Improve Your Preflop 3bet Defense

What is 3bet Defense?

3bet defense is a strategy that you must employ after open-raising or raising over limpers preflop and somebody re-raises you with a 3bet. Your 3bet defense options are to either fold, call or re-raise 4bet (if the 3bet was not an all-in shove).

The option you choose to take depends on the 3bet range of your opponent, their tendencies in 3bet pots and the preflop hand you are holding. However, there are also steps you can take to avoid 3bets from your opponents. This is going to save you money and make poker a little easier for you.

Choose to Face Less 3bets

Yes, there are things you can do to avoid 3bets! Most of us lose money when facing a 3bet, so if you can avoid that, you’ll add more money to your bottom line.

Take action to plug poker leaks

Do you have a 3bet defense leak?

Look to see if you have a leak when facing 3bets after open-raising. Run each of the 4 filters below in PokerTracker 4 and record your resulting win rates along with the number of hands.  Make sure you have a sample of at least 10,000 hands to filter through.

3bet Defense Filters

  1. Raise First In
  2. Raise First In and Face a 3bet
  3. Raise First In and Call the 3bet
  4. Raise First In and 4bet versus the 3bet
The 3 RFI then face a 3bet filters.

If any of these 4 filters gave you a win rate worse than -300bb/100 hands, then you have a leak to fix.


Why does a win rate worse than -300bb/100 hands signify a leak?

If you normally open-raise 3bb’s and fold versus every 3bet, you would lose 3bb’s every time this happens. Therefore, your total win rate would be -300bb/100 hands.  So, this is the win rate you compare your “facing a 3bet” win rates against.

Let’s say your “RFI and Face a 3bet” win rate is terrible at -600bb/100 hands. This means every time you face a 3bet, you’re losing 6bb’s.  If you had just folded versus every one of these 3bets, you would’ve lost only 3bb’s each time. So, your 3bet defense choices are costing you an additional 3bb’s. 3bet defense is definitely a leak of yours.

But, if your win rate is -100bb/100 hands, then your 3bet defense decisions cost you only 1bb every time you face a 3bet. This is great! You’re doing better than if you had folded vs every 3bet.

So, if you’re losing money when facing 3bets, I’m going to help you plug this leak now.

Listen to this podcast episode called “Choose to Face Less 3bets”

Methods for Facing Less 3bets after Open-raising

I can hear some of you right now, “I can’t control whether or not my opponents 3bet me. That’s crazy talk.”

You’re right, you can’t control your opponent’s actions.  But, you can do things that make it less likely you’ll face a 3bet after open-raising.

I came up with 5 methods for facing less 3bets. They are in order of simplicity from #1 to #5. And, they’re in order of effectiveness and profitability as well. So if you only do one thing, #1 is easiest and most effective for minimizing 3bets and improving your profitability when open-raising.

1. Table Select

Table selection is purposely choosing the table that you play on, in order to have the best chances of leaving the table with profits.

When it comes to table selection, the 2 things you’re looking for are the types of players at the table and their position against you.

Most 3bets come from loose-aggress (LAG) players and Maniacs. The more of these you have at your table, the more difficult your session will be. LAG’s and Maniacs love to open-raise, so they’re going to take away your chance to open-raise frequently. They also love to 3bet, so the more of these players at your table the more likely it is you’ll face a 3bet after every open-raise.

Playing at a table with just 1 or 2 LAG’s at most will reduce the 3bets you face drastically. And make sure you keep the 3bettors to your right so you have post-flop position against them.

A dream table would be all loose-passive Fish and just you. A nightmare table would be all LAG’s and Maniacs along with you. Choose tables that are closer to the fishy extreme.

2. Use Bigger Open-raise Sizing

Players don’t like 3betting vs larger sizes regardless of whether their 3bet is for value or as a bluff.

Bluffing versus larger 3-4bb 3bets puts more chips at risk if they size the 3bet large enough to hit your pain threshold.

If they are value 3betting with hands like TT, JJ and AQ, it’s easier to pull the trigger versus 2-2.5bb open-raises.  When you make it larger, they’re less sure of the strength of their hand and will often just call with these hands instead.

So, to discourage 3bets, make it between 3-4bb’s when open-raising in every position.

I know there are many coaches who recommend smaller open-raises like 2-2.5bb’s depending on position. But smaller open-raises encourage more calls and 3bets, which take you away from Bread & Butter Poker.

3. Look Ahead for 3bettors

Before you make any action on any street, you must look ahead and think about how the remaining players will react to your play.

When it comes to open-raising, before you do so, look ahead at the players on your left to see their 3bet statistic. Anybody who is capable of bluff 3betting in their current position should be viewed as a potential 3bettor. How do you know they are capable of 3bet bluffing?

The first way to know is by seeing them 3bet bluff in that position before and making a note of it. The 2nd way is to look at their 3bet statistic by position. Anything over 7% is a sign that they 3bet bluff from that position. Take the time to look at the number of opportunities as well. 10% when it is 1/10 opportunities isn’t reliable. But if it’s 10% out of 100 opportunities to 3bet (10/100), there is a very good chance they love to 3bet in that position and they will 3bet you right now.

If you suspect a 3bet is coming your way and you don’t want to face it, you can do 1 of 2 things:

  1. Increase your bet size (#2 above).
  2. Don’t open-raise and just fold instead.

There’s nothing wrong with folding a hand that is worth open-raising against the blinds but not against a likely 3bet. Take a hand like QTs. I open-raise this hand all day against players in the blinds, but if I’m up against players who love to 3bet me, I’m not open-raising QTs because it’s never good enough to call and it’s not a solid 4bet bluffing hand.

4. Open-raise with Tighter Ranges

The earlier your position, the less hands you want to open-raise with. This is because with more players left to act after you enter the pot, the more likely it is you’ll face a 3bet. I recommend opening a small 10-12% range from UTG, then gradually increase it by position until you get to the BTN, which is your widest open-raising position.

Check out the difference in potential 3bets faced when opening a 25% range versus a 15% range:

The top portion of the figure above shows your total losses when you open-raise 25% of the time over your next 10,000 hands.

  • Open-raising 25% of the time = 2,500 open-raising hands.
  • Facing a 3bet 10% of the time = 250 3bets faced.
  • Losing 6bb’s with every 3bet = -1,500 blinds lost
  • That’s 15 buy-ins down, which is extremely hard to overcome even with great play in other areas.

The bottom portion shows your total losses if you decrease your open-raising frequency to 15% of the time.

  • Open-raising 15% = 1,500 open-raising hands
  • Facing a 3bet 10% = 150 3bets faced.
  • Losing 6bb’s with every 3bet = -900 blinds lost
  • 9 buy-ins lost, which is much better than above.

The numbers above assume that you’re playing exactly the same and you’ll have the same results versus 3bets that you’ve been having. But, if your decrease your open-raising ranges, this will naturally decrease your losses when facing 3bets. This is due to your smaller and stronger open-raising ranges. When you choose to defend against a 3bet by calling or raising, you’ll have stronger hands than before. Therefore, your preflop equity will be greater in 3bet defense situations which will lead to less losses and more profits.

5. Become Known as a 3bet Defender

This is not the way I recommend to avoid 3bets. Becoming known as a “3bet defender” is a natural result of being the kind of player that does not fold to 3bets.

“If they ain’t folding, you ain’t bluffing.”

I’m sure you follow this idea when it comes to 3bet bluffing, especially from the blinds because you’re OOP. Many of your opponents feel the same way. They target players with bluff 3bets who open-raise and then fold a lot.

So, if you purposely choose to be the kind of player who calls and 4bets frequently, your opponents will pick up on this and you will face less 3bet bluffs. This means that most 3bets you will face are for value with some of the strongest hands. Becoming a “3bet defender” can backfire on you this way.

What also happens when you become known for your frequent 3bet defense is players will call you much more often. They will call with hands like AJ and KQ and 99 which are way ahead of your open-raising range. So you will be seeing the flop with weaker ranges and often out of position (when players call from the CO or the BTN). You will also see more multi-way pots because the 1st caller who doesn’t want to 3bet is going to entice additional callers.

You could also become known as a 3bet defender if you play ultra-tight ranges. But I don’t recommend that style of play either because the ultra-tight players are too easy to read and easy to steal from when they don’t show aggression.

Taking action on and off-the-felt is the only way to plug your poker leaks

Use Methods #1-4 On-the-Felt

If 3bet defense is a weakness for you, get to work on this during every play session this week. Start with the 1st method above and choose more profitable tables that do not contain LAG’s nor Maniacs on your left. Beyond this, use the 2nd method of larger bet sizing to limit the 3bets you face. Always be on the lookout for 3bettors still to act and consider whether or not your hand is worthy of open-raising (3rd method). If you’re still having issues with facing 3bets move on to the 4th method open-raising with tighter ranges.


Listener Feedback

After listening to this podcast episode, long-time listener Jon Homan gave me two more great steps to take to face less 3bets:

6: Site selection – Ignition Poker, for example, seems to have less 3bettors (at least at micros) than other online poker sites.

7: Change Stakes – If 3bet defense is an issue, move down in stakes so improving your 3bet defense skills is less costly. Also, lower stakes contain less aggressive 3bettors.


3bet Defense Ranges

If you use preflop ranges (such as my KISS Cash Game Ranges), they probably include 3bet defense hands for calling or 4betting. Of course, you can follow the ranges strictly and avoid critical thought by just playing as the ranges direct you to.

Listen to this podcast episode called “Mount a Solid 3bet Defense”

But, a critical concept that I teach all of my students about ranges is that you MUST NOT follow them blindly.

Your preflop ranges are there to help you make decisions because they tell you the hands that are mathematically acceptable to play in certain spots.

However, there are some huge drawbacks to using ranges. Your ranges don’t know:

  • Type of player that 3bet against you
  • Player’s history of 3bet showdown hands
  • Player’s 3bet-related statistics
  • Size of the 3bet
  • Size of the stacks involved
  • How your opponent views you

So, your preflop ranges should be kind of a guide, but not the arbiter of your 3bet defense decisions. That’s up to you, as well it should be. You’re potentially committing 9bb’s or more by calling and 22bb’s or more by 4betting. Committing so many chips before seeing the flop must never be done lightly.

Your 3bet defense decision to either call or 4bet hinges on your opponent’s range and how your hand plays against it. So, the first thing you need to do is visualize the 3bettor’s range.

Want to see how I created my 3bet defense ranges?

How do we visualize a 3bettor’s range?

The following 5 pieces of information are critical in helping you build a 3bettor’s range as either being extremely value-oriented or possibly containing 3bet bluffs.

Player Type

Passive players, like Fish who do mostly calling, have very strong 3betting ranges. Often, it’s just KK and AA. These players are fine calling QQ and JJ preflop because they’re scared you hold a stronger hand. If your ranges tell you to 4bet bluff, but the 3bettor only has KK and AA in their range, you’re in for a world of hurt.

There are other players like LAG’s and Maniacs who 3bet bluff a ton. You’ve seen these players 3bet with hands like JTs, 44, A5s and KJ.

Statistics

If you’re an online player, you probably use a HUD like my Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4 to give you more information to work with.

Oh, my. What a tiny 3bet you have…

When you face a 3bet, you MUST look to see what the player’s 3bet statistic is. A 1% 3betting range is probably just QQ+ and a 4% 3bet is TT+, AK and AQs.

At 7%, the 3bettors range is potentially 99+, AJ+ and KQs. I say “potentially” because once a 3bettor goes beyond TT and AK, they have particular hands they prefer to 3bet or call with. Some players 3bet with AJ, others never 3bet with it but choose to call instead.

The 3bet statistic is a start, but you have to visualize each 3bettor’s range independently. It’s never a one-size-fits-all thing with 3bet ranges.

Position

The 3bettor’s position matters, especially in relation to their 3bet statistic. A player’s total 3bet percentage is helpful, but even more helpful is looking at their positional 3bet percentage.

This is the custom 3bet Popup I created for the Smart HUD.

If you’re facing a BB 3bet and the player’s percentage is 1%, you know they mean business and have a strong hand. Other players treat the BB as a great 3bet resteal position. You’ll see their 3bet stat in the SB at 10% or more (12.5% in the screenshot above).

Be more willing to believe their 3bet if it comes from a position they normally don’t bluff in.

History

One of the things I love about PokerTracker 4 is that it takes automatic notes on hands that went to showdown:

All of these hands went to showdown so PT4 records the hands and how they entered the pot with them. This player’s 3bet range as seen at showdown is AA, 88, 73s, AKo, A4o-A5o. Yep, we’ve found a bluffer.

If you don’t use PT4 or you’re a LIVE player, you’ll have to rely on note taking to remember what hands your opponent has 3bet with in the past. The more 3bet bluffing hands you’ve seen, the more likely they’re 3bet bluffing once again.

3bet Sizing

The 3bet sizing your opponent uses can clue you in to the strength of their hand.

In general, the smaller the size of the 3bet, the more likely it’s made with a weaker hand. This is because they don’t want to commit too many bluffing chips. Or, they’re not sure of how valuable their hand really is.

Does this tiny 7bb IP position 3bet from a TAG feel like it’s for value? Heck no. 4bet bluff!

The larger the 3bet, the more likely it is for value.

I’m sure you size your 3bets properly to hit your opponent’s pain threshold and to make it hard for them to read into your 3bet hand strength. However, many opponents don’t put thought into their 3bet sizing.

Take a note if you ever see a sizing-related tell, like a tiny 3bet size with A5s, but later, they 3bet to 12bb’s with AA. Knowing that they size their bets differently based on their hand strength will improve your 3bet defense and help you exploit the 3bettor.

Use this hack to help you visualize your ranges

With these 5 pieces of information, you can now visualize the 3bettor’s range and respond appropriate by folding, calling or 4betting. Is your opponent on a value-3bet range or can they have a bluffing 3bet range? Of course, if they have a bluffing range, it also contains value 3betting hands, so don’t ignore that.

3bet Defense vs Value 3bet Ranges

Value 3bet ranges are very small. The widest they go are TT+, AK and AQs (4% in the screenshot above). Let’s look at your options:

Fold

You’re going to fold your open-raising hand most of the time against a value 3bet range. When you know your opponent only 3bets with KK and AA, it’s a super easy fold. If you call with a hand like KJs or 33, you are way behind and just wasting those 3bet calling chips.

Don’t be ashamed of folding your hand versus a 3bet. If it pains you to fold, look at it this way: your opponent just gave you information telling you that their hand is very strong. Be happy that they let you know this preflop instead of “cluing you in” with bets and raises when the pot is larger.

Call

It’s okay to call a 3bet with a hand worthy of 4betting, like AA, in an effort to keep their entire 3betting range in the hand in order to earn more profit from them post-flop.

It’s also okay to call a 3bet with a hand that can crack big 3betting hands. KJs can get you into a world of hurt versus AA, KK and AK. But calling with a hand like 76s can crack those big pocket pairs if you get lucky to hit a straight, a flush or a nice 2p hand. But before you call with a speculative hand like 76s, make sure the 3bettor has a big enough stack to make it worth calling the 3bet (you only hit 2p+ with 76s 5.6% of the time). Look for a stack that is 20 times the size of the 3bet you have to call.

Flopzilla shows us that 76s hits 2p+ only 5.6 of the time on the flop. And it fails to hit a “made hand” 65.4 of the time.

It also helps if the 3bet is on the smaller side so you aren’t risking that much with your speculative hand. If your opponent made a small 3bet for only 4 more bb’s, that makes a calling mistake much less costly than if you had called an additional 9 bb’s.

4bet Re-Raise

Because your opponent is on a value 3bet range, you will only 4bet with a value hand ahead of their range. That probably means you’re only 4betting AA or KK. Don’t make the mistake of 4betting with an inferior hand like AK versus a range of QQ or better.

3bet Defense vs Bluff 3bet Ranges

Bluff 3bet ranges can be all over the board. Of course, they contain the strongest hands, but they can be a weird mixture of suited-connectors like 76s, pocket pairs like 44, suited Aces like A5s or any other random hand that the 3bettor feels like bluffing with.

Fold

Again, you’re probably going to fold more often than call or 4bet even against a bluff 3bet range. There is no reason to continue in the hand if they are not going to fold vs a 4bet or if calling puts you in a money-losing spot post-flop.

You can always tag tough decisions to revisit them for off-the-felt study.

Call

You only want to call with hands that are at the top of the 3bettor’s range. If they 3bet with AT or better, you’re making a huge mistake calling with AT or even A9. If they can 3bet with 99 or better, you’re asking for trouble if you call with 99 or any lower pair.

You want your calling hand at the top of their 3betting range to give you a mathematical advantage over them. If you can call with AK while they 3bet with AT or better, on that Ace high flop you have now crushed their range.

You can also call preflop to slow play some of your biggest hands. If you have AA and you think they fold most of the time versus a 4bet, then calling is a decent option because it keeps their entire 3betting range in the hand on the flop.

You can also call in order to exploit a flop honest 3bettor later on. If the 3bettor only cbets in 3bet pots at 35%, they check when the flop doesn’t help. You can call their 3bets from in position and steal the pot on the flop as soon as they check.

4bet Re-Raise

If you hold a very strong hand like AA or KK, it’s easy to 4bet for value. You know their range is full of bluffs and your hand crushes their bluffs. So, if you think they can call you with worse or maybe even come over the top with a 5bet with weaker hand, go for max value and 4bet with your strongest hands.

Don’t slow play your best hands if they’re capable of giving you value now.

But most of the time you won’t hold AA or KK. Instead, you’ll have the opportunity to 4bet bluff very often. So, you’ve got to ask and answer the question, “Can they fold versus a 4bet?”

The 1st thing you want to do is look at their Fold to 4bet statistic. You should have this in a HUD pop-up by position.

The “3bet/Fold” line is their Fold to 4bet statistic

This player doesn’t 3bet bluff a ton, but they fold a lot in the CO and BTN vs 4bets.

Look for players who have a high 3bet percentage in their position coupled with a high Fold to 4bet % in the same position. You’re looking for somebody who 3bets greater than 7% and folds greater than 50%. And of course, the higher these 2 percentages the more likely your 4bet bluff will succeed.

Visualize Every 3bettor’s Range and Defend Appropriately

Through your next 5 play sessions, pay attention to the action and every time somebody 3bets, visualize their 3bet range. It’s either a value range or a bluffing range.

If you are involved in the hand, realize that you have 3 options to either FOLD, CALL or RAISE. Make the most +EV decision that’s most likely going to yield the result you want. If you’re calling, you have a hand ahead of their range or you see an opportunity to bluff them later. If you are raising, you’re doing it either for value or as a bluff because they can fold.

If you are not involved in the hand and you see a 3bet, continue to practice visualizing their 3betting range. Watch the action of the hand and hopefully at showdown you can confirm your read.

Now I challenge you to take action and do something positive for your poker game.


Support the Podcast

Mark S. picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software.  I love it and use it everyday!  In appreciation, I sent him a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4.  With an ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.

Jeff bought the Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4 (and it comes with a 1.5 hour webinar!).  It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.

Big V picked up the Poker Mathematics Webinar ($5 off). This was held in conjunction with Mark Warner of ExceptionalPoker.com. We taught you all you need to know about preflop math, post-flop math and Expected Value.

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