Today's blog should be a little shorter than usual, because there's not a lot of complex strategy involded when you raise pre-flop and get re-raised. Most of the time, by far the best play is to simply fold. One of the biggest leaks in holdem is playing bloated pots out of position without the initiative. You would be leaking chips if you found yourself in the following example situation:

You open-raise for a standard 3 big blinds (6c at 2NL) with AQ in UTG+1. The villain in MP2 re-raises to 9bb (18c). The blinds fold and you call. The pot is 39c and the flop comes  X X X. What is your plan? You have to act first, have no initiative, and probably have the worst hand. Villain can c-bet his entire range, and unless you made TPTK or better (e.g. the flop is Qxx), you cannot call. Even if you do have TPTK, villain can have top set or an overpair. You're in a horrible situation with no obvious route out of it.

So how do we avoid trouble spots like this? By not calling 3-bets when we're out of position. Sometimes, we will 4-bet to regain the initiative. Most of the time, however, we should simply fold to the 3-bet. It is far better to give up a 3bb loss pre-flop, than pay 9bb and then check-fold the flop. (Or worse still, get taken to Valuetown by a set, overpair or TPTK when villain has AK).

There are two hands that should never fear a 3-bet. With kings or aces, you should welcome the re-raise, because then you can 4-bet for value, looking to get stacks in at the earliest opportunity. This article won't have a lot to say about 4-betting, but if you have KK+, and villain makes a 3-bet of a standard size (three times the initial raise with just you in the pot, four times the raise if there was also a caller) then a standard size for a 4-bet is two and half times the size of the 3-bet. e.g. If you open to 3bb, and a villain makes it 9bb, then a good size for a 4-bet is 22.5bb, which is 45c at 2NL. These sizes are based on 100bb starting stack sizes. If the villain is only playing a 40bb stack (80c), then you may as well put him all in when you have KK+, because these guys are almost never folding after they've 3-bet, and they will often call off their stacks with TT, AQ or even worse.
Occasionally on the forum, there is the question “Can I fold KK pre-flop?” and it usually comes with a hand history in which the villain shows up with aces. This is just a standard cooler. When you have KK on a full ring table, there's about a 4% chance that someone has aces. The rest of the time, you're a big favourite and basically should never be folding KK pre-flop 100bb deep. You should be stacking off and printing money, because 2NL villains will put their money in the middle with all kinds of garbage that KK completely crushes.

I think the thought process you should run through when you get 3-bet should be something a bit like this decision tree.

Facing a 3-bet

If you follow this chart correctly, you'll find that hands like 99, AJo, KQo should always be folded to a 3-bet of a standard size, whether you're in position or not, no matter what type of villain you're up against. If villain is 3-betting out of the blinds, then you can sometimes call in position with hands near the top of your range. e.g. If you raise QQ, JJ, or AK in middle position, and a typical TAG in the blinds 3-bets, you can call. If you make top pair or better, you can commit to getting stacks in. If you miss the flop, just fold to the c-bet. If villain raised in position, you should fold hands as strong as QQ, unless he is very aggressive (with a 3-bet rate of 6% or more), in which case you can 4-bet QQ/AK whatever your position. If you 4-bet, you should plan to call a 5-bet jam, and you'll just have to suck it up when the aggressive player has KK+. Against the aggro 3-bettor, you can call with JJ, TT, AQs, AJs, and KQs when you have position, but fold all these hands when you'll be first to act on the flop.
Sometimes you'll fold to a 3-bet and find out that you actually had the best hand (because someone else calls and the hand goes to showdown), but trust me on this. Calling 3-bets with hands like AQ, TT, or worse will generally not be profitable in full ring 2NL games.

There are some situations when you can deviate from the very tight continuance ranges I detailed above. They are as follows:

Special case #1: If the 3-bet is a minraise (e.g. you open for 6c and villain makes it 10c) and stacks are 100bb+, then you can call in position with all pairs (solely to set-mine) and suited hands like ATs, KJs, 98s, but your sole aim with these is to flop a strong draw, not a pair. AQs is no good on Qxx if villain was minraising QQ+. (A common mistake made by bad players is to min 3-bet monster hands). If you're out of position, just fold. Don't get sucked in because it's a minraise. It will still be very hard for you to play a hand like AQ or JJ profitably out of position in a 3-bet pot.

Special case #2: Effective stack is 150bb or more. When very deep, you can call with all pairs to set-mine, whether in position or out. Also call in position with AJs+ and KQs but play these hands for their drawing potential. Try and keep the pot size under control if you just have one pair, and be sure to fold it if you face two big barrels. It is pure spew to get 150bb in the middle with one pair, even TPTK.

Special case #3: Villain is short-stacked with 40bb (80c) or less. Put him all in by 4-betting with JJ+, AK, and AQs. Short-stackers play a strategy that involves stacking off 88+ and AJ+ in most situations. Many shorties play even more loosely and will call off 40bb with hands like KJ or A6s. Your range of JJ+, AK, AQs+ crushes their stack off range and you will make money against them in the long run, although the variance can be quite infuriating in the short run. (Bad short-stackers get aces sometimes too, you know).

Special case #4: There is a cold call prior to a 3-bet squeeze, or there is a cold-call of the 3-bet, and both villains started with 80bb or more. With all this dead money in the multiway pot, you can call with pairs QQ-77, to go set-mining 3-handed. (Check-raise all in on the flop if you make a set. Check-fold if you miss, even with an overpair, because in a 3-way 3-bet pot, AA, KK and sets are very likely to be in play).

That should just about do it for this article. If you learned nothing else, I hope it's that calling 3-bets when out of position is a huge leak. You will save a lot of money if you learn to fold hands like QQ when you get lots of heat pre-flop, and you will make a lot of money if you only stack off with KK+. Be the player dishing out coolers, not the player running into them!

Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome on my blog thread as usual.

Next time, I'll be giving you some tips on how to set up the Pokerstars software for ease of use (and profit!), and providing some advice on how to find the softest tables. Till then, best of luck at on the virtual felt!