Monday, February 23, 2009

3-Betting in NLHE, An Introduction

Since my online cash experience prior was not terribly profitable, even when I’d play TAG, I realized I needed to evaluate my play and really push outside of my own comfort zone to make myself a profitable player. While I am more of a natural nit than a gambler, I realized that I am successful for the most part when I establish an image and I play off it. Since online play usually involves gambling with new players, I found that I can drive action and build pots by 3-betting preflop.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, 3-betting is a preflop reraise, generally from later position or the blinds. This is a strong tournament play, but it also has its place in cash games. If timed properly, 3-betting can be used to bet for value, as a semibluff, or as a flat out bluff. Here are several benefits to 3-betting:

1. Isolation. By making a reraise in later position, you chase away drawing hands and stronger players (who can play post-flop). Often times, you will end up heads up against a scared open raiser. Most standard players are not calling a raise and a reraise. Not only are they worried about your holdings, but they have to worry about the initial raiser as well. These players are squeezed out of the pot. Since it’s easier to read and outplay 1 player, this is advantageous to skilled post flop players.

2. Value. If you have a big hand, you want to play a big pot, so you’re going to reraise preflop. However, if opponents realize that you only reraise when you have AA/KK/QQ/AKs, you’re not going to get called very much when you make these plays. You have to vary your play to maximize value long term. That means reraising with a wider range of hands… maybe even absolute junk once or twice every other session.

3. Table Image. Aggression wins pots, so being on the attack when you think (or know) you’re ahead builds up your potential and actual profit. I’m capable of raising preflop with any 2 cards, depending on my position and opponents. However, if I know that a player to my left is capable of reraising me more often than not, I am less likely to push the action. I have found recently that my willingness to 3-bet has tamed some aggressive opponents and has also allowed me to earn some cheap flops with value hands.

4. Overall equity. Many times, a 3-bet will take the blinds + the initial raise (total take of 3-5 total BB’s without seeing a flop), which is a nice win. However, you want to play big pots with your big hands. You want a player to go all in with a Q-4 against your AA. By choosing your spots and playing with discipline, you can add to your overall win rate. Sure, you might get reraised again (a 4-bet) and will have to fold, but long term, I believe that the play is a profitable one for building pot equity. Your end goal is to win all the money. You win all the money by playing big pots. Since many novice players are looser and more aggressive pre-flop than post-flop, you can take advantage of this tendency to build pots, then outplay them. Finally, as I have mentioned, when you have your monster hands, you’re more likely to get action because your opponents have more trouble putting you on a big one.

This is an outline and guide about why 3-betting can be a good play. I obviously don’t condone making it a usual play, but it should be a move in your poker toolbox. In just a few sessions, I have found that it works best if you are capable of changing gears to keep your opponents guessing. This is a risky play in micro and low games because your opponents are more erratic and also cannot get away from hands. You put yourself at risk to win or lose some big pots, but that’s the name of the game… If you time the move properly and mix up your hand ranges, you can confuse these lesser opponents and really drive a lot of value. My advice for new players is to play your game and quickly identify 3-bet candidates, then deploy this technique at the correct juncture. This tool is not always the best play, but if you master it, it can be profitable at these low stakes. I am still learning when and who to 3-bet, so as I figure it out, I’ll share it with all of you.

Next: Ideal 3-bet Circumstances

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