Pro concepts: Three-betting postflop in cash games

New Team PKR Pro Simon ‘Rhymenoceros’ Hemsworth presents a masterclass on playing in three-bet pots postflop…

With increasingly aggressive online short-handed games being the norm nowadays, playing three-bet pots as profitably as possible is vital. There’s so much reraising preflop now that they are very commonplace. However, most of the strategy revolves around preflop decisions, which are often straightforward, instead of more complex postflop play. Three-bet pots postflop require analysis of many more factors such as hand ranges, board textures and bet sizing. Here are some examples of different situations as both the three-bettor with the momentum and the defender of a three-bet.

The most common three-bet pot scenario you will face is in a heads-up pot and being approximately 100BB deep. Because of this, you should assume all pots here are within those conditions. You should also assume we are playing a thinking regular as most three-bet pots will be against regs. Obviously, in multi-way pots or with different stack sizes or opponents your strategy can alter dramatically so be aware of this. It’s important to consider some of the factors that should be going through your head as you play a three-bet pot. Let’s start by looking at some situations you may encounter as the preflop aggressor…

Aggressor: The monster on a dry board

Anything upwards and including an overpair on a dry flop qualifies as a monster in a three-bet pot. In spots like this we are simply looking at the best way to get as many chips into the pot as possible by the river. Let’s look at how you might typically play a dry flop.

The spot

At $5/10 you three-bet K-K out of position (OOP) and get called. The flop comes 9-9-5 rainbow and you c-bet $110 into $210 and get called. The turn is a 2. You check/call a $220 bet from the villain. The river is a J and you check/call a shove.

The analysis

It is very standard to c-bet this flop against regs. Although it is dry and misses the villain’s range (therefore getting a lot of folds) you need to balance ranges and will always bet this flop with air hands. Against weaker players or players with whom balancing is not relevant, checking with Kings could be good. In this hand, when the villain calls the flop his range is still fairly wide and could include small pairs, 5-x, 9-x, slowplayed big pairs, or various types of floats including things like A-x, 7-6, or pure air.

Against this range, betting the turn is not very profitable except for balancing reasons – only a small portion of the villain’s range (that is worse than K-K) can carry on and you will get too many folds from weaker holdings. By checking you can get floats to bluff or worse value hands to value bet. By check/calling you do represent a made hand a lot of the time, but the villain could also put you on a hand like A-K or A-Q that is trying to get to showdown. On the river you check/call the shove. Sometimes the villain will show up with a nutted hand like 9-x or A-A but that’s okay – you should never fold at any point in this hand.

Aggressor: Flopping a weak made hand

These are situations that many regs struggle with. There is often not a perfect way to play these hands and they are difficult situations to make profitable. You might turn your hand into a bluff, sometimes your hand will become a bluff catcher, and sometimes you will go for thin value.

The spot

At $2/4 you three-bet A-8 OOP and get called. The flop comes 3-8-J. You c-bet $52 into a $90 pot and get called. The turn is an offsuit 7. You check/call a $105 bet. The river is an offsuit 3 and you check/fold to a shove.

The analysis

You decide to bet here, even though checking the flop and re-evaluating depending on what the villain decides to do is definitely also a very valid option. When the villain calls his range is still quite wide and includes many different straight draws like T-9, flush draws, weak made hands like 9-8 and occasionally a very strong hand like J-8. We would expect this villain to rarely slowplay big pairs preflop, and if he did he would likely raise this flop with them so these now make up a very small part of his range.

The turn is a relatively blank card as only T-9 becomes the nuts and the only two pair combo that realistically got there was 8-7. If you decide to bet the turn you typically will not get value from worse hands very often, and you would also have to fold to a shove. Therefore checking seems better to get value from the villain’s floats and missed draws. The river does present a tough decision but the 3 is usually a bad card to bluff, as our range of hands are as strong as they were on the turn. As a result, on this occasion you should give the villain credit for a hand better than A-8 and just fold.

Defender: Top pair on wet flop

Although you should never be playing situations the same way every time, this is one where we will fast play the flop the vast majority of the time…

The spot

At $5/10 you call a three-bet in position (IP) with Q-J. The flop comes Q-8-7♠. The villain bets $120, you raise to $275 and call the villain’s shove.

The analysis

We have flopped very well here and decide to raise the flop and get all the money in. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, there are lots of bad turn and river cards that could either lose us action from worse hands or improve the villain’s hand. The flop is one that the villain can see us bluffing here so it might encourage a re-bluff shove or a shove from weaker made hands like 9-8. With the board being wet it might also persuade the villain that you have a lot of draws and therefore he could shove a hand like T-T, figuring he is in very good shape versus our entire range. More than anything, raising our hand here makes the entire hand easier to play – which is never a bad thing. Awkward turn and river cards can make for many more complicated decisions which could lead to more mistakes, particularly when multi-tabling. 

Defender: Float with ace-high

Because you want to call three-bets with some speculative hands and will miss the flop quite often, you need to include floating in your game. Here is a situation where floating the flop can be an effective play…

The spot

At $1/2 we call a three-bet in position with A-Jo. The flop is T-4-6 rainbow and the villian bets $24 into a $42 pot. You call. The turn comes a 3. Your opponent checks, we bet $36 into the $90 pot and he folds.

The analysis

The flop here is very dry and doesn’t particularly hit either of your ranges which benefits you more than the villain as you are in position. Floating the flop here is good for many reasons. Our Ace-high is winning a decent percentage of the time and we can sometimes take the hand to showdown. We also have six cards to significantly improve our equity in three Jacks and three Aces. Moreover these cards are ones that the villain will often want to represent as they are good bluff cards.

The turn is a decent card for us as it does not improve the villain’s range and is therefore a bad bluff card. When our opponent checks this is typically a sign of weakness (while occasionally being a trap with a strong hand like an overpair). At this point we decide to bluff with A-J instead of taking it to showdown. Although we are not representing a massive value range there are plenty of strong hands in our range such as T-x, 7-5 and sets. Bet sizing is also important here and a decision many regs get wrong. Betting small (somewhere around a third to half pot) is optimal as it gives our opponent poor odds to shove as a bluff while it represents equal strength as a larger bet does. If the villain calls it also leaves us room on the river to continue the bluff.

Defender: Playing out of position with a marginal hand

You should generally try your best not to play three-bet pots without momentum and position as you will need to play extremely well postflop to reduce this disadvantage.

At $2/4 you call with K-T OOP after the button threebets your cutoff open. The flop is A-T-9 and you check/call a half-pot bet. The turn is an offsuit 3 and you check/fold to a half-pot bet.

The analysis

This hand is a good example of why playing out of position in three-bet pots is difficult and should be avoided. We have a hand that plays well postflop but will often get us into difficult situations that are tough to make profitable. On the flop you call in the hope of hitting a King or Ten or that the villain will slow down. The trouble is good players will continue bluffing frequently here as their range has good equity and cards like a King can improve the villain’s hand more than ours. The lesson here is to fold preflop.

These examples give you an idea of lines to take in certain spots in three-bet pots and the sort of things you should be thinking about when they occur. As with almost everything in poker, playing more and practicing to repeatedly get into every feasible postflop situation in three-bet pots is the best way to improve your game.

Inducing a bluff from a fish

Seat 1 is the button

Seat 1: Whale ($1,668.57)

Seat 2: Reg 1 ($4,575.51)

Seat 3: Rhymenoceros ($1,628.66)

Seat 4: Reg 2 ($794.14)

Seat 6: Reg 3 ($1,070.00)

Reg posts small blind [$5.00].

Rhymenoceros posts big blind [$10.00].

Dealt to Rhymenoceros [ T-As ]

Reg 2 folds

Reg 3 folds

Whale raises [$30.00]

Reg 1 folds

Rhymenoceros raises [$90.00]

Whale calls [$70.00]

Dealing Flop [ 6-T-5 ]

Rhymenoceros bets [$120.00]

Whale calls [$120.00]

Dealing Turn [ 2 ]

Rhymenoceros checks

Whale bets [$222.50]

Rhymenoceros calls [$222.50]

Dealing River [ T ]

Rhymenoceros checks

Whale bets [$1,226.07]

Rhymenoceros calls [$1,186.16]

Whale shows [9-J]

Rhymenoceros shows [T-A]

Rhymenoceros wins $3,259.32 from main pot

This hand was against a villain who seems to love poker enough to not care about the money too much. This player is notorious for not wanting to fold, especially when playing flops in three-bet pots where he will float incessantly. This makes for difficult decisions when you have weak holdings but is a lot better when you flop top pair top kicker. I checked the turn to ‘let him hang himself’ as they say. The board ran out about as well as it possibly could. For the whale it’s very difficult for me to have a Ten, and he might even think I could fold overpairs to his big river bet. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t folding my hand here!

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