By Tony Guerrera
The Poker Helper article entitled Don’t Play Your Hands Face Up addresses an important consideration regarding 3-betting preflop in no-limit hold’em. 3-bet preflop with a predictably tight distribution when stacks are deep enough such that you can’t deny your opponents proper implied odds, and you’re in trouble against good opponents. With that in mind, let’s explore a few ways to tinker with your preflop 3-betting distributions.
If your opponents put you on AA-QQ when you 3-bet preflop, then never reraising is one way of disguising your AA-QQ. When an opponent raises, just call preflop. If your opponent is an aggressive player capable of firing multiple bullets, consider playing passively postflop. Lean towards calling down with a hand that’s a favorite against your opponent’s betting distribution because his betting distribution against your passivity is probably wider than his calling distribution against your aggression. But pay attention to bet sizing that may indicate real strength.
When you’re out-of-position, you can also consider betting right into the preflop raiser on the flop. If your opponent just calls, then the optimum line of play for the remainder of the hand is largely a function of your particular opponent, but a check/call on the turn followed up by a blocking bet on the river is usually a good way to squeeze value out of an overpair (the aggressive -> passive -> aggressive line of play also confounds opponents, making them less apt to bluff you, making the play of your overpairs relatively straightforward). Meanwhile, if your opponent raises your lead on the flop, then call the raise with the intention of check/calling down to the river (and if your opponent checks behind on the turn, then consider leading about 1/3 pot into him on the river unless you think your opponent hit a draw, or if you think he’s apt to bluff if you check to him).
Your opponents will have a tough time including AA-QQ in your hand distribution if you simply call preflop, and when your opponents misjudge your hand distributions, you position yourself to make money. However, you should be aware of the drawbacks associated with never reraising. First, you’ll encounter more multiway pots, and those can be tricky to play when you have an overpair. Second, you won’t be playing big pots when you have a big edge against your opponents. These drawbacks shouldn’t completely dissuade you from calling raises with AA-QQ instead of 3-betting. But as always, know the lines of play that will evolve from your decisions.
Increase Your Preflop Reraising Frequency Very Slightly
AA-QQ represents only 1.4% of possible hole cards. If you’re playing at a nine-handed table where 50% of pots are raised preflop, you’re only reraising about .7% of total hands dealt. That’s only 1 out of every 143 hands! If you’re playing live poker, where about 30 hands are played per hour, you’re reraising once every 4 hours and 46 minutes. If you’re playing in an online shorthanded game, where you might be playing around 100 hands per hour, you’re still reraising less than once per hour! With such a small reraising frequency with respect to time, a preflop 3-bet bluff or two during a session will go undetected. If your opponents raise with sufficiently large distributions, but only fight back against reraises with very tight distributions (because they put you on AA-QQ and you’ve denied them proper implied odds with your bet-sizing), then this occasional 3-bet bluff will be worth a few big blinds worth of positive expectation value (EV) in the long run.
Action folds to a player in middle position with 80BB who raises to 4BB. Everyone else folds to you. You have 100BB and 53o in the big blind. The raiser’s range is [AA-77, AK-AT, KQ-KT]. If you reraise, he’ll only stay in the hand with [AA-KK] unless pot odds plus implied odds yield payout odds of at least 7.5:1. Reraising to about 15.27BB will give you opponent exactly 7.5:1 pot odds. 16 is the closest integer to 15.27 rounding up, but since your opponent’s math might not be extremely accurate, let’s be safe and reraise to 18BB.
Treating this 3-bet as a one shot bluff where you lose 100% of the time that your opponent calls, your EV is:
(In this equation, P(Call) is the probability that your opponent calls and P(Fold) is the probability that your opponent folds)
Given your opponent’s hand and calling distributions, P(Call) = and P(Fold) = , meaning that the EV of reraising is .
When the raiser’s hand distribution is tighter, the profitability of this 3-bet, when treated as a one shot bluff, is highly sensitive to the hand distribution that the raiser will contest a 3-bet with. If you decide to approach your preflop 3-betting from this angle, save your 3-bet bluffs for opponents on somewhat wide raising distributions who are only fighting back against 3-bettors with very tight distributions.
Completely Open Up Your 3-Betting Range
Two ways exist to open up your 3-betting range. In practice, it’s best to use them in tandem. At the beginning of a session, your 3-betting range should be more of a function of situations than it is of cards. Reraise with AA-QQ 100% of the time, and also reraise with suited connectors and 1-gaps when you have position on seemingly weak preflop raisers. A seemingly weak preflop raiser is generally someone who raises to less than 3BB + 1BB for every limper, or someone who raises to 4BB or less from the cutoff (CO) or the hijack (CO-1). (The suited connector/1-gap condition isn’t written in stone. For example, occasionally toss in random reraises based on timing if you haven’t reraised in a while)
Meanwhile, what about hands that have the potential to be ahead of the ranges of some preflop raisers – hands in the [AK-AJ, JJ-99] distribution? Consider playing them passively against preflop aggressors early in most sessions, because in today’s playing climate, this seems to be the way to get the most value with them before you’ve established an aggressive image. However, once you’ve established that you’re aggressively 3-betting, you can completely turn the tables on your opponents. Instead of reraising with a distribution looking something like [AA-QQ, JTs-54s, J9s-53s], you can now transform your 3-betting distribution into something like [AA-88, AK-AJ].
Effectively, you’re shifting from 3-bet bluffing to 3-betting for value. Postflop, you’ll have to oscillate between aggressive and passive play. For example, if you 3-bet with AA, it may be best to check behind on the flop, representing something like AK, to induce an opponent with a likely pocket pair to fire bets into you on the turn and the river. Unless you’re used to playing $400NL games or higher, you’re probably not used to seeing much 3-betting preflop, meaning that there will be a learning curve associated with postflop play evolving from preflop 3-bets. But overcoming this learning curve will be well worth it in the long run.
The Right Method For The Right Table
Personally, I lean towards completely opening up my 3-betting range. A large part of this is the confidence I have in playing postflop after a preflop 3-bet. But this doesn’t mean that I completely eschew the other approaches to preflop 3-betting in no-limit hold’em. The more familiar you are with various approaches to the game, the more versatile you’ll be, and the better you’ll be at recognizing various lines of play that your opponents are adopting. And versatility and recognition are two important keys to becoming a better player.
Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker By The Numbers and co-author of Killer Poker Shorthanded (with John Vorhaus)
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