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3bet Defense | MED #3 Class 4 | Poker Podcast #108


Sky Matsuhashi

on November 25, 2016


3bet defense is all about making a plan off-the-tables, then adapting that plan to the opponent you're facing.  You can defend with a call or a 4bet, and I'll show you how.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


Making a 3bet Defense Plan (3:35)

We know we’re going to get 3bet multiple times in every session we play.  Just like we know we’re going to open pots, going to face cbets, going to face raises and donk bets. When you know something is going to happen, you’d be foolish to not have a plan in place.  Novice players don’t think this way, they take it one hand at a time, don’t develop rules or procedures or plans to deal with common occurrences.

Making a plan is something you do away from the tables during your study sessions.  We then implement our plan, but we're also flexible enough to adjust it on the fly at the tables.

Here's my 4 step plan for 3bet defense.

Step 1: Know your opening range (4:55)

I discussed opening ranges by position back in episode 90.  You have to know you're ranges first before you can logically create a 3bet defense plan.

We'll go thru these 4 steps with my suggested CO open raising range of 23.7%.  This consists of 314 combos of hands.

23.7% CO open raising range

  • Pairs: 22+
  • Suited hands: A2s+, K7s+, Q9s+, 75s+ and 65s+
  • Off-suit hands: A8o+, KJo+ and QJo
  • 314 combos of hands

Step 2: Choose your 3bet defense frequency (6:05)

You cannot fold to 3bets more than 67% of the time.  That doesn’t mean you have to 4bet, you can call, but do not fold more than 67% of the time.

The reason why is because of the break-even point for a regular bluff 3bet being 67%.  If your opponent makes a 9bb 3bet bluff over your 3bb open, he’s making automatic profit if you’re folding more than 67% of the time.

9bb bet to win 13.5bb pot = 9/13.5 = 67%

So, with 314 combos in the CO opening range, we need to mount a 3bet defense with at least 33% or 104 combos.

Now, what should make up those 104 combos?

Step 3: Choose your 3bet defense hands (7:55)

So, we know we’re defending with 104 combos.  Let’s start with the obvious:

AA, KK QQ and AQ+: these make for 50 combos.

JJ-99: 18 more combos, bringing us up to 68 combos.

A2-A5s, ATs and AJs: suited Aces either for value or as bluffs with the Ace blocker.  24 more combos, taking us up to 92 combos.

KQs, KJs, QJs and JTs: these broadways add an additional 16 combos, for a new total of 108 combos in our 3bet defense range.


You can agree or disagree with my choice of hands.  If you’d rather have AJo than A5s, so be it.  That’s your choice.  And if you want both, it increases your 3bet defense range, but that's your choice as well.

Step 4: 4bet or Call? (9:45)

We'll 4bet for value with QQ+ and AK.  But, we need to reserve the right to just call with these hands if it’s correct to do so.  Hands like QQ and AK are cusp hands: 4betting with these could be for value or as a bluff.  If you feel your opp will continue with worse like JJ or AQ, then it’s for value.  If you’re not sure, then just call with these as that keeps all their weaker hands in the pot, and you won’t have to fold to a 5bet.

But, let’s toss in some bluffs into our 4bet range as well, and we’ll do that with A2s-A5s.

4betting with QQ+, AK and A2s-A5s makes for 50 combos of 4betting hands.

4bet 50 combos

Calling the remaining 58 combos:

calling 58 combos

That’s pretty good and hard to decipher for your opponents.  Our 3bet defense contains 54% calls and 46% 4bets.

Critical Notes:

3bet defense ranges are never set in stone.  You don’t have to 4bet semi-bluff the A2s if it seems like the wrong time, or call the KJs if that feels wrong.  We make these plans ahead of time so we can bring our off-the-felt thoughts and analysis and study to our on-the-felt play, but we adjust it on the fly based on the situation and the opponent we’re up against.

3bet Calling Adjustments (12:10)

Whether you realize it or not, when you call the 3bet, you’re choosing to see a flop.  So, you’ve got to make a plan.

Now, there’s a number of reasons you might be calling:

  • Your opponent has post-flop weaknesses or frequency issues you’re planning to take advantage of
  • You’ve got a really strong hand and you don’t want him out of the pot yet
  • You’ve got position and are planning on bluffing him on a later street
  • The price you’re being offered is right to call with your speculative hand

Ultimately, when you’re calling you should have at least two of the Three Advantages: Card Advantage, Positional Advantage and Skill Advantage.  If you’ve got one or none, don’t call. 

Save your chips and just consider your open raise a failed steal attempt and move on to the next hand.

Don't willingly get into a losing battle in a 3bet pot.

Use what you know

When going post-flop, you’ll use info you’ve gained from previous encounters (tendencies and stats), as well as their 3bet range, the board texture, your hand and their bet sizing.  Ask yourself questions like:

  • How would they play with their value hands?
  • How do they play their bluff hands?
  • What size are their bluffs, and what size are their value bets?

Hopefully you'll keep most of your calls IP to give you that post-flop positional advantage.  If you're calling OOP, make it with a tighter range due to the post-flop disadvantage you're willing getting yourself into.

Calling IP – post-flop options

  • Flop Float: they check, you bet (bluff or value)
  • Raise Cbet: they bet, you raise (bluff or value)
  • Call Cbet: they bet, you call to continue to the turn; then you play the turn with the same options

Calling OOP – post-flop options

  • Fold: you check, they bet, you fold cause you’ve got nothing
  • C/R: you check then raise their cbet (for value or bluff)
  • Donk Lead: you’re first to act and bet instead of checking it to the 3bettor
  • Stop n Go: donk shoving on any flop, common when playing short stacked cash or in SNG/MTT's

Regardless of position, if you’re going for value post-flop, you have a strong hand want them to continue in the hand.

If you’re post-flop bluffing, you need to have fold equity.  Your opp has to have a fold button, plus stacks need to be deep enough that he’s fearful of losing more and doesn’t feel “pot committed.”  If the spr is low, like 2x pot in the stacks behind, then they’re much less likely to fold and they’ll fight for that 3bet pot.

For 3bet calling and choosing to go post-flop, you should be looking at your opp’s Cbet stats in general, and their Cbet stats in 3bet pots.  PT4 can calculate these separately and it can be pretty telling when you spot a difference between these numbers.

For example, if somebody cbets 85% of the time normally, but in 3bet pots they cbet 40%, they’re more flop honest in 3bet pots.  So, if they cbet you can easily fold knowing they’ve got a hand they think is valuable enough to cbet.  If they check, whether IP or OOP, you can determine the best play at that time, but it will usually involve taking a stab at the pot either IP on the flop or OOP on the turn.  If they cbet a lot you can c/r bluff as well or call for value to get another bluff out of them.

Value 4bets (17:50)

We’ve got AA, open the pot, and get 3bet.  What do we do?

Think about the range your opponent will give your 4bet action with.  If they're only continuing with KK+ and you have AA, then you might want to just call to keep all of his strong and weak 3betting hands in the pot.  One interesting thing to note is that AA vs a range of KK+ is a 77% favorite.  But, if you call and keep his wide, maybe 7% range in the hand, you’re an 85% favorite with AA, so that’s not a bad play as you stand to earn some good post-flop value with the most equity.

If they're continuing with a large portion of their 3bet range, say they'll call or 5bet w/JJ+ and AK, then making the 4bet is a better play because they're continuing very often and you’re building the pot while you can vs a likely caller.

A good sizing to use is about 2.5x the 3bet (9*2.5=22.5).  This is good for both value 4bets and bluff 4bets.  When bluffing, it minimizes your risk while putting lots of pressure on the opponent, and it gives you good value when you’ve got that value hand.  Plus, you want consistent sizing so you don’t choreograph your bluffs with smaller bets or your value 4bets with bigger bets.  So, stick with a bet size near 2.5x and go with it every time.

If they 5bet you can just get it in with your superior value hand.  And if they call the pot will be about 45bb’s.  If you started with 100bb stacks, this makes for a spr of less than 2:1.  It'll be easy to get it in post-flop if you feel your value hand is still ahead of their 4bet calling range.

How do you know you’ve got a value hand?

Basically, if they can call or 5bet with worse, then it’s a value hand.  If they only continue with better and fold all worse hands, then you’re bluffing.

These are the same considerations when we’re value 3betting.

Bluff 4bets (20:30)

All of the considerations we’ll discuss here are the same when making a bluff 3bet.

Your Opponent

Let’s say you think you’re facing a bluff 3bet.  To determine this, it helps to look at their stats.  From any position, a 3bet of over 5-6% means they’re 3betting more than just value hands.  You really want to see 7% or more, but 5% is where a value range really ends.

If you look at a 7% range in Flopzilla, it’s something like TT+, AJ+ and KQ:

3bet 7%

It’s tough for them to defend against your 4bet with the TT and JJ, as well as the KQ and the AJ and the AQo.  These hands make up about 60% of the 7% range, so they’re folding that 60% of the time to your 4bet rebluff.  That’s great, and it’s even better if they’re 3betting more than 7%.  The higher the %, the more likely your 4bet bluff will work.

IP 4bet bluffs are more likely to work than OOP.  You might not get 5bet any more frequently IP vs OOP, but you’ll definitely get called more often when OOP.  A lot of aggressive opponents are looking to play against you with position, and they’ll try to use their position post-flop to blow you off your 4bet hand.

In case your 4bet bluff gets called, you’d love to see some post-flop weaknesses like folding too much to cbets, or making small steal attempts that you can easily raise over.

Your Cards

Your cards matter, and blockers to premium hands like Aces and Kings are great to have when 4bet bluffing.  A hand like 77 or JTs is not so good as if they’ve got a 7 or Jack or Ten in their hand they’re likely folding to your 4bet anyway.  Having an Ace or a King makes it so they have less AA, KK and AK/AQ in their range that they can defend with.

This is looking at outright profitability, meaning we’re only thinking we’ll win if they fold.  But, even if we do get called and are forced to go post-flop, it’s possible to take the pot down with a cbet or a double-barrel, or we could hit 2p, straight or a flush with our A5s and win the bloated 3bet pot.

You can’t think that it’s the end of the world when your 4bet bluff gets called. 

Your Perceived Range and Image

Also consider your image in their eyes.  Do they think you’re capable of 4bet bluffing?  Do they play back against you a lot in general?  Are they an unbeliever and call down quite frequently with under-pairs and 2nd pair hands?  Have they called your 3bets pretty wide in the past?

If they think you’re capable of blowing smoke up their butts, then they’re less likely to fold to your 4bet.

So, you want to 4bet bluff with position, with blockers and against players who will likely believe you.  And if they have post-flop weaknesses, that’s a bonus.


I want you to play some FOCUS Sessions this week.

Take your newly created 3bet defense ranges and practice with them one or two tables at a time.  Drop down in stakes if necessary if you’re a little uncomfortable with adding this aggression to your game.

As you play, tag each hand in PT4 with a “4bet Opportunity” tag to make for some easy reviews the next day.

HH Reviews:  You can either filter for the hands you tagged, or filter for ‘Reraise Opportunity 4bet (facing a 3bet)’ under the pre-flop Actions and Opportunities tab.  This will show you every instance where you had the opportunity to 4bet, not just when you were the original opener.  This is good b/c the more time spent studying your opponent’s 3bets, the better you’ll get at finding opportunities to 4bet for value or 4bet bluff.

Calling 3bets and 4betting can be difficult for people to get accustomed to without AA, KK, QQ or AK.  But, this is your opportunity to add a new skill to your arsenal of poker plays.

Challenge (24:40)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Practice 4betting.  I just told you how, now it’s up to you to do the work to add this play to your game.  At the very least you’ll gain some understanding of what your opponents are possibly doing when they are 4betting.  But if you take the time to do this right, to plan your 3bet defense away from the tables then utilize your plan on the tables, you’re going to turn yourself into a much more aggressive and skilled opponent.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Up Next…

In podcast 109, I'll serve you up another Q&A.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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