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Winning Hands: Three-Bet Or Call?

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Sep 20, 2023

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Raymer Wins Fifth HPT Title credit: Heartland Poker TourPlease let me encourage you to reach out with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

In 2019, I published FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, a 42-chapter book covering basic and advanced concepts behind being a winning tournament player. I have been working on a second book, where I go through several dozen memorable hands I have played over the years and break down each decision along the way. Although not finished, I thought it would be fun to provide excerpts of some of those hands here for Card Player readers.


It is the televised and live-streamed final table of the 2020 Heartland Poker Tour main event from the Ameristar East Chicago. We are nine-handed, with the blinds at 15,000-30,000 with a 30,000 big blind ante.

Bohdan Slyvinskyi sits in the middle of the pack and raises to 75,000 from UTG+1 with 10Club Suit 10Diamond Suit. I am on the button, the second biggest stack but not that far ahead of Bohdan, and call with AHeart Suit QDiamond Suit.

The flop is QClub Suit 8Club Suit 6Club Suit. Bohdan bets 40,000, and I call. The turn is the 4Diamond Suit, Bohdan bets 135,000, and I call. The river is the 5Diamond Suit, we both check, and I take down an important pot.

There are a lot of interesting decisions in this hand, some of which are questionable in hindsight. The initial raise by Bohdan with pocket tens is not one of them. This is a clear raise, and his sizing of 2.5x the big blind is common.

My call with A-Q is debatable, as this very strong hand is often worth a three-bet.

This is a spot where you should mix it up, sometimes raising, sometimes calling. By raising, you make it less likely the blinds will come along, as their participation will make this pot tougher to play. If my A-Q had been suited, that would make calling more correct, as bringing along extra players is a good thing for those times you make a very strong hand like the nut flush.

Raising also makes it possible to win the pot preflop, and not worry about hitting the flop at all. While we don’t expect a fold from pocket tens, smaller pairs and other hands that have significant equity might fold, which is a great result.

One downside to raising is getting the raiser to fold hands like A-J and K-Q, hands we have dominated. These are exactly the hands we want to play against, as we can both flop top pair, and then usually win a big pot.

The major downside to raising is the intermediate nature of our hand. A-Q offsuit is a premium hand, but it isn’t really strong enough to continue if the opponent four-bets. Many unsophisticated players three-bet any time they are ahead of their opponent’s range. Then, they don’t know what to do when facing a four-bet.

You need to consider not just how your hand matches up to their range, but what you will do in various scenarios. If they are a super loose-aggressive player, yes, A-Q is far ahead of their range. But if you are going to fold to a four-bet, you shouldn’t three-bet a strong hand.

Overall, I should be reraising with A-Q most of the time in this spot, and calling only occasionally.

I called this time for a couple of GTE (Game Theory Exploitative) reasons. First, Bohdan had been playing very tight, so his range was strong. Second, I felt I had a decent read on him, and would know how much he liked his hand post-flop. Even with these good reasons to call, I am taking a risk that the blinds come along.

This is why it is important to look to your left before you act. If these players look at their cards before it is their turn, you can sometimes gauge their interest level. If you spot any tells, you can use this to adjust your decision.

We receive a flop that is both great, and horrible, for my hand. While it provides me with top pair, top kicker, there are three clubs, and I have none. I could be way ahead, I could be drawing almost dead, or I could be ahead but not that far (as was the case against his 11 outs).

The flop bet by Bohdan is interesting. With a 75,000 raise preflop, and the pot at 225,000, his 40,000 c-bet is very small. However, this is a smart sizing for this board. If I missed entirely, it is enough to get me to fold. And this includes getting me to fold many hands that still have some real equity, such as ASpade Suit 5Spade Suit, KHeart Suit 10Heart Suit, JDiamond Suit 9Diamond Suit, and the like.

But be aware of who you’re playing against if you choose this sizing. A weak player might see this small bet as a sign of weakness, and decide to bluff with air. A strong player will understand why you are betting so small. Also be sure that if you bet this size with a marginal hand like 10Club Suit 10Diamond Suit, you also bet this size with the rest of your betting range.

As for my decision, if Bohdan is strong on this flop, I don’t want to raise, as I’ll just be costing myself chips. If he is weak, I don’t need to raise, as he should be very far behind. And if he has lots of equity, such as he does this time, he likely isn’t folding to my raise anyway.

On the turn, Bohdan sizes up to something more typical, just under half the pot. Now he is saying one of two things. This bet could mean he’s still bluffing (or semi-bluffing), but realizes he needs to size up to get a fold. Or he’s saying he has the best hand, and is going for more value.

In either case, it is probably a mistake for me to fold. His value range can include hands like K-Q or Q-J, especially KClub Suit Qx and Qx JClub Suit, AClub Suit Kx or Ax KClub Suit, JClub Suit Jx, 10Club Suit 10x, and maybe more. He has too many of these hands in his range for me to correctly fold. The only smart reason to fold now is if I expect him to almost always bet the river, and if I am going to fold to such a river bet.

When he checked the river, I did not believe I could get enough value with a bet. I expected him to fold most of the hands I beat, and call with every hand that had me beat. However, this was a close decision, and I certainly would not consider it a mistake to value bet this river. It depends greatly upon the opponent, and how you think they play.

Have fun and play smart! ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He is the author of FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.