Playing against fish can seem tricky at first. They never fold, they keep calling you down with bottom pair, and they never seem to miss a draw. But fish are a super profitable resource and it’s vital that you know not only how to play against them postflop – but also preflop.
A large part of making +EV plays against fish preflop is knowing how and when to 3bet them. Sure, 3betting nuttish hands like QQ+/AK is obvious – but what other hands and spots are profitable?
To answer this question, let’s view it through the lens of a common poker question I get from beginner-intermediate players…
“Lots of coaches talk about 3betting more often preflop. But I play in a game with a ton of fish and do not think 3betting with 96o is a great idea. So what should I do?”
There is some advice that gets shared that may seem to conflict with your exact game condition. Aggressive coaches and players will tell you to bluff 3bet more often. And while that advice may work well in their game – it may not work as-described in yours.
3betting More Overall
Most players 3bet far too rarely. If you only ever 3bet with QQ+/AK, you are 3betting too rarely. I want to challenge you to 3bet more often, but not just for the sake of 3betting. Rather, 3bet with a clear idea on profit and an understanding of the situation you are creating.
When you play in games where players only give 3bets action with nuttish hands, you should 3bet a ton of air. This exploits their folding frequency and allows you to pick up a ton of uncontested pots (your winrate will thank you).
But fish do not suffer from that leak. In fact, they fold far too rarely (or at least preflop). However, this does not mean that we only 3bet them with QQ+/AK. It just means that we choose a different range to exploit their frequency issues.
You are 100% correct that 3betting 96o vs a fish is not a great play. Fish hate folding and love seeing more flops. Why would we want to bloat a pot with minimal preflop fold equity when holding a hand like 96o?
When 3betting vs fish you do not just say “I am only going to 3bet the nuts” nor do you say “I am going to 3bet them with a ton of air”. Instead, you ask yourself which hands would perform better by 3betting than just calling against them?
3betting fish with nuttish hands makes sense. Fish fold less often, and thus they continue against 3bets with a great deal of marginal hands. We 3bet hands that dominate their continuance range and the basic hands like QQ and AK fit the bill.
But what about expanding your 3betting range to include hands like TT, AQ? What about 88 and AJ?
I do not want to bore you with a ton of complicated equity breakdowns – but consider this…
If the fish were going to give your 3bet action with a 20% range of hands (JJ-22,AQs-A6s,K9s+,Q9s+,J9s+,T8s+,97s+,86s+,76s,65s,54s,43s,AQo-A8o,KTo+,QTo+,JTo), these hands would have the following hot/cold equity:
Notice even KQ, a hand that is often dominated when a player gives your 3bet action, has an equity-edge given how many worse hands the fish would give a 3bet action with. And if your opponent is even looser, your hands perform even better.
Rather than expanding your 3bet range against fish to include hands like 96o, look to depolarize your 3bet range – meaning instead of pure air you would use other hands from the upper-left hand corner of the starting hand matrix. Instead of always calling their preflop raise with AJ, think about 3betting it. The wider they give your 3bet action, the more valuable it becomes to 3bet hands you would have otherwise called with in the past.
The Other Factors
As always, there are some caveats here. Keep the following points in mind before 3betting:
Your 3bet Size
While fish are typically inelastic (meaning they give action at roughly the same frequency regardless of the bet size they are facing), consider just how inelastic this specific fish is.
If they would give your 3bet action with tons of dominated hands if you used a 3x size but would only continue with some dominated hands if you used a 5x size – think about which size accomplishes your goal. In the earlier example I might use 3x with AJ and 5x with AA – something I could not get away with against a thinking player but something a fish would not be aware of.
In an ideal world I would have deep stacks, the fish would have deep stacks, and there would be tons of playability going postflop when I 3bet them. But the real world is not always ideal – and thus we need to think ahead here.
Shallow stack sizes mean we are closer and closer to commitment. Even if you have 600bb but your opponent only has 50bb, you are making decisions based upon the 50bb effective stack. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the effective stack the more focused on pure card-strength you want to be.
This is largely a function of the fact that committing decisions will either happen preflop or on the flop as the effective stack gets smaller.
Take this example:
Effective stacks 35bb. Fish opens in MP to 3.5bb and you are in the CO with KQ. A 3bet would be committing – even if you only went to 11bb you would be getting a decent price if the fish went all-in preflop.
Rather than commit 35bb preflop, I would just call the original 3.5bb raise and play the hand out. The factors involved in making this decision include the effective stack size, how I would react to a re-raise, if my opponent just called my 3bet what the SPR would be and how I expect to perform in it, and my edges in both 3bet and single-raised pots.
The Other Players
Unless the only two players with cards are yourself and the fish, you want to be aware of the situation as a whole. Look around, think about the other players BEFORE you 3bet, and then decide which line would be the most profitable.
Look For Other Regs
A fish opens from MP and you are on the button with KQs. You look behind you and remember that the BB loves to squeeze preflop. What should you do?
Most players make the mistake of not even thinking ahead, which is a major no-no. If you see a notorious squeezer behind you, consider just 3betting this spot yourself. Why call the open-raise, face a squeeze, and now have to make an odd decision in a bloated pot with KQ? Instead, you could 3bet the fish yourself, apply pressure to the squeezer who likely does not want to cold-4bet you, and get the fish to heads up to yourself.
In this same spot could you just call with KK to try and induce the squeeze from the BB?
Take another situation where a TAG opens in MP, a fish calls in the CO, and you are in the BB with TT. Some players just call here and try to play the pot out. I personally look to 3bet this and choose a size that reduces the chance that the TAG wants to give me action.
My goal is simple. Play TT vs the fish in a HU pot. Playing TT OOP in a MW pot without the lead is going to be a tough proposition. Playing TT OOP in a 3-way pot with the lead is going to be a tough proposition. Playing TT vs just a fish OOP with the lead is a far more profitable proposition.
So if 4x gets rid of the TAG and keeps the fish involved with whatever hands they deem not-foldable – 4x it is. Sure, not all postflop spots are going to be easy. But are you going to make much better decisions than the fish in this spot? I think you will…
Look For Other Fish
A fish opens from MP and you are on the button with a hand like 88. You are considering 3betting but you look behind you and see that there is another fish. Should you call or 3bet?
This is a great spot to just call, get the other fish involved, and use your position and skill edge to your advantage postflop. Sure, you could just 3bet and fight against the first fish preflop. But calling and getting two fish involved can be a much sweeter proposition.
As a default, most players 3bet very incorrectly against fish – either 3betting too tight or 3betting too wide and with the wrong hands. While the hands I mentioned in this chapter are good candidates for 3betting fish, make sure to consider the exact situation you are in. Stack sizes, future SPR, and the other players left to act in this hand are factors that will guide your decision.
Be diligent, think about your goals, consider your skill edge in single-raised vs 3bet pots – and you will be choosing better 3bet ranges far more often.
Thank you again for checking out Chapter 5 from the book Unfolding Poker: Advanced Answers To The Most Frequently-Asked Poker Questions.
This is just one of 19 different answers – and each answer gets you one-step closer toward becoming the best poker player you can be.
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