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Offensive And Defensive Three-Bet Strategies

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Feb 21, 2024

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The Pros: Ryan Laplante and Frank Funaro

Craig Tapscott: What advice would you give players too timid to three-bet in position any hands outside of premiums? How best should they construct their three-betting ranges to exploit weaker players?

Ryan Laplante: Generally speaking, when building your ranges vs. an open, there are three main factors you need to focus on: your opponent’s opening range, your position, and the effective stack depth.

The looser your opponent opens, the more three-bets you get to have in your range, both for value and as bluffs. On top of that, the later position you are in, the looser range of hands you can play as calls or as three-bets.

However, when it comes to three-bet percentages, your position only impacts the quality of your three-bet range, not the frequency. Your stack depth impacts bet sizes as well as hand strength. The deeper effective you are regarding stacks, the larger the open size and larger the three-bet sizes are. And for hand strength, the deeper you are, the more important it is to be able to hit the nuts.

For example, when your opponent opens off 40 (bb) from UTG to 2.3 bb, and you are in mid-position, you get to three-bet 4.85 percent of hands to 6.9 bb big blinds. When you are on the button, you get to three-bet 4.54 percent of hands and also to 6.9 bb. For bet sizing at this 40 bb stack depth, you get to go to 3x the size of their open while you are in position and 3.5x from the small-blind while 4x from the big-blind.

While these numbers are similar, the ranges are fairly different. You get to call 5.6 percent from mid-position, while you get to call 16.7 percent from the button. Your value range widens minimally, while your three-bet bluff range weakens.

Now, let’s look at an opponent who is playing a wider range of hands. Let’s say they open from the cutoff from a 40 bb stack to 2.3 bb. Now, if you were to have the button, your three-bet percent would be 8.6 percent, and once again, your three-bet would be 6.9 bb.

Not only does your frequency of combos nearly double, but the hands you can choose for bluffs and value widens drastically.

Also, it’s important to note that not only does your bluff range widen, but it also weakens. It does so because hands that before hadn’t been strong enough to use strictly as calls are now really bad bluff candidates as they perform too well vs. the open.

Frank Funaro: The advice I would give in this scenario would be similar to what I would advise someone for almost all aspects of the game tree. Simply put, we need to start looking at the game from more of an Expected Value (EV) perspective.

We shouldn’t be scared or timid to take any action. It should just be based on the EV of the spot. Some newer players and more recreational players have this attitude or fear a lot of the time. So, I would say it starts with a mindset shift, “This hand is a pure three-bet in theory and worth x number of big blinds; we need to be taking this spot,” etc. Not to forget, it is most important to have a strong understanding of the ranges and the combos we’re going to be choosing from.

When it comes to constructing three-bet ranges in exploitative situations vs. weak players, we still should be starting with a theoretical approach and then deviating from there. Positions, stack depth, and the ICM situation will control the ranges.

To simplify, we’re going to generally play a more linear three-bet strategy on deeper stack depths and have a more polarized three-bet strategy on shorter depths with like 30 bb or less with non all-in three-bets, along with some hands that fall somewhere in the middle just three-betting all-in. Once we reach around 20 bb, there shouldn’t be too much three-betting non all-ins.

When it comes to deviating, we need first to assess the type of weak player we are talking about here. Ask yourself some questions. Is our opponent way too tight? Is he only showing down premiums when he opens and or three-bets?

He hasn’t done anything light so far, etc. In this case, I would be very cautious about what I’m three-betting, especially on deeper depths. We can eliminate a lot of our three-bet bluffs because we’re going to be up against a super strong range that’s not going to want to fold.

In that exact situation, we’re three-betting hands like A-A, K-K, A-K, and Q-Q. On deeper stack depths, we could even flat Q-Q, J-J, A-K, A-Q, etc. in a lot of spots, not wanting to stack off against a super tight range. Also, on these deeper depths, because their range is so face up, we can flat a bunch of hands in position and take advantage when we make a hand, or the board runs out uncomfortable for an overpair heavy, big card range.

A few more questions to ask: Is he opening a lot or an average amount, but then folding hands that should be stacking off? This would include not four-bet bluffing and or not stacking off for value with hands that are just good enough to get in.

For this player type, we can definitely bluff. On medium to shorter depths 50-30 bb, we’re going to want to have a polarized three-bet strategy and can use a lot of our close blocker-type bluffs a little bit more than in theory.

On deeper depths, there is merit for going a little more linear vs. this player type if he’s going to call too much and never going to four-bet and put us in challenging situations.

Craig Tapscott: How do you combat an overly-aggressive player at the table who is three-betting a very wide range of hands? And how does position come into play?

Ryan Laplante: When getting three-bet often, how you react is going to be based on the same three main factors: your opponent’s range, your position, and the effective stack.

When facing a three-bet and you are 30 bb or less deep effective, your four-bet size should often be all-in. When you are 40 bb or greater effective, then you can either have a size that is about 2.2x their three-bet size, or all-in. You can use all-in as a four-bet size up to about 100 bb effective.

Let us say you open to 2.3 bb from a 40 bb stack UTG, and your opponent three-bets you from middle position to 6.9 bb. Your response should be to call with 9.9 percent of hands and to four-bet all-in with 3.5 percent of hands.

When calling, you want to either have a pair or suited hands with strong utility post-flop, and the only exception to this is A-Q offsuit. In terms of four-betting, you either need a strong pocket pair (J-J+) or A-K for value, while your bluffs need to be suited A-x.

The above situation is two tighter ranges combating each other, so now we will look at two looser ranges battling. Let’s say you open from cutoff, and your opponent three-bets you from the button off of 40 bb deep effective. Now you get to call 19.1 percent and four-bet all-in with six percent.

Your calling range can include a much wider off-suit range, although still needing two Broadways or a strong A-x, and your suited range has widened drastically as well.

Your four-betting range still requires relatively strong pairs, although it loosens down to pocket nines, and you can also four-bet A-Q offsuit. Your bluffs focus on suited wheel A-x, although they now include some suited Broadway combos.

Let’s say instead your opponent three-bets from the small blind vs. your cutoff open. Your overall ranges actually tighten a little bit, as the small blind will have a stronger range than a button three-bet and will also pick a larger size, giving you less odds on a call.

While the above situations for three-betting and playing vs. a three-bet were purely described in terms of theory, we can use each of these ranges to figure out how we should play in real-world situations.

The main things we learn from all the numbers above is that the stronger your opponent’s opening range, the less frequently we should three-bet, and the more important it is to have strong hands as bluffs. The looser our opponent opens, the looser we can three-bet for value, and the weaker strength our bluffs need to be.

When playing vs. a three-bet, the stronger our opponent’s three-bet range, the more important it is for us to have high playability hands in terms of calling and four-betting, and the looser our opponent’s three-bet range is, the more aggressively we should be playing as a response, as well as looser we can continue as a defend as well.

While most of the above can be deduced using simple logic, the types of combinations we should be using and how to approach it starting as a baseline is what using solvers teaches us.

When you use theory as a baseline to build decisions off of, it becomes much easier to play in a manner that will make your opponents wary of playing against you and will lead to much greater success at the table.

Frank Funaro: When dealing with over-aggression preflop, we can combat this in a few ways. First, we’re going to have to make sure our ranges when opening are correct; we really can’t step out of line when this aggressive player is behind us.

Secondly, I would adjust our four-bet range. On 50 bb big and less, I’m adding more four-bet jams out of position with my suited Broadways and wheel A-x suited. A good portion of them do jam, in theory, but I will make sure I’m using them a little bit more to punish how wide the villain is.

These hands are good candidates because of their blocker effects and equity when called. Such hands as K-Q suited, K-J suited, etc. block the villain from having hands like A-K, K-K, Q-Q, and J-J and flip with hands like 10-10 and 9-9. And in more polarizing spots, A-5 suited, A-4 suited, block hands like A-A, A-K, A-Q, and basically have 30 percent equity against everything.

We also can add an induce range on these depths. In many circumstances, on 50 bb-40 bb out of position, we will want to play a flat or all-in strategy. However, versus this player, to punish and get more value from his over-aggression, we can add some four-bet clickbacks. With hands like K-K, A-A, and even Q-Q, I want to give him the rope to call in position in bad shape or the opportunity to just five-bet jam all in with a hand that would’ve otherwise folded.

In position, similar ideas apply, however, we get to take more flops and play in position vs. a wide range.

With hands like A-A and K-K specifically, we can call the three-bet and trap a lot and keep in everything we dominate. These combos also trap a good deal in theory, especially down around 30 bb, but it is even better vs. a range that’s way too wide. ♠

Ryan Laplante is a 14-year poker professional and the co-founder of LearnProPoker.com and RangeTrainerPro. For detailed hand ranges, check out the RangeTrainer App and use code ‘NYE24’ for 50 percent off. You can follow the Poker Masters winner and World Series of Poker bracelet holder on Twitter/X @ProtentialMN and on Instagram @RealProtential.

Frank Funaro has more than $6 million in tournament earnings, including a World Series of Poker bracelet and three WSOP Circuit rings. The former no. 1 ranked online player in the United States made the final table of the 2022 World Poker Tour Championship, finishing fifth for $1.3 million. He can be found on Twitter/X
@FrankFunaro1.