Understanding 3-Bet Ranges

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As poker matures and aggression increases, it’s very important that you are understanding 3-bet ranges correctly. Today’s players are using advanced 3 bets more often and applying lots of preflop pressure, so it’s imperative that we can handle their 3bets profitably. In this article we are going to discuss how to assess a 3-bet range to help choose the best line when facing a 3bet.

Whenever we do anything in poker we want to first consider our opponent’s range. Now, some 3bet ranges are very easy to estimate and others are much more difficult. For instance, take a 12/8 nit with a 3bet of 1.2%. This person is obviously 3betting a much stronger range of hands than a 23/20 LAG with a 3bet of 8.3%.

But what does their 3bet % actually tell us about the hands they are 3betting?

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To understand that we need to understand polarization and some very simple range math. First, what is polarization?

Polarized: A range made up of nuts or bluff hands

Depolarized: A range with nuts and stronger hands

So a polarized range may include hands like QQ/KK/AA/AK and maybe a 54s/A7o/J8s. A depolarized range may include hands like QQ/KK/AA/AK and also JJ/TT/AQ/AJs. Notice the polarized range includes super strong hands and weaker hands, while the depolarized range includes super strong hands and some other strong-side hands as well.

Polarized versus Depolarized

Now let’s take this concept and compare it to range math. So when we look at our hud and see that a player is 3betting 2.5% of the time, what does that mean? What does a 2.5% 3bet range look like? The tough part is that we will never 100% know. And as that 3bet % increases, it becomes even more difficult to asses the entire range correctly. But we can understand some basic poker ranges to get us started.

First, what are the logical strong-side ranges and what % of hands are they? Well KK/AA (KK+) is .9% of hands. So if a player is 3betting 1% of hands or less, chances are it is incredibly nutted. Another logical strong-side range is QQ+/AK, which is 2.6% of hands. If a player is 3betting TT+/AQ+ that is 4.7% of hands.

QQ or better

So let’s say we face a 3bet and our opponent has a 3.5% 3bet. We think they will 3bet QQ+/AK as the strong-side of their range, which we know is 2.6% of hands. So this means 74% (2.6/3.5) of their 3bet range is very strong, and we can simply estimate how we would perform against the entire 3.5% range. Or say a player resteals (3bets our steal) 12% of the time and that they would 3bet TT+/AQ+ for value. That means that only 39% of their resteal range is strong. But what is the other 61% of their range here? Is it hands like AXs or 44? Hands like K7o or Q9s? We can’t be 100% sure, but at least having an idea of the strong-side density of their 3bet range gives us a starting point.

qq plus2

Now we can bring this back to the polarization concept we talked about earlier. Say we think a player is 3betting 6% of hands in this spot and that they would 3bet TT+/AQ+ each time. Well that means 78% (4.7/6) of their 3bet range is TT+/AQ+, but what is the other 1.3%? If they 3bet a depolarized range it probably includes hands like AJ/KQ/99/JTs sometimes. Whereas a player who 3bets polarized would probably use some weaker stuff (A4s, 22, 86o, etc.) the other 22% of the time. This may not seem important, but it can influence our outright equity against their range and also the postflop playability if we decide to call the 3bet.

Pie Chart of Range

It should go without saying that you will rarely ever know a player’s exact 3bet range.  But if you can visualize their range like a pie chart, it helps you understand the density of strong vs weak hands in their range. If you need a more in depth explanation or a visual example, check out this video.

in it I take you step by step, showing the powerful framework for building your opponents range in a precise and structured manner. Learn how the range forks, how different hands fall into different buckets, and how to narrow their call vs 3bet range. Once you’re able to apply this knowledge, your postflop play will become a million times easier while also helping you find extra bluff 3bets preflop.

And you should also remember that good players 3bet dynamically.  Meaning they will 3bet a different range from the CO against an EP open than they would 3bet from the blinds against a BUT open.  Good players will also 3bet you differently than they 3bet fish or an unknown player, so while a reg may have an overall 5% 3bet, they may 3bet this exact situation differently.

This article was meant to be a starting point so you can start understanding what normal ranges look like, how to visualize strong v weak densities, and how polarized v depolarized ranges look and change things.  Do some work on your own to think about how this can be useful (hint, think about 4betting!) and you’ll be well on your way to hand reading better in 3bet pots!

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My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ 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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