In today’s lesson we’re going to do something a little bit different. Normally, we go through people’s hands. We analyze the good, bad and the ugly of the lines, but today we’re going to talk a little bit more about theory and, more specifically, the theory of hand reading when people call your 3bets pre-flop.
It’s very important that we understand what people call our 3bets with. When we’re able to really narrow that range down, it becomes much easier to find situations where we can bluff c-bet much more comfortably, when we can figure out spots where we can double or triple barrel better. We can figure out spots where we can stay in a value mindset very comfortably. If we practice this enough of the time and we understand the framework of the overall … What goes into this situation, it becomes a million times easier to play 3bet pots, both pre-flop and post-flop.
Let’s talk about this through the lens of a clear and simple example. Say we’re playing a 2-5 live cash game. A tag opens from EP2 to $20 and it folds to us and we 3bet with queen-10 off. Don’t worry if you don’t love the sizing or you don’t love the exact hand. We’re just going to talk about this from a conceptual and framework point of view. I will say one quick thing. If you really hate 3betting with this hand, if you get really good at practicing hand reading your opponents and understanding what their ranges are, how often they’re folding, all that sort of fun stuff, it becomes a situation where your cards don’t matter quite as much as you may think they do. Bear in mind that the more you practice through this, the easier it becomes to find pre-bet opportunities and all that sort of fun stuff.
In this situation, we 3bet and we’re thinking about our opponent, who is that tag in EP2. We start by thinking about their opening range, right? Which hands did they open-raise with pre-flop, because that’s the starting point. If we’re going to think about what hands did they call or a 3bet with, if they do call $60 more pre-flop. We have to think, okay, what did they open with first and then what of those hands are they going to call with? If we think about that opening range and we’re just going to assign something of deuces plus, ace/jack plus, and king/queen. If you disagree with that, that’s okay, you would just plug in your own range and go forward from there, but the framework is still the exact same.
That opening range then gets forked into three different things. Some of it is going to fold, some of it is going to 4bet, and some of it is going to call. When we’re building this, always understand you start with that original range of hands. In this situation, what did they open with and then how does it fork through?
When you’re studying this stuff on your own, off the table, you have a ton of time to do it, I really would suggest breaking down all the ranges, so you take that opening range and you really fork it into, “Okay, these are all the hands they’re going to fold. These are all the hands they’re going to 4bet. These are all the hands they’re going to call.” The reason why you do that is because it’s really good practice and it makes it much, much easier in real time to say, “Okay, this is exactly what I think their range is here,” and it also ensures that you’re being really, really logical the entire way through and gets you really, really technical. You’re going to get better at understanding, “Okay, this is the percentage that they’re folding. This is how tight their calling range is.” All that sort of fun stuff.
I like to start thinking about all the hands they’re going to fold. Of that 22+/AJ+/KQ opening range, I think they’re going to fold some stuff. It’s typically easier to start with this, especially in 3bet pots. What are the things they’re just simply not going to continue with?
In this situation, our opponent is out of position. They’re a tag. Stacks aren’t super deep, so I assume they’re probably going to fold some stuff and I’m making the assumption of deuces through eights, ace/jack and king/queen off-suit, which means that all the other stuff, the 9s-plus, the ace/queen, the king/queen suited, all that stuff is going to either get 4bet or called. Because if it’s not being folded, then it has to continue in one way or the other. There’s only 2 ways to continue, 4betting or calling.
Which bucket essentially do I put it in? That’s really what I’m doing here. I’m just taking the original range of hands. I’m breaking it into 3 realistic buckets and saying, “Okay, based on the action you took, this is the exact bucket I’m going to pull out,” but it’s a nice, simple framework for really understanding how this stuff all works.
When you’re doing this kind of practice, it’s good to say, “Okay, of the original opening range, what percentage of the original range is this exact folding range?” It gives you a good idea on what’s the frequency you can expect them to fold when you’re pre-betting and pre-flop. If you find players who are simply folding far too often, you want to start 3betting them a large chunk of the time.
Next, let’s look at 4betting. In this situation, I made the assumption that I think the opponent is going to come over the top with QQ+/AK. First and foremost, this is my assumption. If you disagree with it, that’s totally okay. You’re more than welcome to come in here, insert your own range of hands, and analyze the hand going forward from there.
Another thing I want to mention here is that most players tend to be pretty binary, meaning that they’re not going to be weighted. Weighted would mean that they look at a hand like aces and they say, “Okay, I’m going to 4bet it 80% of the time and call it 20% of the time.” Binary would simply say, “I’m going to 4bet it 100% of the time.” It’s 100% or 0%. There’s never weight in between. Most players tend to be very, very binary in the way they create ranges nowadays. It’s not to say the game won’t change and evolve over time or that all players are like that. Certainly, good players are going to be more weighted in their situations and the way they create ranges, but definitely make sure to keep that kind of stuff in mind.
One other quick note is that there are hands that could appear on a 4bet range that would also appear in a folding range, but may not appear in a calling range. A situation like that could be, say, 22. We look at this situation and we say, “Well, I don’t think this dude is going to call with deuces out of position, given the price, given all that, but he may decide to 4bet it and turn it into a bluff rather than just fold.” There are situations where hands can belong in either a 4bet range or a folding range, but won’t necessarily ever appear in the calling range based upon the exact situation that’s present.
One final note here, you notice when I built this 4bet range, I did not put any bluffs in here. The biggest semi-bluff we have is AK, and that’s not really much of a bluff. There are certain players who you just assume won’t have much of a bluff range when it comes to 4bets, 5bets, that sort of stuff, or maybe they have a little bit but it’s certainly not very much. Keep that kind of stuff in mind, but also notice that the tighter a player is, the more straightforward a player is, the less bluff-y a player is, the less likely you’re going to see bluff-y kind of hands in this 4betting range. I’m not saying that’s correct, I’m just saying that is something you’re definitely going to notice if you pay enough attention to it.
Now that we’ve already explored 4betting, we’ve already explored folding, of course that just leaves us with, “What are the hands they’re going to call our 3bet with?” Which comes into 9s, 10s, jacks, ace/queen, and king/queen suited. This is just simply the way it works, because there’s no other hands left. Though there was a very clear opening range of hands, some of them had to be folded, some of them had to be 4bet, some of them had to be flatted and that’s simply what’s left in the flatting range.
Of course, there are things that are going to influence this. Things like position. People relatively are going to call wider when they have position, especially good players; stack depth, definitely going to be a huge factor amongst good players; and stickiness. There are some players who just simply don’t like folding versus 3bets very often pre-flop, and maybe it’s due to the other 2 factors or maybe it’s simply due to the fact that they just hate folding. We all know players like that.
These are definitely factors you want to be keeping in mind and saying, “Okay, well, would they flat any wider here?” If so, you probably just start removing hands from the folding range. Start putting them into the calling range and go forward from there.
Just for the record, all of this range analysis is stuff you want to do before you 3bet, especially when you are 3betting with weaker hands like queen/10 off-suit, you can do this stuff in advance and say, “Okay, how often do I think they’re folding? If they do happen to call, what range do I think they’d call with?” That way when you get to a situation where you do get called, which of course is going to happen in non-zero percentage of the time, you’re prepared for going post-flop. When the board comes 9, 8, deuce, yes, it’s cool. You have a gutshot, you have some over cards, that’s awesome, but as always, we have to think about our opponent’s range of hands.
Thinking back and breaking it down, they have 9s, 10s, jacks, ace/queen and king/queen suited. We can simply break it down on a pure combo scale. This is all stuff you can do off your head, but of course, as the range is wider, things like flopzilla become really, really powerful.
Definitely make sure you’re doing this stuff off the table. This is off-table exploration so that way you do it enough off the table it becomes second nature in real time, and you’re able to sit there and say, “Well, based upon all this, there’s a lot of combos that are probably going to hate life, and I can probably find some decent folds.” If we break that range down, we notice that they’re missing more than half the time. They have a couple flush draws. They have some pairs and sets, but a large chunk of that range is going to be missing, which makes it very, very easy to find situations where you can throw out that bluff c-bet. Sure, in this situation, we have a gut shot, but in all situations, we won’t be so lucky so maybe we just be reliant on finding folds. If they’re folding more than half the time, typically that’s going to be a great thing for us.
Notice how zoomed in we are at this point, if we zoom out and really think about where we started from, we started just by thinking about the range they would open with. Then we explored of that if they face 3bet, what would they fold? What would they 4bet? What would they call? What would influence those things? Then if we do end up going post-flop when they call our 3bet, thinking about how we can break down that range, use a tool like flopzilla and really break it down and say, “Okay, this is a good situation for us to get aggressive,” or maybe this is a situation where they’re hitting too hard and I want to take a different line because of that.
This may seem complex at first, and if you’ve never done this stuff before, I’m sure this may seem a little confusing and you may be wondering how the heck you’re ever going to get this stuff down. I promise you, with practice, with using tools like flop-zilla enough off the table, with thinking about hands in a very, very linear and logical fashion, you’re going to start getting this stuff very, very easily. Takes some time, takes some practice, but at the end of the day, being able to put someone on a correct range of hands pre-flop makes your post-flop life a million times easier.
If you’re looking for more practice, I would definitely suggest picking up my brand new poker hand reading workbook. There are lots of exercises in the workbook all around hand reading situations like this, and of course, many, many more. The more times you work through this stuff the more ingrained the ranges are going to become, and the more confident you’re going to be both pre-flop and post-flop. The workbook is broken into 3 different sections. Section 1 is all about hand reading yourself and understanding your own ranges, understanding where your leaks are, all that sort of fun stuff. Section 2 is all about hand reading your opponents, situations exactly like this and also many, many more. Section 3 is all about range vs. range situations, which is very important when you play against better players and/or when you’re preparing for moving up.
There’s literally no better resource for practicing and improving your hand reading skills on your own time and at your own pace. Whether or not you pick up the workbook, I hope you enjoyed this video. I hope you learned something new about hand reading pre-flop, and hopefully this helps you the next time you 3bet someone, they call your 3bet, and you’re figuring out what the heck they have.