Let’s start with an existential question: why do we 3-bet?

Similar to regular preflop raising, there are many reasons, but in a given spot, any and all of these may apply:

  • To get value from weaker hands
  • To fold out stronger hands
  • To condense the SPR
  • To isolate a weaker opponent

It should be relatively obvious what our goal is when we 3-bet a very strong hand. We’re 3-betting to grow the size of the pot, get called by worse hands, and grab the pot uncontested with some frequency as a bonus.

But what about when we 3-bet with a weaker hand, or even a middle-strength, more marginal hand?

We do this to access some of the most profitable spots in poker: the spots where we arrive at a big pot with a strong hand that our opponent doesn’t expect us to have. However, we also want to be able to have a range of strong hands and weaker hands on any potential board texture that might come out (we call this board coverage). Finally, we want the ability to withstand being 4-bet on the occasion that it does happen - we don’t want too many tough decisions.

Mostly, we want to avoid 3-betting without a plan. You should know what you’re going to do against a 4-bet before you make the original 3-bet. Show up unprepared and you’ll likely make mistakes, and either call, fold, or shove all-in too often versus the 4-bet.

When choosing our 3-bet sizing, we should think through the obvious factors, such as position, stack size and opponent’s profile. More importantly, we should drill down on what size makes our opponent’s decision as difficult as possible. If we size very large, they may fold more, but that decision is fairly easy for them. If we size too small, the opposite happens and it’s another easy choice to commonly call.

Generally, when you’re out of position, the sizing that most trips up your opponent is going to be larger. Because they have position, you need to give them a worse price to call. This means you should raise to between 3 to 5 times their original raise, depending on how deep the stacks are. If you’re the one in position, you don’t mind so much if they call, and you should make it anywhere between 2.5 and 4 times their raise.

Finally, let’s talk briefly about 4-betting. Though it rarely occurs preflop, it’s important to understand the basics. Just like 3-betting, we should have a gameplan for when our opponent 5-bet shoves - whether that be an easy call or an easy fold. If you 4-bet to a certain size with a certain hand, and it puts you in a precarious spot against an opponent’s shove, you’ve likely made a mistake.