Poker 3-Betting Strategy
The poker strategy in this article is designed for cash game situations, specifically 100 big blinds deep. With deeper or shallower stacks the ranges and concepts discussed in this article are less applicable.
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, but let's start with a look into the basic philosophy.
Optimal 3-Bet Percentage
An optimal 3-bet percentage is roughly the same in position and out of position. Some say you should 3-bet more in position than out of position, and many would agree it’s wise to skew your ranges slightly in this direction. However, in today's games, as more players are aware of the recommended 3-bet percentage from each position, if you 3-bet too frequently from the button or cutoff positions, you will get exploited.
Many peg the optimal 3-bet percentage at roughly 7% overall. That number can vary, but most players should be in the 6-9% 3-bet range over the long term. 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 you will want to 3-bet will not change much depending on position. What will change in general is the type of hands you should be 3-betting, while your 3-betting range should also vary depending on the composition of the table.
It is important to remember that you need balance when playing against players who will exploit unbalanced ranges. If you are playing against weaker players 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 to merge instead of polarize when you 3-bet from the blinds is because people are more likely to call your 3-bet when they have position, and 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 play more hands profitably, which is true. What is important is that you modify the hands you 3-bet so you can counter this strategy.
3-Betting Against Good Players
Let's imagine a standard 6-Max player who's a regular in the game. It's not uncommon for them to fold 65% of the time when 3-bet from the blinds vs their raise from the cutoff. However, take the same player but you are in the cutoff and they are UTG+1. In this position they are likely to fold 75-85% of the time to your 3-bet. And the times when they do play back, they are most likely 4-betting for value/bluff and flatting a very small percentage of the time.
For that reason, you should be 3-betting a range consisting of hands you want to get all-in preflop. In this spot it might be JJ+, for example. And you should also 3-bet a range of hands that you cannot flat call profitably so decide to re-raise.
3-Bet Bluff Hands
You should 3-bet bluff using the best hands for which you cannot flat call profitably. 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.
Note that you are not looking to 3-bet JQo or ATo and automatically stack off when you make a pair in position. Most likely your hand will fall into the medium strength category and you will be looking to control the size of the pot depending on the board and possibly get one or two streets of value.
So take a hand like 89o: you can’t flat it profitably but a hand like K8s can’t be flatted profitably either. However, K8s will have more equity in a 3-bet pot than 89o, so choose the K8s type of hands with which to 3-bet.
At the same time, in the middle of a game, things are a bit more situational and you may actually decide to 3-bet 89o and K8s, based on your opponent and their 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, you should be looking to 3-bet 10%+ in position, while against the player who is 4-bet happy you’re probably more likely to 3-bet around 5%. Obviously, these are only rough guidelines and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Out of position, in the blinds, you can frequently 3-bets hands like KQ+. In position, you might want to flat those AJ/KQ type of hands because opponents will frequently 4-bet or fold out of position. So the value of AJ becomes worthless if your opponent is never flatting and you’re planning on folding to a 4-bet.
However, out of position, as previously stated, your opponent’s calling range will widen. Now you can definitely 3-bet hands like AJ and be happy betting each street and shoving the river on an ace flop, because your opponent’s 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 preflop, so you essentially have the second nuts much of the time.
3-Betting Against Bad Players
All of the advice and strategy above applies to players of a decent standard. Everything changes when it comes to weaker and less experienced players.
The reason you should not polarize when playing these weaker players is because, in general, they will call a lot more 3-bets, even out of position. Against them you need to open up your value 3-betting range, and never 3-bet with bluff hands.
Basically, what you are doing is getting to the weaker players before anyone else can, i.e. isolating them with your AT, QJ, KJ, KQ, and AJ hands (any two Broadway cards) instead of flatting and allowing another player to do the same. You can also try 3-betting them to a smaller amount to induce even more calls from weaker hands out of position.
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