The power of 4: Everything you need to know about four-betting

If you want to keep pace in today’s game you need to add four-betting to your arsenal

If you ever want a reminder of just how much poker has changed in the last few years, you simply have to pick up some of the pre-millennium literature. Take Cloutier and McEvoy’s Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold’em (1997), for example. This was once considered a good book for aspiring no-limit hold’em players, but on p220 the authors advise that ‘any time the pot is raised and reraised before it gets to you in a tournament, [we] suggest you dump your two Kings’. That’s right, they suggest you fold the second-best possible starting hand to a simple three-bet!

These days, the typical player is so much more aggressive that if you played as Cloutier and McEvoy suggest you’d be the tightest player at your table and would slowly bleed away your stack with no hope of being a winner. One of the best examples of the modern game’s aggression is the preflop four-bet. As little as ten years ago a preflop four-bet pretty much always meant pocket Aces. But now, a preflop four-bet from a good player could be much more – a big hand like A-K or Q-Q, or an adventurous semi-bluff with a hand such as 7♠-6♠. In the modern game you not only have to be more aggressive yourself, but learn how to effectively defend against the aggression of others.

So when and why should you consider four-betting? First and foremost, you should mainly be four-betting for value. Remember that betting for value means you expect to have the best hand the majority of the time when called, so you shouldn’t be four-betting if the only hand that can call is one that has you beaten.

Go fourth and conquer

Three key factors come into play when deciding to four-bet for value. They are: your opponent’s hand range, the size of their stack and their position. The wider your opponent’s three-betting range, the more often you should four-bet for value, because the chance that you are ahead when called is greater. If your opponent three-bets with only a few hands, you need to be very careful about what you four-bet with. However, as your opponent’s range widens, you can greatly expand your range of four-betting hands, even to hands as weak as Q-J suited against a very loose player.

One problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to calculate your opponent’s exact range of hands (if you play online, taking good notes or using tracking software reduces this problem). A good baseline is that a three-bet percentage of 5-7% is typical, a particularly tight player might re-raise just 2-4% of the time, and a particularly loose player might three-bet 8-10% of their hands or more. With those differences it’s extremely important to have a read on your opponent when deciding whether or not to four-bet.

Numbers game

The size of your opponent’s stack is important because if they feel committed to the pot after your four-bet, it’s much more likely that they will call off their remaining chips with a hand that you can beat. So, for example, if the pot is $100 and your opponent has to call $20 more, you’re going to get called by a lot more hands than if it costs your opponent $200 more. You should adjust your range slightly to account for this, four-betting more often with your value range when your opponent is already committed.

Position is extremely important simply because there is a big difference between a three-bet from second position and a three-bet from the button. A player with an overall three-betting range of 6% might only three-bet 1% of the time from second position, but 12% of the time from the button. Consequently, if you know your opponent is aware of position, you should adjust your range again, four-betting more if the three-bet comes from late position and much less if it comes from early position.

In a typical ring game where the stacks are around 100BB deep, we recommend that your four-bet for value is on the large side. You’re trying to engineer a situation where your opponent can easily go broke while also simplifying your own decisions. For example, in a $0.50/$1 game, a three-bet will usually be to about $10. Let’s say you four-bet to $25. If your opponent calls, there will be $50 in the pot and $75 left to bet. This not only gives them an opportunity to bluff you (for example, if you have pocket Kings and the flop comes Ace-high), but it also lets them get away from a weaker hand cheaply, or may even give them the implied odds to outdraw you.

Instead, if you four-bet to $50, there is now only $50 left to bet, so you are putting your opponent to a difficult decision while simplifying your own options. If your opponent moves all-in, you have an easy call, getting 3-to-1 on your money. If your opponent calls, you will bet or call all-in on the flop regardless of what it is. You’ve taken away your opponent’s fold equity and implied odds while also increasing the chances that you will win their entire stack.

Four-bet bluffing

Four-bet bluffing is an extremely risky technique because of the amount of money you’re risking to win the pot relative to the stakes. However, it’s also such a strong move that the chances of success are high. The ideal conditions would be facing a three-bet from a late position opponent who is apt to steal, but who isn’t so loose that they will certainly call. There are quite a few players out there who fit this bill, piling on the pressure until they meet significant resistance. It would also be ideal if the pot was heads-up, rather than multi-way, and if you had some sort of read that suggested your opponent was somewhat weak in the hand in question.

It helps, of course, if you have a back-up plan when called. A hand like 7-2 will always be a pure bluff, but a hand like 8-7 can flop a draw and become the ideal hand for an all-in semi-bluff. You should therefore be more inclined to four-bet bluff if your hand has some potential.

Facing a four-bet

How you should react when somebody four-bets you depends on many factors, not least of which is what your three-betting hand is! If you have pocket Aces and simply want to get all the money in, then you could shove and hope your opponent feels committed. You might also want to shove with a hand such as A-K suited, since this hand performs better when all-in as you get to see all five cards.

If your opponent’s four-bet sets them all-in and your options are to call or fold, it can be a tough decision. In general, there will be dead money in the pot, so you can use the same hand values that you would need to four-bet yourself to decide whether or not to call (adjusted, of course, for position and your opponent’s tendencies).

What about flat-calling and seeing the flop? Many players write off this option as weak, but it can make sense in certain circumstances. A hand like Q-Q or J-J, for example, can be good to flat-call with if your opponent’s four-betting range is sufficiently wide. If you were to five-bet all-in, your opponent would typically fold any hand that you’re beating. However, if you flat-call, there’s a chance you will get action from a hand like T-T or A-K and allow your opponent to bluff off money with a continuation bet on the occasions when his preflop four-bet was a bluff or semi-bluff. The risk is that you will make a postflop mistake that costs you the pot (or your opponent may get lucky), but you shouldn’t be afraid of these situations.

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