The poker strategy in this article is designed for cash game situations, specifically 100 big blind deep. If you create deeper or shallower stacks the ranges and concepts talked about in this article become less applicable.
In a previous article I talked about the polarization of 3-bets. Since then I have made some subtle changes to my 3 betting strategy and they are mainly influenced by position. The first realization I made is that a correct 3 betting strategy in cash games relies on polarizing your 3 betting range when in position and merging it when out of position. Obviously there are some exceptions and caveats to this, which I will talk about later. However, let's get into the basic philosophy.
First of all, I believe an optimal 3 bet percentage is roughly the same in position and out of position. Some people say you should 3-bet more in position than out of position and for a while I agreed that you could perhaps skew your ranges slightly in this direction. However, in today's games, where everyone is aware of everyone's 3-bet percentage from each position, if you 3-bet too much from the BTN or CO, you will get exploited.
I also believe the optimal 3-bet percentage is roughly 7% overall. That number can vary some, most players should definitely be in the 6-9% 3-bet range over the long term. My thoughts are that the 6-9% range is not so tight that you won't get action when you have big hands, and it's also not so loose so that your 3 betting range is too weak. When your range is too weak people can combat you easily and profitably by 4-betting or flatting and then bluff-raising flops. So the percentage of hands that I want to 3 bet will not change much depending on position. What will change in general is the type of hands I will be 3 betting. If I were playing a table full of regulars and a table full of fish, my 3-betting range would vary dramatically table to table. It is important to remember that you need balance when playing against players who will exploit unbalanced ranges. If you are playing against fish who won't exploit this, then you can skew your ranges whichever way you want to best take advantage of your opponents.
The main reason I believe you should merge instead of polarize when you 3 bet from the blinds is because I have figured that people are more likely to call your 3 bet when they have position, and inversely, more likely to 4 bet or fold when out of position. The reason for this is obvious. Most players believe that position allows them to profitably play more hands, which is true. What is important is that we modify the hands we 3 bet so we can best counter this strategy.
Let's take a standard 6-max player who's a regular in the game. It's not uncommon for him to fold to a 3bet 65% of the time when 3 bet from the blinds vs his CO raise. However, take the same player and you are CO and he is UTG+1. In this position he is likely to fold 75-85% of the time to your 3-bet. And the times when he does play back, he is most likely 4 betting for value/bluff and flatting a very small percentage of the time. For that reason, I believe you should be 3-betting a range consisting of hands you want to get all-in pre-flop. In this spot it might be JJ+ - AK+, for example. And you should also 3-bet a range of hands that you cannot flat profitable so decide to re-raise.
Another thing I have adjusted in my game is changing the hands which are "bluff" hands that represent the hands I'm not 3-betting. Previously, I advocated using hands like off-suit connectors which you cannot flat profitably, for example 56o. Now I advocate just using the best hands you cannot flat profitably. So for example, if you cannot flat hands as strong as QJo and ATo in position, add those to your bluff 3-betting range. They will have more post-flop equity than hands like off-suit connectors, even if they are dominated a portion of the time. We are not looking to 3-bet JQo or ATo and automatically stack off when we make a pair in position. Most likely our hand will fall into the medium strength category and we will be looking to pot control depending on board and possibly get 1-2 streets of value.
So take a hand like 89o. I cannot flat it profitably but a hand like k8s I cannot flat profitably either. However, k8s will have more equity in a 3-bet pot than 89o, so I choose the k8s type hands to 3-bet. At the same time, in the middle of a game, things are a bit more situational and I may actually decide to 3-bet 89o and k8s based on my opponent and his estimated playback range. In other words, everything changes in poker. Some players may be 4 bet happy and some may fold to 3 bets a lot. Against the player who folds to a lot of 3 bets I am more likely to be 3 betting 10%+ in position and the player who is 4 bet happy I'm more likely to 3 bet 5%. Obviously, everything depends in poker and these rough guidelines should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Out of position from the blinds, I will frequently 3-bets hands like AJ+ , KQ+ whereas I'm more likely to flat the AJ and KQ type hands in position because villains will frequently 4-bet or fold out of position. So the value of AJ becomes worthless if your opponent is never flatting and your planning on folding to a 4-bet. However, out of position, as previously stated, your opponents calling range will increase. Now you can definitely 3-bet hands like AJ and be happy bet, bet, shoving it on an ace flop because your opponents calling range to your blind 3-bet is every Axs. The same applies for KQ on a Q high flop. Your opponent will likely be calling hands such as QJ, QTs and even Q9s pre-flop, so you essentially have the second nuts much of the time.
All of the advice and strategy above applies to regulars. Everything changes when it comes to fish. The reason you should not polarize when playing fish is because in general, they will call a lot more 3-bets, even out of position. Basically, what you need to do now is just open up your value 3-betting range and never 3-bet with "bluff" hands. Basically, what you are doing is getting to the fish before the other players can, i.e., you are isolating the fish with your AT, QJ, KJ, KQ, and AJ hands (basically any two broadways) instead of flatting and allowing another player to do the same. You can also play with 3-betting them to a smaller amount to induce even more calls from weaker hands out of position.
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