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What Is A 3-Bet In Poker & How To Pick The Right Hands


The term 3 bet is one of the most used phrases in modern poker theory, but it might be frustrating to hear so much about a subject you barely understand if you are new to poker.

Because 3 bets have become an integral part of poker strategy nowadays, you won’t get far without mastering this concept.

While the definition of 3bet looks pretty simple, there are much more to 3 bets than meets the eye, and we will discuss everything you need to know in this article. But first, let us answer the question of what is a 3bet in poker.

What is a 3 Bet In Poker?

There are pre-flop and postflop 3-bets, but we will be talking about the one most poker players refer to when they mention the term, which is the pre-flop 3 bet.

In poker, the term 3 bet describes a raise made after the initial raise pre-flop.

Most beginners don’t understand why the 3-bet is called like that when it is the second and not the third raise pre-flop. Well, the blinds are considered the first bet, the first raise pre-flop is considered the 2-bet, and thus the second raise pre-flop is considered a 3-bet.

For example, if you are playing 2/4 No Limit Holdem.

Before the start of the hand, the small blind and the big blind post their blinds. It is a blind bet, which is what confuses newbie players, but a bet nonetheless.

Let’s say that the UTG raises to $10, and the CO makes a bet to $25.

Essentially, the UTG’s raise is the second bet made pre-flop - the “2 bet,” while the CO’s re-raise is the third bet made pre-flop - the “3 bet.”

The important thing to note is that only when the player reraises the 2nd bet is his bet considered a 3 bet.

If instead of reraising, the CO just made a call of the UTG $10 raise, his bet would not be considered a 3 bet.

What is a 3-bet in poker & how to pick the right hands

What Is A Squeeze Bet?

If a player makes a raise pre-flop, one or more players make a call, and then a player makes a 3 bet, this 3 bet is called a squeeze bet.

This type of 3 bet is called a squeeze bet because the purpose of this bet is to squeeze as many opponents from the hand as possible and thus increase the 3 bettor's chances of winning the pot.

Because of the bet's nature and purpose, squeeze bets are made with larger amounts of money or chips than standard 3 bets.

3 Bet Strategy - Why do Poker Players 3 Bet

Now that you know what 3 betting is, it is time to learn why and how poker players use 3 betting to increase their win rate.

3 Betting For Value

In situations where they have a premium hand, poker players use 3 bets to build up the pot and extract as much value from their opponents as possible.

Imagine a situation in which you are playing 0.5/1 NL Holdem

The action is folded to the CO, who makes a raise to $2.5, and you are sitting on the BTN with As Ad.

In this situation, it is undeniable that you have a better hand (or, in the worst possible scenario, the same hand) than the CO and that you should try to make your opponent put more money in the pot with an inferior holding.

You can only do this by 3 betting him to $8 or so. By doing this, you are immediately increasing the pot from $4 to $12 and opening the action again by giving your opponent a chance to make additional raises.

3 Betting As A Bluff

The main reason why poker players 3 bet as a bluff is to balance their ranges and to disguise their value 3 bets.

Imagine if you were only 3 betting premium hands, it wouldn’t take long for your opponents to realize this and start folding to your 3 bets and thus prevent you from extracting value from with your good hands.

To prevent this from happening, poker players incorporate bluffs into their 3 bet ranges. To be clear, bluff 3 bets are hands that you reraise your opponent pre-flop with the intention of taking the pot down without a showdown.

Imagine a situation in which you are playing 0.25/0.5 NL Holdem

The action is folded to the CO, who makes a raise to $1.25, and you are sitting on the BTN with As 5s.

In this situation, your hand is a bit too weak to call and too weak to 3-bet for value, so it makes for a solid 3-bet bluff candidate, especially because the A blocks some of your opponent's strong hands.

So you can use this hand to keep your opponent guessing whether you are 3 betting for value or are betting as a bluff.

Adding 3 bet bluffs to your game will earn you a lot of uncontested pots that you will take down pre-flop. On top of that, you will have multiple chances to win pots post-flop, continuing your aggression even when you miss.

While the concept of 3 bet bluffing is much more complex, we hope that this is enough to explain why you should add this play in your arsenal, and you can keep studying how to do it properly.

What is a 3-bet in poker  how to pick the right hands

3 Betting Strategy - Most Common 3 Betting Situations

Now that you are familiar with the main reasons poker players 3 bets, we will mention some of the most common 3 betting situations.

Building The Pot

We already mentioned this, so we will keep it short and try to give you reasons and specific situations so that you can get a better idea of how building the pot depends not only on your holdings but also on game dynamics, your opponent's style of play and positions at the table.

So, in the previous example in which you had AA, the situation was pretty clear because of the strength of your hand. However, in most situations, the strength of your hand will not be enough to decide if you should 3 bet to build the pot or not.

For example, if a player opens from UTG and you hold JJ in the HJ, should you 3 bet for value, or should you just call? How should you approach this spot?

Well, the first thing you want to consider is the positions. In this case, you have a premium hand, but the player is opening from UTG, so he will have a much stronger range than usual.

The second thing you want to consider is your opponent's style of play:

  • Is the tight, or is he loose?
  • Is he passive or aggressive?
  • Is he a weaker player or a solid regular?

And the third thing that can help you make a good decision is thinking about the game dynamics. Do you have experience with this player where the hand went to showdown? Have you seen him make unorthodox moves, or does he play GTO strategy?

If the answer to these questions is, for example, that your opponent is a solid aggressive regular who understands the game very well and knows his opening ranges, you are better off with just calling your JJ instead of 3 betting as you will probably get action only from hands that beat you.

3-bettingOn the other hand, if you are up against recreational players who play loose and open many hands even from UTG, you are much better off 3-betting and isolating this player to play a heads-up pot.

Isolating Weak Players

This is another way in which good poker players use 3 betting to increase their win rate. As you may already assume, it can be used only in specific situations.

This requires a weaker opponent that plays a lot of pots with questionable hands, does not pay much attention to positions and game dynamics, and calls 3 bets too wide.

If a good poker player has this type of opponent at his table, he will widen his 3 betting ranges to isolate this player and play as many pots against him heads up as possible.

For example, if an opponent opens from the HJ, and you are sitting in the CO with AT (which is not a standard 3 bet for value in this situation), you should consider 3 betting instead of calling because if other players at the table know that your opponent is a weaker player, they will also call with wider ranges to try and get involved which will ultimately lower your chances of winning the hand.

The main principle for this kind of 3 bet with weaker holdings is that you can use your skill advantage over your opponent to make up for the weaker range postflop. On top of that, such players will likely call down way too wide, so you will still have a range advantage, to begin with.

what is a 3-bet in poker & how to pick the right hands

Thinning The Field

This is the concept we already mentioned when we talked about squeeze 3 betting, and it is another great example of how good poker players use the slightest of information to gain an edge over their opponents.

There are two situations where 3 bets are used to thin the field.

First, let’s say that the action is folded to CO, who makes a raise, the BTN calls, SB folds, and you are in the BB with QQ.

In this situation, apart from building the pot, you want to make a 3 bet squeeze to try and get heads up against one of your opponents (preferably the BTN because he has a capped range). The reason why you want to play against one player and not two is that the more players are in the pot, the less equity your hand has.

For example, if CO has AJ and BTN has KT, combined, they have 2 overcards to your QQ, but if you manage to squeeze out one of your opponents, it leaves only 1 overcard. Of course, it is a very simplified example of concrete hands rather than ranges, but it is a good way to illustrate this point.

The second situation in which you might want to thin the field with a 3 bet is when there is a weaker opponent in the hand which you want to isolate.

For example, UTG folds, HJ makes a raise, CO and BTN fold, a weaker player in the SB calls, and you are in the BB with AJ.

In this situation, a 3 bet squeeze is a good way to try and push out the regular from the hand and get heads up against the weaker player with a capped range.

Taking Initiative

The main reason why good poker players play aggressively is that this style of play gives them more opportunities to win the pot. And the best way to take the initiative pre-flop is to make a 3 bet.

To prove our point, let’s analyze two scenarios where we 3bet in the first situation and just call in the second.

Let’s say that the action folds to CO, who raises with As Ts, the player on the BTN has Ad Jc and decides just to make a call, and the SB and BB fold.

The flop comes Ks 7d Qc, and the CO bets a third of the pot, B calls with a gutshot.

The turn is a 5h, the CO makes a half-pot bet, and the BTN folds because he is not getting the right price.

Now, let’s take the same scenario, but instead of calling pre-flop, the BTN makes a 3 bet, and the CO calls.

The flop comes Ks 7d Qc, the CO checks to the pre-flop raiser, B bets a third of the pot, and the CO calls.

The turn is a 5h, the BTN makes a half-pot bet, and the CO folds because he is not getting the right price.

As you can see, because he made a 3 bet pre-flop instead of just calling, the BTN took the initiative in the hand, allowing him to be the aggressor post-flop and take the pot down.

what is a 3-bet in poker & how to pick the right hands

Final Thoughts On 3 Betting In Poker

If you are new to 3 betting, you first want to learn to recognize situations in which you are 3 betting for value and in which you are 3 betting as a bluff. Many newbie players struggle to answer when asked if they are 3 betting for value or as a bluff, but knowing the answer to this question is the first step in developing a good 3-betting strategy.

Another thing you want to do is learn how to recognize different 3 betting situations based on factors such as the skill of your opponents, game dynamics, positions, and stack sizes.

Mastering each of these elements will do wonders for your 3 betting games and make you a nightmare for your opponents.

what is a 3-bet in poker & how to pick the right hands

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