Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Head Games - Three-Betting 101 and Beyond in Medium-Stakes Cash Games

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Nov 26, 2010


The Pros: Randy Lew, Alex Fitzgerald, and Greg Kaplan

Craig Tapscott: In six-max medium-stakes no-limit hold’em cash games, share a few of the reasons why you three-bet opponents when you have position preflop.

Randy Lew: Three-betting value hands like K-Q, A-J, 9-9, and so on is best against players who call with almost any two cards in their range. They’ll often play dominated hands, and you can pick up three streets of value or continuation-bet and take down the pot when they check-fold their wide range on the flop. Three-betting a polarized range (A-A, Q-Q, 9-5 suited, J-5 suited, and so on) is best against tight and positionally aware players who don’t call three-bets out of position. They’ll constantly fold to your three-bets and never call, so the absolute value of your hand doesn’t matter.

Alex Fitzgerald: Many people three-bet automatically without defining the purpose of their three-bet. Let’s say that you have A-Q. If your opponent is tight and is folding A-J and A-10, or is playing those hands very passively, and you three-bet, you’re allowing him to fold and to play his range more optimally. A flat-call will yield more profit, on average, because you’ll be allowing dominated aces to become committed on the flop. 

Essentially, if a person is going to flat-call with dominated hands out of position to you, or four-bet them, you can then three-bet for value. If not, you should probably flat [flat-call]. In many cash games now, people respond to three-bets very well. When stacks are 100 big blinds deep, people are no longer as willing to four-bet and call or four-bet and fold enough to make more marginal hands like A-Q and 10-10 extremely profitable five-bets for you. Therefore, you should polarize your three-bets to premium hands and hands just below your flatting range.

Greg Kaplan: When used correctly, three-betting in position is one of the deadliest moves a cash-game player can make. I utilize it because it gives me multiple ways to win the pot. First, I can take down the pot preflop by forcing my opponent to fold. Before deciding whether or not to three-bet light, I like to look at my opponents’ “fold to three-bet” and “fold to continuation-bet in a three-bet pot” tracker stats. If their fold to three-bet stat is anything higher than about 60 percent, which includes the vast majority of multitabling regulars, I can show an instant profit in a statistical vacuum by raising with any two cards.

Lastly, I like to three-bet in position, mainly because it drives people crazy. It’s a great way to put your opponents on tilt. If you are constantly three-betting, it will result in your having a crazy/reckless image, which should increase the general level of action that you receive both preflop and post-flop. So, if I can find a way to actually make a real hand, this wild image that I have created for myself will start to pay serious dividends.  

Craig Tapscott: How do you combat overaggressive opponents who are consistently three-betting you?

Randy Lew: You want to pay attention to their three-betting range. If they are three-betting a polarized range, four-betting air is your best option, since their preflop value range is very narrow. Then, if you have a value hand like pocket aces, calling is better preflop, since they’ll fold to your four-bets so often.

If they are playing very aggressively from the blinds, I would consider opening fewer hands from late position to make your opening range stronger. Another good adjustment is to open-raise to a smaller amount; that way, you create more implied odds to call opponents’ three-bets. Also, I would call with a wider range, since I’ll be in position and get to see them act first. If they are overaggressive, their range will likely be very weak in big pots, which is to your advantage. Just don’t be afraid to throw some stacks around.

Alex Fitzgerald: Against an opponent who is three-betting you frequently in position, you have to tighten up your opening range and widen your four-bet and call range (assuming that the wide three-bettor balances his hand range by also being a wide five-bettor). If you catch him in a light five-bet once, be aware that he’ll often tighten up immediately afterward. He will begin to flat-call more often, so you can then open more. But you should tighten up your four-bet and call range again, since his hand range is now narrower.

A more whack job thing that I’ll do against a very good regular whom I play with every day is — just once — four-bet and call with a hand like 6-5 suited. Oftentimes, the person, if he doesn’t see that it’s a metagame play, will never three-bet again without a hand he is willing to stack off 100 big blinds with. The number of A-10 offsuit and 8-8 hands that I will be able to play for two streets of value for the rest of my life against that guy will often be worth that one buy-in. And hell, 6-5 is allowed to get there sometimes, right?

Greg Kaplan: The first thing that I start to analyze is whether the villain is behaving wildly toward me or is just crazy in general. Pay attention to how the villain is playing hands against others at the table. Is it with the same aggression? Next, I look at the sample size of hands that I have on the villain. Oftentimes, if you are constantly getting three-bet, it’s just because your opponent is being dealt good hands. It’s human nature to want to fight against being outplayed, but the villain is oftentimes just receiving an abnormally good distribution of hands.

However, if these aggressive patterns continue, I have to start fighting back. There are a few counterstrategies that I like to take. The first is to expand my four-bet bluff range. It’s extremely difficult for a lot of opponents to “pull the trigger” and shove over a four-bet, which makes the four-bet bluff extremely effective. To increase the effectiveness of the bluff, I like to bluff with blockers to “the nuts.”

The nuts in this case is any hand that the villain will five-bet jam for value. This usually includes something along the lines of 10-10+ and A-K. So, if I four-bet bluff with any hand that includes a king or ace (A-6 offsuit, K-10 offsuit, and so on), there are significantly fewer combinations of the nuts to ship all in against me, and the bluff will work more often. ♠

_Randy “nanonoko” Lew is one of the biggest winners in the high-stakes online cash games. He is an instructor at He also has achieved the status of Supernova Elite the last two years at PokerStars, and was recently invited to join Team PokerStars Online.

Alex “Assassinato” Fitzgerald is a very successful medium-stakes cash-game professional. He is available for hire as a coach through He also has more than $1.4 million in career online-tournament cashes.

Greg “Kapie123” Kaplan has played nearly 5 million hands of small- and medium-stakes no-limit hold’em in his career, and he achieved Supernova Elite status on PokerStars in 2009. He also writes biweekly feature articles for the site Poker Table Ratings. He does both private and group coaching for a variety of stakes; e-mail him at for details._