Three-Bets in Poker

Three-bets in poker are a very aggressive move. A 3-bet shows strength and should be used with caution. Here are our three-betting strategies.

Aggressive poker is winning poker, and you can’t get much more aggressive than a well-timed 3-bet. It is one of the most powerful types of bets in Texas Hold’em.

But what exactly is three-betting in poker, how should you use it – and how can you defend against it?

What Is a 3-Bet in Poker

A 3-bet in poker is a pre-flop re-raise– the blinds are considered the first bet, any open-raise is the second bet (2-bet), and then if someone re-raises pre-flop it’s the third bet or 3-bet.

In poker, a bet is the first money put into the pot on any street. Any increase on this will be a raise (or a 2-bet). And any increase on a raise is known as a re-raise or 3-bet – and so on with 4-bets and 5-bets.

Pre-flop it’s much more common to use the term “3-bet” than “re-raise” – but post-flop it’s the other way around.

How To Play a Three-Bet

In the old days, 3-betting used to be reserved for pocket Kings or Aces. But players realized they could profit by widening their 3-bet range. Nowadays 3-betting is something every serious poker player needs to master.   

3-Bet Sizing

The smallest three-bet you can make is double the open raise. But as a general rule you should avoid min 3-betting.

Instead, you should re-raise to at least three times the previous raise if you are in position and you know you will act the last pre-flop. If you are out-of-position then it should be at least 3.5 to 4 times the size.

So if you’re on the button, 3-bet a standard open-raise of 3bb to 9bb.

If you’re in the blinds, then 3-bet to 12bb.

If you make a min 3-bet you will not build the pot much and you’ll be giving the original raiser great odds to call you correctly with a wide range of hands. This can get you into big trouble post-flop.

You’ll also make it easier for other players to cold-call your 3-bet. You want to avoid this because it will often mean you’ll lose position post-flop.

3-Bet Positions

It’s hard to understate the importance of position in poker. 3-bets are no exception. After all, a 3-bet pot is bigger than a 2-bet (or single-raised) pot – and by the river, you will often be playing for stacks. This means the advantage of position becomes even more valuable in 3-bet pots. Playing 3-bet pots out-of-position is no fun.

positions around the poker table
List of positions at a poker table.

If you 3-bet from anywhere but the blinds, you are more likely to play in position post-flop than if you simply call the open-raise. You will scare off players yet to act who might have called the original raise. And the original raiser will be in an earlier position if they call.

For example, if you 3-bet from the Cutoff seat then you might force the button out of the hand – and so you’ll act last post-flop. But if you just call then you give the button great odds to call as well because the pot is bigger but the price to continue is the same.

But be careful before you start 3-betting every hand to try and steal position. The earlier position you are 3-betting from, the more likely it is somebody yet to act will wake up with a monster hand. So you need to tighten up your 3-betting range the earlier your position – just as you tighten up your open-raising range.

And you can only three-bet if someone has raised before you. Most players play a much tighter range of hands the further they are from the button. So you need to pay attention to the position of the open-raiser before you think about 3-betting them.

An open-raise from under-the-gun (UTG) is much riskier to 3-bet than an open-raise from the cut-off. If you 3-bet an UTG raise then you better be willing to get it all in!

NLHE 3-Bet Position Primer

3-Bet Ranges

There are three main types of 3-bet range you will come across:

  • premiums-only,
  • polarized, and
  • merged/linear.

Let’s review each in more detail.

Premiums-only 3-betting range

The vast majority of weak players will only 3-bet premium hands – usually AA, KK, QQ and AK, although sometimes they might go wild and 3-bet with Jacks or Ace Queen. This is not a good strategy because anyone who is paying attention will simply fold on the rare occasion you 3-bet your monsters. You will never get paid off if you are only 3-betting 2% of the time. You want to be 3-betting at least 5% of your hands, if not more.

Polarized 3-betting range

A better strategy against weaker opponents (especially nits) is a polarized 3-betting range. This means to 3-bet your premiums, but also 3-bet weaker hands as well as a bluff.

These weaker hands should have the potential to hit the flop hard – things like lower suited aces and suited connectors, which have both straight and flush potential. Don’t make a habit of 3-bet bluffing with complete air!

The beauty of this strategy is that even if it doesn’t force a fold it gives you a looser image that is more likely to get you action later on. Even nits hate getting bluffed!

Merged/Linear 3-betting range

When you are playing better opponents, a merged 3-betting range is more optimal. This is also known as a linear range. Here you do not 3-bet bluff and instead only include premium hands and the next best hands. You just take the top 5-10% of possible starting hands.

Don’t stick to one type of three-bet range!

Always remember that you can’t expect to beat poker games by blindly following charts. You need to understand why you are doing something, and adjust to the table and opponent dynamics. There is no point having a 3-bet bluffing range if your opponent never fold to 3-bets.There is a time and a place for each type of three-betting range – even premiums-only!

When To Three-Bet In Poker

Like any bet in poker, you always need a good reason to 3-bet. Here are five situations where you should be considering three-betting.

Best Times To Three-Bet In Poker
5 Best Times To Three-Bet In Poker

1. 3-betting to defend the blinds (aka “the re-steal”)

Blind stealing is a common and profitable strategy at all levels of poker. Some players will open-raise from late position with almost any two cards.

If you’re in the blinds, flat calling is puts you at a disadvantage because you will be out-of-position post-flop. You’re going to miss the flop a lot and be forced to fold to your opponent’s c-bet.

If you defend your blind by 3-betting you can try to take the pot down before the flop. And even if you don’t succeed, your opponent will think twice about trying to steal your blinds with trash hands. You’re showing them you won’t be pushed around.

This is sometimes known as the re-steal, particularly in tournaments, because you are stealing from the would-be blind stealer!

Just make sure you 3-bet bigger to make up for your positional disadvantage – a good rule of thumb is around 4 times the open-raise.

2. 3-betting to build the pot

Poker is about maximizing your profit and minimizing your losses. When you have a good hand you need to extract as much value as possible.

You can’t get paid off unless you build the pot. A common beginner’s mistake is to slow-play a pre-flop monster for fear of scaring off your opponents. By 3-betting your good hands you are building up the pot when you are likely favorite to win. That will lead profit over the long term, even if sometimes everyone folds.

3. 3-betting to thin the field

No matter how good your hand is, it loses a lot of equity for every player that sees the flop with you.

You want to be heads-up on the flop, not in a family pot of loads of opponents who’ve been able to come along cheaply with their speculative hands. If you call a raise, then the players behind you get even better odds to call too – the pot is bigger but the price is the same.

A hand like Ace-King suited is a clear favorite against one opponent. But against two opponents, you are now flipping with a 50/50 chance – and against three you are an underdog. And that’s with opponents playing any two cards, including complete trash – if they’re playing a tighter range you’ll be an underdog against only two players.

And always remember you don’t pay rake if you don’t see a flop, so it’s not the end of the world if you just pick up the pot there and then because everybody folds to your 3-bet.

4. 3-betting to isolate weak players

Carrying on from the previous point, the only thing better than playing a heads-up pot is playing a heads-up pot against a weak opponent. If a fish open-raises then many players might be willing to call to see the flop.

But if you 3-bet the fish you discourage anyone else from getting involved, while the fish is likely to call because he is attached to his hand. The result is you get the fish all to yourself. And that is how you will make money.

5. 3-betting to take the initiative

Poker is a game where aggression and initiative are rewarded and passive play is punished. Calling is a passive action and re-raising is an aggressive action. If you call you can only win by making the best hand – and you are capping your range because your opponent knows you probably don’t have a premium hand.

If you 3-bet you will seize control of the hand. You are representing real strength and you will be in the driving seat on the flop. Aggressive poker is winning poker.

When To Avoid Three Betting In Poker

Three betting is a powerful tool, but the last thing you want to do is go crazy and start doing it with every hand. And even robotically following charts is a bad idea.

The most important consideration is your reads on your opponents. First of all, who are you re-raising? What sort of range can you put them on, and how will they react to your 3-bet? Then think about who is left to act. Don’t 3-bet a maniac unless you are willing to get it all in.

Another key consideration is that 3-betting marginal hands will often force your opponent to fold their weaker holdings but continue with hands that dominate you.

When making any bet, always remember the wise words of Dan Harrington:

“In general, a successful bet must be able to do one of three things: force a better hand to fold, force a weaker hand to call, or cause a drawing hand to draw at unfavorable odds.

If you don’t think a bet can accomplish any of these things, then you probably shouldn’t be betting.”

Three-betting reduces any post-flop skill advantage you have over your weaker opponents, because it lowers the stack-to-pot-ratio (SPR), making post-flop decisions easier. If you have position on a weak-tight player who you can outplay post-flop, and you think they will fold all but their strongest holdings to a 3-bet, then it can make sense just to call.

Facing a 3-Bet

You are going to come across three-betting a lot, no matter what stakes you’re playing at. At first it can be difficult to deal with, but here are some tips to help you fight back.

Spotting a Three-Bet

A 3-bet is easy to spot. First there needs to be a pre-flop raise of the big blind – ignore any limpers who just call the 1bb. Open-raising over a limper isn’t a 3-bet no matter how big it is, it’s just a raise (or a 2-bet).

With a 3-bet someone will open-raise to 2bb or more, and then another player will re-raise to at least 4bb or more. Often the open-raise will be to 3bb, and the 3-bet will be to at least 9bb. But with bad players, expect to see min 3-bets of double the open-raise.

3-Bet Calling Range

If you get 3-bet then should you fold, call or re-raise (4-bet)?

You should be very wary about calling 3-bets. Calling is a passive play and you will lose the initiative. Passive poker is losing poker. Don’t get attached to your hand just because you put some money in the pot and feel you have to call.

When you call a 3-bet you are capping your range. Your opponent knows you probably don’t have a monster, because you would have 4-bet them. Information is the real currency of poker – don’t give it away if you can help it!

And most importantly, calling a 3-bet usually means you will be out of position post-flop. The three main exceptions where you will have position if you call a 3-bet are:

  • you are cold calling a 3-bet
  • you are 3-bet by the blinds
  • you are 3-bet by a limper

The rest of the time you will be out-of-position post-flop against the 3-bettor – and they will have the initiative. This is very bad for you, because position and initiative confer massive advantage in poker.

You need to be very careful playing 3-bet pots out of position. Even if you do make your hand, you will find it hard to extract value. And most of the time you will just miss and have to give up. It is often better to adopt a 4-bet or fold strategy, at least at the lower limits.

Cold calling 3-bets

Cold calling a 3-bet is when you call a 3-bet when you are not the original raiser. Cold calling three bets is generally a bad idea – at least in cash games. You are getting much worse pot odds to call because you have to pay the initial raise as well. In tournament poker the antes can make it a profitable play.

Some players will cold-call a 3-bet to set mine with their pocket pairs. But this is risky, because it is very difficult to extract value out-of-position if you do hit your set – and it’s very unlikely that you will hit it anyway.

Small pocket pairs just don’t realize their equity against 3-bets very well. In theory, a hand like 22 is ahead of AKo – but this is if you go all in. Unless you are short-stacked, you would need to be a complete lunatic to get it all-in with pocket deuces – and if you don’t it’s very hard to get to showdown when you don’t hit your set.

3-bet by the blinds

If it’s the blinds 3-betting you then calling the 3-bet is more attractive, because you will have position post-flop – but you will not have the initiative.

The 3-better will act first and they will almost certainly fire a c-bet at you. You will miss the flop 2/3 of the time, and unlike a 2-bet pot, floating in a 3-bet pot is much more expensive. Especially if the player in the blinds has 3-bet bigger to compensate for being out-of-position. You need a very good read on your opponent.

The limp/3-bet

At the lowest stakes you might find an opponent open-limps for the price of the big blind, but when you open-raise them, the limper 3-bets you! What are they playing at?

Alarm bells should be going off when this happens. Usually the limp/re-raise means they are trying to trap you with a monster hand. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

Fold to 3-Bet

Folding is always free. 3-bet pots are a good way to expose yourself to increased variance – even if you don’t get yourself stacked.

Of course, you don’t want to become an easy target. More aggressive players will push you around by 3-betting light if they think you’ll fold too easily. You probably want to be folding to just over half the 3-bets you face – the sweet spot is around 55%. 30% or less is far too low, and 65% or more is far too high.

You can still be exploited though even if you get this right. If you don’t fold to 3-bets but give up easily on the flop you will have a high “fold to c-bet in a 3-bet pot” statistic. They will 3-bet you light and then c-bet you with air, confident that you’ll give up and they’ll win an even bigger pot!

Like everything in poker, you have to find the right balance. And there’s no shame in just moving tables if an aggressive player is running you over – poker is not a game of ego, it’s a game of making profitable decisions. Often the most profitable decisions you can make is to table select more carefully!

3-Bet Poker FAQ

Common questions about re-raising and three-bets.

What is a 3-bet in poker?

A three-bet in poker is a pre-flop re-raise – the blinds are considered the first bet, any open-raise is the second bet (2-bet), and then if someone re-raises pre-flop it’s the third bet, or 3-bet.

Pre-flop it’s much more common to use the term “3-bet” than “re-raise” – but post-flop it’s the other way around.

How often should you three-bet in poker?

You should aim to 3-bet at least 5% of your hands, but not more than 10%.

If you only 3-bet premium hands like Aces, Kings, Queens and Ace-King you will only be 3-betting about 2% of hands. You will become too easy to read and you won’t get any action, so you need to either throw in some semi-bluffs (polarized range) or include some more top hands (linear/merged range).

What is the size of a 3 bet?

A good rule of thumb is to 3-bet to three times the original raise if you’re in position, and four times if you’re out of position. But the minimum size a 3-bet needs to be is twice the original raise. Generally speaking, min 3-betting should be avoided.

What is the difference between a check-raise and a three-bet?

A check-raise and a 3-bet are very different – one is a post-flop raise and the other is a pre-flop re-raise. They are both very aggressive actions.
 
In poker a bet is the first money in on a particular street, any increase on that is a raise (2-bet), and any increase on a raise is a re-raise (3-bet). A check is where there is no bet to match and you choose not to make one yourself.
 
You can only check-raise after the flop, because you can only check after the flop. Pre-flop you must either call the big blind’s forced bet or raise it. If someone has already raised it you can 3-bet them by re-raising.
 
A check-raise is where you act first post-flop and check, only to raise when your opponent bets. It is a 2-bet because it is the second bet. If your opponent then re-raises your check-raise, that would be a 3-bet – although the term “3-bet” is usually used for pre-flop re-raises not post-flop. 

Is a three-bet a type of value bet?

3-bets are often value bets – 3-betting builds the pot and makes it much easier to get stacks in by the river.
 
But they can also be semi-bluffs – or even bluffs with complete air. If you only 3-bet for value then your opponents will take notice and exploit you by folding to your 3-bets unless they also have a premium hand.

In which positions should you 3-bet?

It makes a lot more sense to 3-bet when you’re out-of-position in the blinds – because if you call you are giving up initiative and you’ll have to act first post-flop. You want to take the pot down there and then. If you know you’ll have position post-flop then calling isn’t so bad – but it’s still a passive play, and passive poker is losing poker.

Should you 3-bet as a bluff?

You should definitely 3-bet as a bluff occasionally – but only if you have a good read on the players yet to act. Only do it against tighter opponents who’ll either fold to your 3-bet or give up to a continuation bet. If it goes wrong though, it can be very expensive.

Is three betting profitable in the long run in poker?

Three-betting can be very profitable in poker, but you can’t just do it randomly or robotically. You must always have a good reason for it. You can’t just follow charts either – you have to adapt to the table dynamics and your opponents’ tendencies.

What is a good 3-bet percentage?

A good 3-bet percentage is between 5-10%. If you only 3-bet premium hands then your 3-bet percentage will be around 2-3%, so you will need widen your range to hit this target. The easiest way to do this is by adding in some speculative hands as semi-bluffs – low suited Aces are great for this because they have straight and flush potential, and they make it less likely your opponent has an Ace themselves.

Why do we three-bet in poker?

3-bets are used to build the pot, force others to fold, isolate weak players and retain the initiative.

What do you call a re-raise on a 3-bet?

If somebody re-raises a 3-bet it’s called a 4-bet. A 4-bet should usually be around 2.5x the size of the 3-bet. If you re-raise a 4-bet then you are making a 5-bet. Often a 5-bet will be an all-in.

Love them or hate them, there’s no getting away from 3-bets in poker. You have to be comfortable making them and facing them if you want to succeed!