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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Why Three-Bet?

Miller Explains Specific Reasons To Three-Bet


Ed MillerA common theme in $2-$5 live no-limit hold’em games is that most players don’t three-bet preflop very much. Mostly, of course, people are three-betting with the most premium hands: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and A-K. Since these hands are dealt so rarely—and you have to face a raise in front of you to three-bet—you simply don’t see very many three-bets.

Some $2-$5 players will step out of this mold a little bit. Recreational players sometimes like to make what I call a “what the heck?” three-bet. A typical situation would be this: A player limps. The next player limps with JHeart Suit 10Heart Suit. Another player limps, and then an aggressive player raises the button. The blinds fold, the first limper calls, and then the player with J-10 throws in a three-bet.

The problem with these “what the heck?” three-bets is that they are extremely transparent. If you normally three-bet only with A-A and K-K, then you’ll have a three-betting hand less than one percent of the time. But the “what the heck?” three-bet is often made with any old hand—it’s a reaction to a certain player’s raise. This player could raise 30 percent of the time. So, when you see one of these three-bets, which is more likely? The player actually has the less than one percent hand or the player is just reacting to the raise?

Mostly, however, when I talk to $2-$5 regulars about three-betting, most seem to think there isn’t much point to it. Most players won’t fold, they rationalize, so if you three-bet with a less-than-premium hand, you’re just rolling the dice in a big pot.

At $2-$5, I three-bet preflop more than nearly anyone else I play with. It’s not like I’m three-betting every other hand I play, but in some common scenarios I will three-bet more than 25 percent of the time.


I think preflop three-betting is important in these games for a number of reasons. First, it builds a pot and puts stacks in play. Players frequently sit with $700 or $1,000 or even more. In typical raised pots, these stacks never sniff the middle unless it’s a cooler hand like top two pair against bottom set.

In a reraised pot, however, where the pot is already $140 or more on the flop, it’s much easier to get stacks involved.

Why is this good? Assuming you make better post-flop decisions on average than your opponents do, you benefit from bigger bets and pots. If your opponent makes a $20 mistake in a $100 pot, the same mistake is worth $100 in a $500 pot. The bigger the mistakes you can pin on your opponents, the more money you can win.

Furthermore, typical $2-$5 players really do play these pots poorly. It’s no surprise—since players three-bet so infrequently, your average regular gets few opportunities to practice these pots. I’ve noticed two common scenarios.

Scenario 1: Your opponent gives your three-bet too much credit.

Since most players three-bet only with A-A and K-K, he’s giving you credit for these hands far more often than you actually have these hands (if you three-bet a lot). Even opponents who know that you sometimes three-bet with lesser hands will often still give your three-bet too much credit.

A common example of this came up recently in a $2-$5 game in Las Vegas. A regular player opened to $15 from one off the button. I was in the small blind with KSpade Suit QHeart Suit. I reraised to $50. The big blind folded, and the regular called.

The flop was 9Heart Suit 7Diamond Suit 3Spade Suit. I bet $70. He stared at the board for about 20 seconds, then folded.

I’m fairly certain he had a hand like A-J or A-Q. He seemed to know that these are still fairly strong hands on a ragged, low-card board like this one. He also seemed to know that I could be three-betting with a less-than-premium hand in this scenario. (In fact, I would three-bet the small blind here against his open quite frequently. I could have hands like ADiamond Suit 4Diamond Suit, 6Club Suit 5Club Suit, and 3Diamond Suit 3Spade Suit.)

Yet, he ultimately made the poor decision to fold to my flop bet because he gave me too much credit for an overpair. He also likely didn’t feel like he’d know what to do if he didn’t pair the turn and I bet again.

Scenario 2: Your opponent doesn’t give your three-bet enough credit.

This player seems to pretend that I just called preflop rather than three-bet. He just fires away after the flop with little concern that I could hold A-A or K-K.

The problem with this approach is that, if I do have A-A or K-K, I will indeed three-bet and not call. So, even if I’m three-betting some other hands, in general, you should be more careful against me post-flop when I’ve three-bet than when I’ve just called. I’m more likely to have something good after a three-bet.

These guys will stack off for $700 or $1,000 with a flopped top pair against an overpair. Since this is a relatively common scenario, this error can be very lucrative, but you do have to wait for the right card set-up to take advantage of it.

In general, however, at least in Las Vegas, I find more opponents make the error in the first scenario. They give the three-bet too much credit. Even when they know they shouldn’t just put me on A-A, if they miss the flop, they seem to back down too easily.

Final Thoughts

I consider three-betting preflop to be a bread-and-butter strategy to create consistent advantages in live $2-$5 games. Most players don’t see the play that often, so they aren’t practiced in reacting to it.

Reraising is a great way to defend against a possible blind steal. When your opponent is caught with a wide range of hands, he might just fold to the initial three-bet. If he calls, he will usually flop a weak hand. When you combine that likelihood with the chance that he overestimates your hand strength, you can win most of these pots with flop and turn bets.

If you aren’t used to three-betting very often, this situation is a great place to try the play out. When someone makes a likely blind steal raise—either opening from late position or sometimes raising one or two limpers from the button—go ahead and three-bet with a wide range. Pick suited hands. It’s best to use connectors like 8Diamond Suit 7Diamond Suit or ones with high-card strength like KClub Suit 6Club Suit. Then bet the flop and, if called, bet the turn. Try it ten times, and you will be surprised how often it works. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site



over 7 years ago

Ed, Scenario 1 is something I really struggle with when defending vs. 3 bettors. If I call a Small Blind 3 Bet from the Button with AJ, and the flop comes 973, and he bets, I'm not sure how to continue if he's aggressive, and I know he's betting a lot of Turns, and even some Rivers, but with and without a hand, how do you defend against that?


over 7 years ago

im guessing it folds to the dealer who makes it 15, the author re reraises to 50 with KQ, dealer just calls. the flop comes 973. Your suppose to continue. If he has high pocket pair, you bet hard and make him prove it to you. Its just kind of rare to always have a high pocket pair. esp if he just calls a reraise. good % of the time, if he does, he will re raise the 3 bet and you will know where you are at preflop... replace his KQ with the AJ your talking about and do the same thing. if it gives you more confidence to pull it off, wait for a KQ or AJ suited in the authors position. but the point is you took the aggression and control of the hand pre flop with that reraise. your not defending the hand, your trying to win it. you also need to pick and choose the player to pull this on. there are great players at 2-5 and those with money who find 1-2 not much money to them. but these are plays you need to do from time to time. or become smart enough to figure out when these plays are transparent, because a lot of people like to re raise with kq and aj pre to find out where they are at, its becoming textbook, and learn to re raise 4 bet if your in the dealers position.