Cardrunners: Playing three-bet pots in position

CardRunners pro Matthew Janda explains how to play three-bet pots in position, and why Queen-high flops can be so expensive

The goal of this article is to make a good ‘default’ game plan for playing three-bet pots in position. In other words, I want to make a ‘go-to’ strategy that is reasonably easy to implement. I don’t want you to hold yourself to an unrealistic standard – it’s easy to list out every combo and feel good about howwe play our range when we have twenty minutes at the end of a session, but we can’t do that when we only have twenty seconds to think on the table!

The low-hanging fruit

I want you to get good at playing in position in three-bet pots on Ace, King and Queen-high flops (the most common flops). From this alone we’ll probably get an idea of how we should play out of position as well. I’ve made some reasonable three-betting and three-bet calling ranges for cutoff vs button:

Button three-bet range
This includes 8.3% of our total range and is made up of these value hands… TT-AA/A-Ks/A-Ko/A-Qs.

And semi-bluffing hands such as… A2-A5s/K-9s/A-To/K-Jo/T-8s and so on.

Cutoff call vs three-bet range
You will have to call out of position pretty aggressively. When you face three-bets you will be getting a pretty good price so you have to do it more than you might be happy with. I’m a big fan of slowplaying Aces whereas I think you should go ahead and four-bet hands like pocket Kings, A-K and some bluffs.

The range will include hands like this… 66-99/A-Q/A-Js/A8s-ATs/K-Qs/suited connectors such as 8-7 and 7-6.

Ace-high flops

Imagine the blankest board possible, which is A-2-2 rainbow. Let’s examine the three-bet calling range first: it will look like A-A, A-Q, A-J, ATs-A8s. This is the top 25% of his range and he will need these hands to call a bet on all three streets. Even then hands like A-9s may fold.

Think about what we can conclude if we know that our opponent will call us down with A-T or better. It tells us that betting all three streets for value with A-T ourselves is not very good. We will only get called on the river by splits or better hands. It even tells us that betting all three streets with A-J probably isn’t good!

It does, however, tell us that we want to get all the money in by the river with A-Q and better. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Bet the flop, turn and river. This is the most common ‘go-to’ line as this allows us to bet an equal fraction of the pot on each street and still get all-in.
  2. Check somewhere and bet bigger or raise later.

This is probably good to do once in a while since we don’t want to only have K-K or worse if we check behind the flop. We don’t want our opponent to know what we have!

One aspect of three-bet and four-bet pots that I find annoying is that many hands are ‘essentially the same thing’. Put it this way, A-K and A-Q are both pretty much the nuts on A-2-2. We want to be all-in by the river with both hands. Our opponent’s three-bet calling range is nearly capped at A-Q. When that happens we know that our A-K and A-Q are effectively the nuts.

Because of this we’ll often have to take different lines with the same hands but we don’t want to make things complicated either. We have the stronger range. We have position. We’ll usually just bet our good hands and be done with it. You need a good read to deviate from the standard bet flop, turn and river play!

Here is our range on the A-2-2 flop:

  1. Nut hands (A-A/A-K/A-Q)
    Bet all of them on the flop except for A-A, since A-A has too big of a card removal effect. If you bet it, too often your opponent will just fold. It probably makes sense to check back A-K or A-Q once in a while, but it’s probably less effective than betting. In general, checking gets better when the cutoff makes bigger turn bets after we check back the flop (this will allow us to win more from his bluffs). But not too many people do this, rendering checking a bad option.
  2. Strong but not awesome hands (between A-T and T-T)
    Bet the hands which can get a bit more value, like A-T, and also the hands which are more vulnerable to free cards like T-T and J-J. Let’s check back A-5, A-3 and K-K, etc. for pot control and deception. A-x at least blocks your opponent holding a better Ace, while K-K and Q-Q do not, so check K-K and Q-Q more often than you do A-x.

Quick guidelines for Ace-high flops

  1. Ace-high boards hit our range really well
  2. We want to bet nearly all our A-K/A-Q hands on the flop for three streets. Check Aces
  3. Bet the strongest medium strength hands (A-T) and the most vulnerable medium strength hands (T-T) on the flop
  4. Check back the weakest of air hands on the flop (K-J) but bet just about everything else that isn’t a made hand

How does our button three-betting range do on other flops?

As we saw in the above example Ace-high flops are awesome for our range but how about when the flop doesn’t have an Ace on it? The results might surprise you. King-high flops are also awesome, Queen-high flops suck and Jack-high flops are OK. Be very careful when continuation betting on some coordinated Queen-high flops, such as Q-8-6 with a flush draw.

Flops with middling cards are really bad for our three-betting range. Why? Flops like 8-7-6 or 9-6-4 hit our opponent hard with hands like 7-6s, and they also give our opponent strong draws with similar connected hands too. Even if we are ahead now our opponents will often have significant equity against us.

King-high flops

You should have a very similar default three-betting game plan on King-high boards as you do on Ace-high boards. If anything, a K-2-2 flops hits us slightly better than an A-2-2 board. This can be shown in that we have 18 ‘strong hand value combos’ (of A-A, A-K and A-Qs) on an A-2-2 flop whereas on a K-2-2 board we have 21 ‘strong hand value combos’ of A-A (6 combos), K-K (3 combos) and A-K (12 combos).

Our very strong hands don’t fear overcards on Ace or King-high flops too – all of our strong hands on a King-high flop will usually have an Ace in them too, such as A-A and A-K. Because we hit them so often – both literally and in our opponent’s mind – we can bet Ace and King-high boards with a high frequency!

It’s important to pay attention to draws however. If the board is A-9-2 there shouldn’t be a straight draw in your opponent’s range. On a K-9-2 flop there will be tons of gutshots in your opponent’s range, with hands such as Q-T, Q-J and so on.

The game-changer: Queen-high boards

First off, I will be three-betting A-Q offsuit sometimes even though it is not part of our default three-betting range. But even if we add A-Q offsuit into our three-betting range we still only have 54.6% overall equity on a Q-2-2 rainbow flop – that’s not too good! If you compare this to the K-2-2 flop we looked at earlier, we had 64.4% that time. A 10% equity difference is huge! So why do Queen-high boards mostly suck for the three-bettor?

  1. Players usually call three-bets with A-Q, K-Q and (sometimes) A-A, so they’ll have a lot of strong hands.
  2. It’s not that tough to play out of position on boards with high cards.It’s pretty easy to check-call. Compare this to 8♠-6♠-3♣, where our three-betting range has 55% equity. It’s a nightmare for the out of position player to check-call, because their range will be weaker and we can bluff them on later streets.

How does our strategy change?

We still have a lot of ‘very strong value hands’ on a Queen-high board, basically the same amount that we have on an Ace-high board. The problem is our range doesn’t have many combos at all of top pair, weak kicker (such as Q-9s) and zero combos of top pair, middle kicker (such as Q-J).

Since we three-bet A-T and K-J offsuit but not Q-J offsuit, as well as three-betting many A-x and K-x suited, we don’t have nearly as many medium strength hands (keep in mind all ranges do include J-J and T-T also though). This does two things:

  1. It makes it more difficult for us to bet one or two streets for value.
  2. We’ll less often have a medium strength value hand to check back on the flop.

One good thing we can do is to check back the flop with our good hands a bit more. This allows us to pick off bluffs later on and strengthens our checking range, meaning that we can still have strong hands when we check. If we employ this strategy it’s very important that we are willing to bet bigger on the turn and/or river – just betting the standard 50% of pot is not enough!

If there are only two streets left to act in a three-bet pot, it’s fine to bet big. Imagine, for example, that you call a three-bet out of position and the flop comes Q-8-4♣. You check and your opponent checks back (as he often will). If the turn is 2♣, why not bet big with your A-Q/K-Q sometimes? Your opponent is unlikely to raise you, and if he does somehow have you beat (let’s say you have K-Q and he slowplayed pocket Aces on the flop), you’re likely getting stacked no matter how you play the hand.

This article is an extract from Default 3-bet Strategies IP by CardRunners pro Matthew Janda. To watch the full video, and thousands more, go to today!

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