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How To Handle Getting Three-Bet

by Ed Miller |  Published: Mar 18, 2015

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Ed MillerAs games have gotten more aggressive over the years, you see a lot more reraising preflop than you used to. Years ago, people would confine their reraises to the times they held a really strong hand like Q-Q or A-K. Nowadays, many (but not nearly all) players have correctly expanded the hands they’re willing to reraise with. This change has made it a little tricky reacting to a three-bet. I can’t cover this large topic in one article, but I’ll give you a few quick tips.

Tip #1. If they’re a legacy three-bettor, fold.

By a “legacy” three-bettor, I mean they still stick to the Q-Q or bust strategy when they three-bet. It’s hard to know exactly whether a player is a legacy three-bettor or not, but if they are, you won’t see them three-bet very often at all. A player is dealt queens or better or ace-king only 2.5 percent of the time. That means that, on average, they will have a hand that meets their reraising threshold only 1 in 40 times.

Furthermore, they can only three-bet if someone has raised in front of them. This cuts their reraising frequency down considerably. So on average you’re going to see a legacy three-bettor actually reraise, at most, once every four or five hours or so.

Unless you are playing very deep (300 big blinds or more), then it usually doesn’t make sense to call legacy three-bettors who make full-sized reraises when you have hands like A-Q or 9-9 or 10-9 suited.

Here’s a quick example of this advice. It’s a $2-$5 game with $600 stacks. Two players limp, and you make it $25 to go from two off the button with A-Q suited. The next player folds, and the button makes it $80 to go. You suspect he is a legacy three-bettor, so he will have either Q-Q or better or A-K the vast majority of the time.

You should just fold.

Tip #2. If they’re a modern three-bettor, watch position.

Say you know a player is a modern three-bettor. You’ve seen him reraise a lot before the flop. It’s clear he’s doing it strategically rather than just because he stumbled into a super-premium hand. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your opponent is always full of it when he reraises. Modern three-bettors—at least ones that know what they’re doing—are very position-sensitive. A three-bet from the button or blinds could easily be a bluff. But if one of these players three-bets an early position raise from several seats off the button, chances are you’ve run into a premium hand. Again, you should fold most of the weaker hands you’d have raised with.

Again, it’s a $2-$5 game with $600 stacks. A player limps under the gun, and you raise to $20 with K-Q suited. Two players fold, and then a modern three-bettor sitting two off the button makes it $60 to go. Everyone folds to you.

It’s probably best just to fold. From two off the button against an early raise, this player likely has a three-betting range nearly as strong as the legacy three-bettor. There might be J-J or 10-10 or maybe A-Q suited in the range, but there’s unlikely to be a lot of junk. You don’t really want to play hands like K-Q or 7-7 or Q-10 suited out of position against such a player and range.

Tip #3. Don’t let the continuation bet scare you.

Many players make the mistake of continuation betting too frequently after they reraise preflop. Indeed, it may not even be a mistake for these players to bet the flop, since so many of their opponents will call the three-bet and then fold to the continuation bet if they miss the flop.

In any event, if you do call a three-bet preflop, expect the flop continuation bet. This bet often signifies nothing more than that the player still has two cards and a flop came. It doesn’t necessarily mean the three-bettor hit the flop or improved in any way.
Don’t let this bet scare you. You should be calling or raising it more often than not when you decide to call preflop. Here’s an example.

It’s a $2-$5 game with $600 stacks. One player limps. You make it $20 from the cutoff with ASpade Suit JSpade Suit. The player in the big blind, a modern three-bettor, makes it $65 to go. The limper folds, and you call. There’s $137 in the pot and $535 behind.

The flop comes 6Diamond Suit 4Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit. Your opponent bets $70 into the $137 pot.

Don’t fold! There’s no reason to think that your opponent has anything better than what he had when he three-bet you originally. Obviously you haven’t improved either, but you can’t give him a cheap pot. He’s only betting half the pot. If you folded every ace-high hand to a half-pot bet, he could just bet every single hand all the time and roll over you.

Many of the hands you should be calling the three-bets with will be worth calling on flops like these. Pairs, ace-high hands, and even some king-high hands merit calls.
You can fold some of the worst hands—say 10Club Suit 9Club Suit on the above flop—but you should also consider bluff-raising some hands. I’d tend to raise 8Club Suit 7Club Suit (a gutshot) on this flop, for instance.

In any event, don’t let the continuation bet surprise you. It’s coming. And don’t let it bully you. It probably means very little about how strong your opponent’s hand is. If it made sense to call the three-bet in the first place, there’s a good chance it also makes sense to call the flop continuation bet.

Tip #4. Wait people out.

Many players at the $5-$10 level and below don’t play reraised pots very well. With the pot so big preflop, stacks become threatened almost immediately after the flop. Once you get past that flop continuation bet, many players will play very straightforwardly on the turn and river. They don’t want to reraise with ADiamond Suit 3Diamond Suit, miss the flop, and get stacked. So they make the reraise, fire one shot on the flop, and then give up.

In general, if you’re worried about not knowing where you’re at in reraised pots, just remember that you can usually wait people out. You call along until your opponent has to either make a bet that commits stacks or has to back off. Many players make this final decision with very little deception in their play.

If you see that $200 turn bet, it’s probably at least top pair. If you don’t see that bet, there’s a good chance the player missed and is giving up.

Final Thoughts

Playing reraised pots is scary for a lot of players. A lot of money goes into the pot in uncertain circumstances. That’s just the way the game works. When played the modern way, no-limit hold’em has a lot of gamble in it. If you avoid the nits, come to terms with the gamble, and allow the players who are uncertain in these pots to give away their hands, you’ll make consistently good decisions. ♠

Ed’s newest book, No-Limit Hold’em Made Simple will be available soon at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.