Playing pre-flop in no limit Texas Hold'em poker used to be a pretty straightforward affair, especially when it came to three-betting (or 're-raising' as it was known before online poker). In almost all cases, if someone put in a three-bet they had pocket Aces. Or, if they were especially loose, they might have had pocket Kings. This made the pre-flop game quite easy to play, as you knew what you were up against in these spots and could either fold or attempt to get lucky and crack some poor cowboy's Cowboys.
Of course, Texas Hold'em poker holds barely any resemblance to this in 2017! Good players now make three-bets much more often, with a wide variety of hands. They can be bluffing – as we will explore in an upcoming article – or three-betting with a much wider range of hands for value. Learning this skill can revolutionise the way you play poker and increase your bottom line significantly.
Whenever you make a three-bet for value you are doing it because you think your hand is ahead of the range of hands your opponent has and, in general, you also think they will call that three-bet with a worse hand. When you think of it in this way you soon see that there are quite a lot of hands you should be three-betting with instead of calling. Two perfect examples are pocket Tens or Ace-Queen. There's always a temptation just to call with these two hands because overcards may come down on the flop or you may miss it completely. While those fears are valid there is usually going to be more value in three-betting regardless. Opponents – especially if they are loose or looking to gamble – may call with dominated Aces like A-T or smaller pairs such as pocket Eights. In either case you have inflated the pot size in a position where you are a significant favourite to win the hand. This can only be a good thing, and is a key reason why opening up your three-betting value range is important.
When this happens you also put yourself into a position to win a huge pot. Using the A-Q example once more, you 3-bet and your opponent calls out of position with A-T. The flop is A-2-6. Suddenly you have the dream scenario for Hold'em whereby you hold a great hand and your opponent has a good hand he is willing to pay off with. By betting the flop, turn and river in this spot (depending how it runs out of course) you have a very good chance of doubling your stack in either a poker tournament or cash game.
Three-betting pre-flop also gives you the initiative in the hand, allowing you to steal more pots when both players miss. For example, let's say you three-bet A-J suited from the big blind and your opponent on the button calls. The flop is 4-6-4 rainbow. Because you have the initiative you should put in a continuation bet here and attempt to take it down. On a flop like this it's quite common for both players to miss, and usually the first one to bet will win. However, if you had just called pre-flop out of position it makes it much more difficult for you to win. Now you will usually check to the raiser and just fold versus a bet – other options such as leading out or check-raising as a bluff are both too risky and wouldn't make much sense to a thinking player. These type of situations crop up time and time again in no limit hold'em, and if you keep winning small pots in this manner they will add up significantly.
Finally, the key reason for three-betting with a wider range of good hands is so that opponents don't find it easy to play against you. If you hit the tables like a grinder from 1984 - only getting aggressive with pocket Aces pre-flop - then you may break-even or even win a small amount, but you will find it nearly impossible to win big. This is because as soon as you come up against players who are paying even a small amount of attention, you won't get any action. They will just fold and your Aces will be wasted. Always focus on trying to become a tougher player to battle with - learning to three-bet a wider range of hands for value is one of the key strategies that will help you get there.