a young kid with a hoodie and a pair of sunglasses on who has proven that he has no problem putting all of his chips in the middle.

If you try to 3-bet this player with your queen-jack off-suit, you will often be facing a 4-bet all-in. This is not ideal with a hand like queen-jack off-suit, because it is of marginal strength. This hand does not do very well against most 4-betting ranges, so you want to avoid spots where 4-bets are likely to occur. This is certainly one of those spots to avoid, and a better option is to simply cold-call the raise.

A final reason that you should pump the brakes on 3-betting a certain hand is if this hand is not a premium hand and you have an extremely loose image at the table. How do you know if you have a loose image? If people are playing back at you often, or even commenting about how much you have been raising, then you will know your image is loose. This is usually going to be an awful time to bluff because you will not have the fold equity that is necessary to make the bluff profitable in the long run.

Why Should You 3-bet?

The main reason that most people 3-bet is simply because they have a good hand and they want to get more money in the pot. However, this is a short-sighted way of looking at it, because people will eventually pick up on such a simple strategy and they will stop giving you action. There are plenty of other reasons to 3-bet which are extremely underrated, in our opinion.

If there is one key reason to why you should 3-bet more often, it is that it makes you tougher to play against. This is because 3-betting really puts pressure on people who are open-raising with a weak range of hands. When you 3-bet someone in position with a polarized range that includes extreme weakness and extreme strength, this is very tough to battle with.

Another reason to 3-bet is that your hand strength becomes much less obvious when you have a premium hand. We have all been to the casinos and seen the old guy who only 3-bets when he has aces or kings and then he gets angry when he never gets any action.

You do NOT want to be this guy, whether you are an old man or not. These types of players think that they are playing a safe style, but in reality, they are costing themselves tons of money by not finding ways to actively 3-bet without premium hands. You might feel like you are taking more risks by putting chips into the pot, but in reality, you are winning more chips in the long run

For example, let’s pretend you just got done 3-bet bluffing a player who was opening a bunch of hands, and then the very next hand you are dealt pocket aces. If you had just been playing tight this whole time, you would be less likely to get any action with this monster hand. However, the aggressive player raises, you re-raise him, and he spazzes out by going all-in with his 8-9 suited. This scenario happens repeatedly in poker, and if it wasn’t for your aggressive play in previous hands, you might not have gotten any action in this spot.

What Size Should You 3-bet To?

The beautiful part about 3-betting is that there is not one specific raise size that is considered to be optimal. Each situation is unique when it comes to what the perfect raise size will be; you just have to know which variables to consider.

Some variables that you should look at when deciding what size to make your 3-bet raise include how deep the effective stacks in the hand are, what position you are in, how many players are in the hand, your history with the person who raised, and whether it is a cash game or a tournament. We will now look at an example for each one so that you can see how important they are.

Variable Examples

Variable 1

In our first example hand, we hold ace-ten suited and we have 20 big blinds on the button. One person ahead of us has raised to 2.5 big blinds, and the action is on us. It would be extremely incorrect for us to make a small 3-bet to six or seven big blinds here, since we only have 20 big blinds to start the hand.

We will not have nearly enough room to bluff on the flop and the turn if our small re-raise is called. The correct 3-bet sizing, in this case, is all of our chips. This is going to be the case anytime we have a stack-size of under 25 big blinds. If we had 30 big blinds in our stack in this exact same situation, it would be perfectly fine to do a small 3-bet. This is due to the fact that our flexibility is not affected very much when our stack goes from 30 big blinds to 23 big blinds, but when it goes from 20 to 13 big blinds, our flexibility is hindered greatly.

Variable 2

Consider when sizing your 3-bets is what position you are in. As a general rule, you should make your 3-bets bigger when you are out of position. For example, if you have 30 big blinds on the button with a hand that you would like to 3-bet, you should make a small re-raise of around 2.5 times their original raise. However, if you are in the big blind with this same hand, you should consider making your 3-bet around 3.5 or 4 times their original raise. This should win the pot enough times to prevent being constantly forced to play post-flop out of position, which is very tough to do.

Variable 3

Consider when sizing your 3-bets is how many players are already in the hand. You should never be making the same 3-bet size without considering this, otherwise, you might make your bet so small that everybody has pot odds to call your raise. As a general rule, you should add one original raise size to your 3-bet for every call that the original raise received before you decided to 3-bet. For example, if one player raises to 2 big blinds and three people call before it is your turn, you should add three big blinds to whatever your normal 3-bet size would be if there was only one person in the hand.

Believe it or not, the history that you have with a certain player might dictate what your 3-bet size will be in specific situations. For example, let’s assume that you are at a poker tournament table and you have been 3-betting the table captain all day long with small raises. However, you noticed a pattern that whenever you 3-bet small, he does not show much respect, but whenever you 3-bet large, he usually folds. You can then manipulate this player and start 3-betting to a large size when you have a weak hand, and 3-bet small when you have a strong hand.

The final consideration for what size to make your 3-bet is whether you are playing in a cash game or in a tournament. In general, you should not be 3-betting small in cash games very often. The stacks are usually far too deep for this in cash games, and you will find that making a big 3-bet will work better in most cash game situations. In tournaments, stack sizes are generally not as deep, so there is more logic in making small 3-bets. The fact that players cannot just rebuy when they lose is the biggest difference between these two formats. This is one reason why 3-betting small is good for tournaments, because players will be more scared of a 3-bet no matter what size it is, since they have one life to live in a tournament.

4-Betting Strategy

Throughout the course of any given poker session, you will have a plethora of opportunities to 4-bet other players. The hard part is to know when, where, why, and how much to 4-bet in order to maximize your profits. A single 4-bet has the potential to turn an entire tournament around, so it is extremely important to learn how to use them.

When deciding if you should 4-bet, there are a number of variables to consider, much like when you were deciding whether you should 3-bet or not. These variables include how often the person 3-betting has been targeting you, your image at the table, the effective stack sizes involved in the hand, and what position you are currently sitting in. If you try to wildly 4-bet without considering these variables, you will essentially be lighting your money on fire.

Who Should You 4-Bet?

Before you start 4-betting at any given poker table, you should first decide which players at the table you are going to target. If you mentally select these players before you look at your hand, it will be easier to pull the trigger once it is time to start the 4-betting party.

The first group of players that you should consider targeting is those who appear to be 3-betting quite often. In order to know how much “often” really means, you first need to know the range of 3-bet percentages that most players usually have. A tight player will normally 3-bet between 2%-5%, an average player will 3-bet between 5%-10%, and an extremely aggressive player will 3-bet between 10%-15% of total hands on average.

Note

Whenever you encounter one of these players that 3-bets in the 15% range, this is going to be a player that you should 3-bet with an extremely wide range of hands.

If you consider the fact that 15% of hands includes weak holding such as nine-ten suited and queen-jack off-suit, it is easier to see why the act of 3-betting these aggressive players is such a profitable move. It is extremely tough to play against 3-bets when you have a mediocre hand because the 3-bet usually represents such a strong range of hands.

Another type of player that you should consider 4-betting are players who make 3-bets with a very small sizing. The fact that they size their bet so small means that it has to work less often to be a profitable move. Therefore, in order to counter this advantage, you must resist more often than you normally would feel comfortable with in order to make their small 3-bet not as profitable.

When Should You Avoid 4-Betting?

Even though 4-betting is a very profitable move, there is a certain time and place where it will be the most effective. If you try to go against the grain and 4-bet when the variables are stacked against you, you will have a hard time making a profit from this advanced strategy.

One example of a time when you should not be 4-betting lightly is at the very beginning of a tournament. It is rare for players to play scared early in tournaments due to the fact that they are so far from the money bubble. It is also true that you should not be looking to play big pots early in a tournament.

Another time when 4-betting is bad is when you have a history of 4-betting with weak hands against the players at your table. Since most 4-bet bluffs only need to work about 50-60% of the time to be profitable, it is perfectly fine to 4-bet bluff against players you perceive to be weak. However, if you have taken this too far in recent hands with your table, then you should hold back from 4-betting anymore until you get a good hand.

One of our favorite times to avoid 4-betting is when you have an amazing hand like pocket aces. This is especially true when you are facing players who are extremely aggressive after the flop comes. You are guaranteed to induce at least one additional large bet from this type of player if you conceal the strength of your hand by just calling their 3-bet before the flop. Chances are good that this same player who is aggressive after the flop also has a wide range of hands in their pre-flop 3-betting range. Therefore, we do not want to 4-bet our big hand against that wide range, because it would allow him to fold all of his weak hands. Instead, it is good to sometimes let them bet themselves into a corner, which is quite easy to do in today’s aggressive poker world.

Why Should You 4-bet?

4-betting has a ton of great uses, but the main use is that it is your only weapon against a player who 3-bets extremely often. Some players have this thought in their head that they have no fold equity over anyone’s 3-bet, but this is almost never going to be the case. You need to get over the jitters that come from 3-betting other players without premium pocket pairs if you want to experience real success.

Even the tightest players who only 3-bet about 5% of the time will still fold around half of the time to a 4-bet. These players might even fold premium hands because they assume that everyone else plays as tight as they do!

4-betting aggressive players will normally not get them to fold their premium hands, because they are aware of their aggressive image and they are ready to fight back with a wide range. However, their range of 3-betting is so wide that they do not have to fold premium hands in order for you to get enough folds to make 4-bet bluffing them a profitable play.

One of the best arguments for 4-betting with a wider range than just high pocket pairs is that you will receive more action with those high pocket pairs in the future. Once people realize that you are capable of having weak hands in these 4-bet pots, they will be more likely to widen the range of hands that they give you resistance with. Once you realize that this is happening, you can simply go back to only 4-betting with the best hands and catch everyone off guard.

What Size Should You 4-bet To?

Much like 3-betting, 4-bets come in all shapes and sizes. Each size has a certain time and place for proper use; the trick is finding out when the right time and place has arrived.

One example of a time when you should not make a small 4-bet is if your stack is too small to comfortably make this bet and still continue in the post-flop portion of the hand. For example, let’s assume you have 35 big blinds and you open-raised to 3 big blinds before the flop. A player to your left then 3-bets you to 10 big blinds, and the rest of the table folds.

At this point, you have 32 big blinds left in your stack, and you are facing a bet of ten big blinds. The minimum 4-bet that is allowed in this spot according to the rules of No Limit Hold’em is 17 big blinds. However, this is more than half of your remaining stack. This is a great example of a spot where a regular 4-bet is not going to make any sense.

A basic rule of thumb is that you should be 4-betting all-in if making a smaller 4-bet raise commits more than half of your stack. If the smallest legal 4-bet size only accounts for 20-30% of your stack, you should probably just do a regular-sized 4-bet of about 2.5 times their original 3-bet size. However, if making a smaller 4-bet raise only commits 20-30% of your stack, you can still shove all-in some of the time with hands that you are not comfortable playing post-flop with.

The Wrap-Up

Now that you are familiar with the who, what, when, where, and why of 3-betting and 4-betting strategies, you should be able to apply this knowledge to your actual gameplay. These moves are extremely useful when playing No Limit Hold’em, and they are quite dangerous when the players who are making them are utilizing profitable 3-bet and 4-bet sizes and frequencies.