There used to be a time when 3-betting and 4-betting were so rare that it was just called re-raising or "coming over the top". Now, you will often see a 3-bet or 4-bet when you're playing poker so knowing how to use them yourself and how to counter them is a lot more important.
Let's start with the very basic question - what is a 3-bet or a 4-bet?
3-Bet and 4-Bet Basics
A 3-bet is another term for a re-raise, or a second raise after someone else has already raised.
The reason that it's called a 3-bet even though it's a second raise, is because the big blind counts as a bet and is considered the first bet of the preflop round of betting. If someone raises that bet it's considered the second bet (or 2-bet, though that term is rarely used), and then if someone raises that it's considered the third bet (or 3-bet).
Therefore, a 4-bet is another raise after someone has 3-bet as it is the fourth bet that someone has put in preflop. This goes all the way up to 5-bet, 6-bet, and even 7-bet, but it's very unlikely you'll see one of those in your game!
Reasons for 3-Betting and 4-Betting
So when do we want to be 3-betting or 4-betting when we're in-game?
The most common reason that we're going to want to 3-bet or 4-bet is to get value with our strongest hands. Hands like AA/KK/QQ benefit from getting in as much money as possible preflop and the easiest way to do that is by 3-betting and 4-betting.
Isolate Weak Players
If there are players at our table who we think are making a lot of preflop and post-flop mistakes, then we want to play as many hands against them as possible. One way we can do this is by 3-betting them when they raise preflop. By 3-betting we make it more likely that the other players left to act will fold, meaning that we're going to be heads-up against the weaker player for a bigger pot.
Bluffing Against Aggressive Openers
Another reason we may want to 3-bet is to take advantage of someone who is opening too wide preflop. If someone is opening or 3-betting a very wide then they're going to find it hard to continue against our 3-bet/4-bet. This means we'll often take the pot down preflop resulting in more money for us.
Ideal Scenarios for 3-Bets
Any time a player before you comes in for a raise you have the opportunity to 3-bet which means you'll have the option to 3-bet a lot! But how do you pick the right scenarios to 3-bet?
Within the Right Range
It may sound simple but the best times to 3-bet are when you are dealt hands that fall within your 3-bet range! It's important to have a clear idea of your 3-betting strategy laid out before you play so you can accurately implement it in-game. If you don't know what hands you're going to 3-bet before you play, how are you going to figure it out while you're playing?
While you need to have a clear strategy for 3-betting figured out before you play, it's also important that you can adjust it based on the opponents you're playing. If you're playing against people who always fold to 3-bets, you'll want to expand your 3-bet bluffing range and maybe call some of the hands that would have been 3-bet as value.
Similarly, if there are players who are always continuing against 3-bets or 4-bets you'll want to make your 3/4-bets more value-focused, getting rid of most of your 3-bet 'bluffs'.
Setting an Ideal Image
Part of the benefit of 3-betting 'light' or as a bluff is that you're more likely to get action when you have your strongest hands as you'll have the 'image' of a loose player.
Your 'image' at the table is the opinion of the other players at the table on how you play. For example, if you sit down at a table and fold every hand for an hour, people are going to think you're waiting for aces and your image is going to be that of a tight player - even if you just had 72o every hand!
However, if you're doing a lot of 3-betting and 4-betting preflop, even if you don't show-down your hands, people will think that you're a loose player and will be more willing to 'play back at you' when you 3-bet them.
It's important to be mindful of your image at the table as some hands that are profitable as 3-bet or 4-bet bluffs may not be profitable if people are going to over-defend against you based on your image.
Playing Against Weak Players
There can be a couple of different types of weak players - there are players who fold too often to 3-bets, and players who are generally bad and make a lot of mistakes pre and post-flop. Against both kinds of weak players, it would be a profitable decision to target them with 3-bets.
Against the weak players who fold too often to 3-bets, we want to use a polarized 3-betting range. This means that we want to be 3-betting our very strongest hands for value, as well as a range of hands as bluffs. The reason we want to 3-bet polarized is because of how infrequently we think they'll continue against our 3-bet.
If we're 3-betting hands like AJs/KQs against players like these, all the value in the hand is lost as they'll only continue when they have us beat and fold when we have them dominated. Instead, we want to use weak hands like A5o/K5s that we wouldn't call, but can get our opponents to fold better hands.
Against the weak players who make a lot of pre and post-flop mistakes, we want to be 3-betting a more linear range. These players are more likely to continue against our 3-bet with a much weaker range than normal, meaning we don't want to have any pure bluffs in our range and instead just 3-bet the top of our range for value.
As they're making a lot of mistakes we can expect them to call down with a much weaker range than the average player. We want to make sure we're value betting our strong hands and not bluffing too crazily when we miss.
Defending the Blinds
When we're playing in the blinds we're starting at a disadvantage as we're forced to post either a full big blind or half a big blind before the cards are even dealt. To win some of that money back, we need to be aggressively defending our blinds - which includes a lot of 3-betting and 4-betting.
We're particularly going to aggressively 3-bet against late position opens as they're going to be opening the widest range and therefore will be folding more often to our 3-bets. We want to be 3-betting more aggressively as the raise comes from later and later positions (meaning we 3-bet the tightest against the earlier positions and the widest against the latest positions).
We can also defend our blinds by 4-betting, both light and for value, with our most profitable bluffing spots coming in late position configurations (e.g. the button opens and the SB 3-bets). Another similar scenario is 4-betting from the SB against a BB 3-bet.
The reason these spots are profitable for bluffs is because we know that 3-bet ranges against late position opens are going to be the widest and therefore we can expect more folds than if it was a 3-bet against an early position open.
Responding to 3-Bets or 4-Bets
So we've covered how and why we should be 3-betting or 4-betting, but what about if we're facing a 3-bet or 4-bet?
Holding a Premium Hand
These are the spots we dream of as poker players, having a hand like AA or KK facing significant action - but how best do we respond? It's hard to go wrong with putting in another raise preflop, with our strongest hands we want to try and get as much money in as possible while they rate to be the best hand.
A reason you might want to slowplay could be if you think your opponent has a very wide 3-bet or 4-bet range that will fold to further aggression but could continue to bluff post-flop.
However, most of the time you'll want to put in another preflop raise - if you've been 3-bet then you'll want to 4-bet to around 2.2-2.5x when you're in position and 2.5-2.75x when you're out of position, and if you've been 4-bet then if you started the hand with around 100bb or less the best sizing is just to move all in.
The Dangers of Overcalling
One thing that's tempting for people facing a 3-bet or 4-bet is to call a lot of hands, with the thinking being "If it was good enough to raise, surely it must be good enough to call". However, this is faulty logic as when we're raising we're up against ranges that still contain 100% of all hands, whereas when we're facing a 3-bet we're up against a much tighter range which means that there are a lot of hands that are no longer profitable as a continue.
We want to be calling hands that flop good amounts of equity against strong ranges; such as suited Ax, suited connectors, suited broadways, and good pocket pairs. When we're out of position we want to be calling even tighter, as we're not going to be able to realize as much equity as when we're in position.
If we call a wide range of hands against 3-bets or 4-bets, the result is that we're going to end up folding to flop aggression the majority of the time which is very bad for our bottom line. By playing a tighter range against a 3-bet, we have fewer 'nothing' hands that completely miss the flop and are forced to fold.
Dealing With Consistent Aggressors
Playing against people who aggressively 3-bet and 4-bet is very tough - which is part of the reason why we want to do it ourselves! We don't want to let them run us over so we need to defend a good amount to their aggression, but we don't want to run into the issue of overcalling either. It's a tough balance to strike.
If they're playing well, and 3-betting a reasonable but aggressive range then there's not a lot we can do other than try and play as optimally as possible. This will include a decent amount of 4-betting to try and disincentive them from continuing to 3-bet us, as well as making sure we call at the optimal rate. It's generally agreed that if both parties are playing a balanced strategy then you should be folding around 55% of the time to 3-bets, meaning to find the amount of your range you should be calling you should minus your 4-betting range from the remaining 45% of our defend range.
However, if your opponent is not playing a balanced strategy and is 3-betting or 4-betting too liberally, then we will want to adjust to them. This will mean that we should be calling more often, as more of our range meets the equity requirements to continue against their weaker range. We should also be re-raising them a lot more often as when they're raising with such a wide range, it's hard for them to defend well against further aggression.
The best way to get to grips with 3-bet and 4-bet pots (aside from re-reading this article) is to get on the felt and play them. The more 3-bet and 4-bet pots you play the better feel you'll have for the ranges your opponents are playing and how best to adjust to them.
This article was published on April 12, 2021, and last updated on October 26, 2022.