Linear 3-Betting means building a 3-Bet range from the top down. Starting with AA, we 3-Bet hands in a continuous procession down to the weakest hand we deem good enough to 3-Bet.
This article will focus on playing a ‘3-Bet or Fold’ strategy from the HJ, CO, and BTN that is linear in structure and favours big cards. By tailoring our 3-Bet range around hands with one or more high card, we can use blockers to maximize folds and reduce the number of 4-bets we’ll face.
Why Not Cold Call?
Cold calling is a thing of the past. Recent research has led to the conclusion that in games where the rake is meaningful – which is pretty much everywhere but the very highest stakes – calling from HJ, CO, or BU yields a lower expectation than 3-Betting.
The reason is twofold. Firstly, when we win by making our opponent fold pre-flop, we get to keep 100% of our winnings since only pots that go to the flop get raked. Secondly, when there are still multiple people left to act, most of the hands that are good enough to call a raise with also want to deter multi-way pots to retain high equity. Therefore, coming into the pot for a smallish 3-Bet is the way to go from micro-stakes all the way up to around 100NL or 200NL ZOOM.
Sometimes there will be weaker players left to act, whom you want to coax into the pot. In these cases, it can be fine to flat a marginal hand that might normally constitute the bottom of your 3-Betting range.
Example 1: Cut-off vs Under the Gun
In a 50NL ZOOM game, a regular opens to 2.5BB UTG and you find yourself in the CO after the HJ folds. The action is on you. We’ve already established that you shouldn’t have a cold-calling range, but what hands should you 3-Bet to 8BB? You want to build your range around big cards, and mainly suited ones here. By doing this, your range will be able to use blockers to reduce the combinations of nutted hands in your opponent’s ranges while maintaining a lot of equity and playability if you get called. Your range will look like this:
100% 3-Bet: [TT+ ATs+ KJs+ AQo+ KQo]
50% 3-Bet / 50% Fold: [A2s-A9s]
There is no need to play any other hands from this position against UTG. Your 100% 3-Bet hands are expected to make money vs. a normal strategy from the UTG Villain; while the 50/50 mixed hands will be close to break even, but important for forcing Villain to defend more often to your 3-bets, increasing the EV of your big value hands. If you never bluffed, it would be hard to get action with the nuts.
When you are bluffing, you are strongly favouring the suited aces because they decrease the amount of the time someone wakes up and 4-bets behind you, as well as preventing the UTG raiser from having as many combos of AA or AK.
You might feel a pang of sadness folding hands like 99 or QJs all the time here but trust me. These hands are typically breakeven or losing unless UTG is folding too often to 3-Bets. 99 unblocks a lot of the good hands that will 4-bet you and so is to be avoided without an exploitative read available.
Example 2: Button vs. Cut-off
In the 50NL ZOOM pool, the CO opens to 2.5BB and you find yourself on the BU. Just as in Example 1, you are going to play a 3-Bet or Fold strategy, only of course this time your range will be wider since CO opens many more hands than UTG. Here is the range you should raise to 8BB on an average table against decent opposition:
100% 3-Bet: [88+ A2s+ K9s+ QTs+ JTs ATo+ KQo]
Again, the range is linear and prefers blockers to low cards which get us 4-bet and called more often due to their poor card removal effects. Don’t worry about folding aesthetically attractive hands like 98s; they are much less profitable than they look.
The above examples are just guidelines for sensible range width and hand selection. I’ll leave you to have a think about how you might play in position vs. HJ. Hint: it will be somewhere in between examples 1 and 2.
Here are some exploitative recommendations for deviating from these strategies:
- If someone folds a lot to 3-bets, feel free to add extra bluffs also with blockers, like suited Kx.
- If the opener is a weaker player, who is playing far too many hands, you will want to widen up your 3-Bet ranges considerably. You might add more big, offsuit cards and some suited connectors just to isolate the weak player when you have position. Equity and fold equity pre-flop are not so important in this case. It’s your skill edge that’s making you money.
- You could start folding hands like KQo and AQo if the opener is a very tight player who is only opening far too strong of a range. These hands rely quite heavily on pre-flop fold equity to 3-Bet vs. UTG opens.
Breaking Old Habits
If you are a player who is used to cold calling a lot, then implementing these strategies might seems a bit alien. It can seem natural to cold-call a lot of hands in live games where multi-way pots are accepted as normal – this does not make it right. Try to remember that things might only seem unnatural because they are unfamiliar and not because they are bad. The mind forms positive correlations with familiar things and tends to shy away from the unknown. Do not allow this to make you a rigid poker thinker. If your live $1/$2 opponents want to call 5x early position opens with KQo, that’s up to them. Do not feel the need to fit in.
The recommendations I’ve made here are based on computer simulations of 6-max cash games and are backed up by cold hard EV calculations. You can trust them; at least until reads point you in a better direction.
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