Value 3-Betting In No Limit Holdem

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While bluff 3betting can help your winrate, mastering value 3-betting in No Limit Holdem is invaluable.  To this day I am shocked how many players don’t fully understand how to value 3bet well, and any misunderstanding can only hurt your winrate in the longrun.  I wanted to talk a bit about value 3betting, which factors to consider, which hands are actually valuable, and how to visualize opening your value 3betting range.  And with that, let’s talk about what value actually is…

So in poker we are usually doing one of two things, value betting or bluffing.  In the case of 3betting we are usually either value 3betting or bluff 3betting.  What does that actually mean?

Value 3-betting: When we 3bet and our opponent 4bets or calls with hands we have an edge on

Bluff 3-betting: When we 3bet and want our opponent to fold (either now or later in the hand)

An obvious example of value 3betting is one when MP opens to 3bb and we 3bet with AA to 10bb.  This is obviously for value because any hands he calls or 4bets with AA will have a (huge) equity edge against.  Conversely, if we 3bet here with 96s any hand he calls or 4bets with would have an equity edge against us.  This may seem basic, but it’s the building block of understanding what your 3bet actually accomplishes.  But things can get a bit murky when 3-betting hands like AK, QQ, JJ, etc.

Let’s talk about QQ for a second.  Say EP opens and it folds to us in the CO with QQ.  As always, we want to consider all the factors here:

Who opened the pot?: Is EP a fish or a regular?  Does he fold a lot versus 3bets or does he call them with a very wide range?  Is he an aggressive 4bettor, and if so do we have a plan if we face a 4bet?

What is the opener’s range?:  There are two ranges we need to care about here.  First, his opening range (aka his O-Range).  Does he open a range closer to 77+/AQ+ or something more like 22+/AJ+/KQ?  We also need to consider his continuance range (aka his C-Range).  This is the range he would continue with by either 4betting or calling the 3bet.  Would he continue with QQ+/AK?  TT+/AQs+?  Or maybe he’d call with TT-QQ and 4bet KK+/AK and 4bet some weaker hands as well?  Everything we do in poker is based upon ranges, so we need to be very good at this kind of range estimation.

Strong 3-Bets

What do we represent?:  If the opener is a thinking player we certainly want to consider what our 3bet range represents.  If we rep a very strong hand then he may fold out hands like JJ, TT, and AK.  If we’ve been aggressively 3betting him he might start to loosen his C-Range which would inherently make 3betting QQ more valuable!  If the opener isn’t a thinking player, then don’t worry about what you represent to him or balancing your 3bet range.

Who’s left to act?:  In considering everything we want to also look at who’s left to act in the hand.  If the button, SB, and/or BB were aggressive squeezers could we call here and induce a mistake from them?  Are there fish that we need to get involved with?  If so, would they call the open but not a 3bet?

What size do we use?:  If you do decide to 3bet for value it’s important that you size it well.  The standard 3-bet size is usually between 3x and 4x, so if he opens to 3bb the 3bet would be around 9bb-12bb.  There are times to use slightly different sizing (against fish or odd-stacked players for example), but 3betting between 3x-4x will serve you well as a default.

So we notice that there are quite a few things we need to keep in mind.  Of course, if we were in the BB we wouldn’t need to worry about who’s left to act, and if EP were a fish we wouldn’t need to worry about what we represent.  But overall, these are the factors that go into it.  However, not enough people focus on the important part of the puzzle: ranges.  They look at this spot and say “well, I estimate that EP is opening 22+/AJ+/KQ and QQ crushes that, so I’ll 3bet!”  And while QQ does crush THAT range, that’s NOT the range we need to estimate our equity against.  We need to estimate how QQ performs against the range he would give our 3bet action with!

Say we thought he’d continue with two different ranges: QQ+/AK and 99+/AQ+.  Let’s run the equity of QQ against those…

QQ: 40%

QQ+/AK: 60%

QQ: 58%

99+/AQ+: 42%

Against the stronger range our QQ is actually dominated.  And while QQ has a 62/38 equity edge against his opening range; it performs quite poorly when he only gives our 3bet action with the strongest part of it.  Also notice that QQ performs very well when it dominates hands, such as 99 or AQ.  The more dominated hands your opponent would continue with, the better!  But wait…there’s more!

Say you think he’d call your 3bet with ALL of his dominated pairs, 22-JJ.  Well obviously QQ crushes those hands, but how will we make money?  Is he likely to call the 3bet with those hands and play really fit-or-fold postflop?  Is he likely to call them preflop and spew heavily postflop with 2nd pairs and slight overpairs?  The more money he’s going to spew postflop, the more our 3bet with QQ is purely for value and likely optimal.

We also need to consider how his range breaks down.  Say we think he’d continue versus our 3bet with 99+/AQ+, does he call 99-QQ and 4bet the rest?  If so, do we have a plan for his 4bet range?  Does he call 3bets with AK OOP?  If so, how does he play it postflop on average?  All of these questions are easier to answer with information and history, but can be very difficult to even estimate against many players.

This may seem like a lot of things to consider, and it truthfully is…but with practice this becomes very easy and almost second-nature.  Thinking like this promotes two very important skillsets: ranges and forward-thinking.  Everything we do in poker involves ranges.  What range did villain open with and what range would villain continue with if we 3bet?  If we just called how would villain make mistakes with various parts of his range?  And that is all part of forward-thinking.  “If I do X, what will realistically happen?  Is that good or bad, profitable or suboptimal?”  The more you study poker away from the table the easier it will be to use in real-time.

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Many players make one of the following mistakes when trying to value 3bet.  They either try to 3bet a hand like QQ or JJ in a spot where it isn’t REALLY for value (aka, against nits who will never make mistakes against the 3bet).  Or they miss great value 3bet spots against fish with hands like JJ, AQ, and sometimes even TT/AJ.  Fish will obviously continue much wider against 3bets and thus hands like JJ and AQ can shift nicely into value 3bets because fish continue wider preflop and spew more postflop.  Of course, postflop won’t always be super easy (being that JJ is going to face an overcard on the flop >40% of the time and AQ is going to miss the flop about 2/3 of the time)…but your skill and overall card edge will prevail in the longrun.  And if you can throw position edge into the mix the situation becomes more and more profitable for you.

I want to throw one last question out there that you should work on answering.  “If you 3bet AK preflop, is it for value or more of a semi-bluff?”  Think about the answer to that question if villain is a nit, a TAG, a LAG, or a fish.  Your answer could easily differ against different TAGs (say one that opened from EP vs one that stole from the button), and could differ between FR, 6max, and online versus live poker games (given default range and frequency assumptions).  Once you understand when AK is a value 3bet or a semi-bluff 3bet, and when a 3bet with QQ or JJ is value versus a waste of the hand, you will have this concept mastered.  Until then, keep working and thinking.  Use an equity calculator, think about postflop edges, think about how you will handle 4bets, and think about profitability.  There are many spots where 3betting JJ or AK could be valuable, but flatting could actually be optimal.  Get to thinking and let me know if you get stuck!


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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