When a player opens preflop and you raise them, you have actually three-bet them. A three-bet is therefore the first reraise (i.e. the second raise) before the flop.
If you watched a lot of poker on TV during the poker boom, you would have heard the word “reraise” a lot in the commentary (and even from the players themselves when announcing their intentions). But poker players and commentators rarely say “reraise” these days, as this play is now commonly referred to as a three-bet.
Although widely used as a No Limit Hold’em term, the three-bet actually originated in Limit Hold’em, where players can only raise in fixed limits. So the initial open (double the big blind) is called the “two-bet”, and the reraise is then the “three-bet”.
This also continues with the “four-bet” (the second reraise, or third raise preflop), “five-bet”, and so on.
Sometimes one of these bets is an all-in, in which case you might hear someone refer to it as a “three-bet shove” or a “four-bet shove”. This lets you know there has been a certain amount of raises prior to their action.
Click this link or the image below to watch an example of a three-bet in action.
The great Phil Ivey opens to 500 with his pocket aces and the player on his immediate left three-bets him by raising to 1,300. Another player calls the three-bet, only for Ivey to then four-bet to 5,500. Both players fold and Ivey collects the pot.
This is where things get trickier as players will play certain hands differently.
One thing that’s for sure is that three-betting should be an integral part of your poker game. If you only call open-raises preflop, you’re not only letting other players call for cheap, but you’re not charging the initial raiser anymore to see a flop.
There are plenty of benefits to three-betting instead of calling:
- You can win the pot uncontested without ever seeing a flop
- You thin the field and increase the likelihood of winning at showdown or via fold equity post-flop
- You can build a bigger pot when you have a strong hand
- You can win big pots with disguised hands when you hit the flop
But how do you decide which hands to three-bet with? First, we have to construct a three-betting range and this will depend on our position and stack size.
PokerStars School’s Pete Clarke says our three-bet range should be linear or polarised.
“Three-betting with a linear range means three-betting AA and then all of the hands weaker than AA down to a certain hand which is deemed too weak to three-Bet. It might look like [88+, all suited broadways, all suited aces, AJo+, KQo+, T9s, 98s] or in another spot, it might be tighter and exclude the weaker hands in that range. Linear essentially means ‘no gaps’. When we’re three-betting linear, we will never favour a weaker hand over a stronger one.”
According to Clarke, there are two circumstances where we three-bet with a linear range:
• When we are not building a calling range against the open. In this case, we are entering the pot with a three-bet or not at all. It would not make sense to choose to play a hand that is weaker than one we are folding, so we three-bet from the top down.
• When Villain or population does not fold much to three-bets. In this case, we want to only increase the size of the pot for value and not for fold equity. 3-Bet bluffing is not advisable and so we 3-bet all and only those hands deemed good enough to be value three-bets.
So what about a polarised three-betting range?
“A polarised three-bet range is one that has a value component and a bluff component,” says Clarke. “These two groups of hands are separated by a calling range. Therefore, when we three-bet polarised, we must have a calling range to serve as a buffer between value hands and bluffs.”
A polarised range might look like: [JJ+ AQs+ AKo, A2s-A5s T9s 98s 87s] in the most extreme example.
“If our range is purely polarised, then it means we are flatting the hands in between these two groups and folding all hands weaker than our three-bet bluffs,” Clarke continues.
“One more modern option is to play a mixed polarised range. This still entails having a chunk of very strong hands that you always three-bet for value. The difference with this range is that some of the weaker hands get mixed between three-betting and calling. This has the advantage of increasing the calibre of the bluffs, but the disadvantage of playing fewer hands overall. We only have a finite amount of space for bluffing in our strategy before it becomes too bluff heavy and exploitable. This might be okay against weaker players who fold too much but is a concern against stronger opposition. So when we three-bet A5s as a bluff, we have less room for K3s.”
We opt for a polarised range when:
• We want to have a calling range
• We think Villain or population folds a decent amount of the time to 3-Bets
To learn more about three-betting, check out these articles from PokerStars School: