Set yourself up for success with the best starting poker hands and ranges for Texas Holdem.
Every hand sees preflop action, and making smart choices here will lead to greater poker success. In this article, I give you profitable preflop ranges for open-raising, calling 2bets, 3betting and calling 3bets. I also discuss the many considerations you must take into account before you decide to enter a hand preflop.
The Importance of Selecting Great Starting Poker Hands
Every hand you play hits the pre-flop stage, but few make it all the way through to showdown. By developing a solid preflop hand selection strategy, you’re setting yourself up for post-flop and overall success in poker.
Listen to episode #255: The Best Poker Hands Ranked and Open-raising Ranges
It’s important to know that the money you make or the chips you earn in poker come from players who raise or call too often (loose players). By keeping your ranges in check and playing less frequently than these players, you’ll have a mathematical advantage over them.
Sure, in this one hand right now, their J8s can beat your AKs. But, if you see 1,000 flops with your AK vs their J8, you’re taking all their chips eventually.
An important aspect of pre-flop hand selection is your position.
Open your PokerTracker 4 database and look at your VPIP (Voluntarily Put Money in the Pot) and PFR (Preflop Raise) statistics by position. They should steadily increase from the EP through the BTN with the blind percentages being the lowest.
If not, you're not positionally aware.
Critical Leak to Plug: if either of your blind positional VPIP percentages are higher than your button (BTN) percentage, then you MUST tighten up your blind play. These are the worst 2 positions at the table, so why would you play more hands from here then you play from the best position? I have seen students with a BTN VPIP of 35%, but their SB VPIP is 38% and their BB VPIP is at 52%.
Your task over your next 3 sessions is to get your VPIP lower in these 2 worst positions. That means calling less and folding more. Don't limp in with J6s or defend the big blind with T8o. Save those chips to raise or call more hands from the BTN and cutoff (CO).
Your goal with preflop hand selection is to set yourself up for poker success. You can do this by playing more hands from the best positions.
I love the concept of KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. So, regarding positions, I keep it pretty simple. Here’s the break-down:
- Early Position (EP) – in 6max games it’s UTG and HJ. In full-ring games, it’s the first 5 positions at the table; all the UTG’s and the MP’s.
- Cutoff (CO) – you only have 3 players yet to act.
- Button (BTN) – you only have the 2 blinds left to act, plus this is the best post-flop position to have.
- The Blinds – Small Blind (SB) and the Big Blind (BB). Most pots that you enter here will put you out of position (OOP) on the flop.
By limiting the positions to these 4, we’ve simplified our pre-flop choices, which in turn simplifies our post-flop game. A simplified game means easier decisions and more potential profit. Whether you’re a LIVE one-table player, or an online multi-table grinder, making your decisions easier should be an integral part of your overall strategy.
Speaking of making your decisions easier, playing less hands from earlier positions will do just that. The more players left to act after you, the more you’ll open yourself up to getting called by players in position or facing 3bets.
So, we stay tight early to help us avoid more difficult situations.
The 20 Best Starting Poker Hands
The best starting hands in Texas Holdem are big pairs and big cards.
Of course, we all know the power of AA, KK and QQ, but JJ-TT are also premium hands. Some have a hate relationship with JJ and TT, but I love being dealt these. Just don’t get enamored with their preflop power and if all signs point to you being beat, just fold.
What’s great about all these pairs is they have showdown value just on their own, and they’re incredibly strong if you're lucky enough to hit a set. They are often overpairs to the board which allows you to get value out of their top pair hands. For example: holding JJ on a Ten-high board versus AT is a great money-making opportunity.
A non-pair, big card hand like AK is powerful, especially suited. Suited and connected like this allows for so many great ways to make strong hands.
Other great Broadway starting hands are AQ and KQ. When these hit top pair, you can bet for value quite often. Or, if your opponent gets aggressive, you can call to see showdown assuming you don’t put them on stronger hand.
AQ flops top pair or better 30% of the time, and KQ 28% of the time. These are great hands to see the flop with, especially as the preflop raiser.
I created the poker hand rankings below by looking at the preflop equity of each hand against a 20% calling range. The idea here is that we should enter most pots as the preflop raiser, and an average calling range is roughly 20%. The calling range I used did not contain QQ+ nor AK.
Playing More Than the Top 20 Poker Hands
If you only play the top 20 poker hands (only 10% of all possible poker hands), you'll be considered a nitty, ultra-tight player.
We don't want to play extremely nitty like this. If our opponents realized we had such tight ranges, they can avoid most confrontations with us unless they have TT+ and AQ+.
Also, with no baby cards and few middle cards in our range, we absolutely miss those types of boards. So, our knowledgeable opponents have easy post-flop bluffing opportunities against us.
We want to use these top 20 poker hands as a base minimum to play. We’ll add hands to make us less predictable and to make it so we can hit a bigger variety of boards and board textures. In general, we're looking to play poker hands that can flop well and continue beyond the flop often.
As an extreme example, 72o flops poorly and most of the time you're going to check-fold this hand on the flop. But at the other extreme, AA flops top pair or better (TP+) 100% of the time and AKs flops TP+ or a straight draw better 51% of the time. That’s why people love these hands (and hate 72o).
Here are the types of poker hands we play in addition to the Top 20.
Small and Medium Pocket Pairs
These are great hands to have in your open-raising ranges. A pocket pair hits a set (three-of-a-kind) on the flop about 11% of the time or 1/9 flops. When you hit your set, you’ve got a great money-making opportunity. This means that you can bet and raise for value on all 3 streets quite often.
Suited Aces and Kings
These are lovely hands to play because of their flush potential and they're even better when the two cards can work together to make straights like AJs, A5s and KTs. But, you have to be careful because of kicker issues with weaker hands like with A7s and K6s. If you hit top pair but there's a lot of action, your measly kicker might cost you a huge pot.
These belong in your ranges as well. AKs is the best of these, but I routinely play 87s and 76s. Suited-connectors give you great straight and flush potential, and they’re often worth coming in for a raise or calling when the price is right and there is a lot of money in the stacks behind.
The reason why we want lots of money to play for is so that there's more potential profit to be made by hitting flushes and straights, which don't occur that often.
For example, if you have to call $5 on a draw, but Villain only has $5 behind, it's not worth the chase. But, if you have to call $5 on a draw and Villain has $100 behind, there's a lot of profit potential there when you hit your hand.
One-gappers are good, with AQs being the best and I often don’t play worse than 86s. Because of the gap they flop less open-ended and gut-shot straight draws, so you won't be able to continue to the turn as frequently with these poker hands.
Beyond the one-gappers are the suited two-gappers. Of course, as the gaps grow larger and the lower the 2 rankings are, the weaker the hand is. A great suited two-gapper is AJs and even Q9s is worth playing when you have position or you’re the open-raiser. You'll often see overly loose players asking for trouble with hands like 96s and 85s. These are the fishy marks at the table.
Off-suit Poker Hands
Lastly, you might consider playing some off-suit hands. Some can be connected and decent like JTo and AJo. You are dealt these off-suit versions much more frequently than the suited type, which makes them less valuable. You should know that having a suited hand gives you about 3% more equity preflop. For example, against the 20% calling range mentioned above, JTs has 45% equity and JTo has 42% equity… 3% less.
Check out how I use Flopzilla Pro to gauge preflop equities of range vs range:
The KISS Open-raising Ranges
Early Position Open-raising Poker Hands
12.2% range made of 162 hand combinations: 22+, ATs+, AQo+, suited-connectors 76s+ and A5s-A2s. Learn more about ranges and hand combinations
Cutoff Open-raising Poker Hands
20% range made of 266 hand combinations: 22+, A2s+, A8o+, KTs+, KQo, suited-connectors 65s+ and suited-gappers 97s+
I use this same 20% range in the SB when it’s folded to me and I have the chance to open-raise.
Button Open-raising Poker Hands
31% range made of 414 combinations: 22+, every Ace, K2s+, KTo+, QJo, suited-connectors 65s+ and suited-gappers 86s+ and Q9s is the lowest suited 2-gapper.
I use this same 31% raising range in the BB when the SB is the only limper.
Don't Follow Ranges Blindly
Great players use ranges as a starting point until they develop an understanding of their opponents and the table dynamics, then they start adjusting them wider or narrower to make +EV decisions (EV stands for expected value, and +EV means you expect a certain play to make you money in the long run).
Ranges are not a substitute for critical thinking.
Your ranges aren't there at the table with you. Ranges don't know:
- The player you're facing nor their tendencies or history with you.
- The bet sizing you're facing.
- Any important table dynamics.
- The size of the pot or the stacks behind.
Your ranges simply tell you what poker hands are generally +EV to play given your position and your opponent's position. THAT’S IT!
It’s your job to determine if playing your hand this way is +EV or not.
Isolation Raises (Raising with Limpers in the Pot)
We love limpers! There’s nothing that says, “I’m a weak player” more than limping.
Seated at a table full of limpers = a great money-making situation.
An isolation raise is intended to get the weak limper(s) at the table all to yourself on the flop. You don't mind if they call your raise, and you often expect them to. You're fine with seeing the flop because they're a weaker player and they often have post-flop weaknesses that you know how to exploit.
My isolation raising ranges are the same as the open-raising ranges above (EP, CO and BTN). But,before I make an isolation raise, I consider whether or not the player can call with worse hands.
For example, it's okay to isolate with A9s if they call with every Ace and a lot of Kings and Queens. But, you probably don't want isolate with A9s if they will only call with ATs+ and pocket pairs.
But, if they only call with better and they’re not easy to exploit, only isolate with the top 20 poker hands.
Isolation Raising from the Blinds
In the blinds, because of the terrible position, I isolate limpers with 99+, ATs+, KJs+ and AJo+. This is a small, 7% range containing only 96 combinations of poker hands.
If you’ve never used ranges before or feel you need to tighten up your current ranges, use the open-raising ranges above.
Try them out for the next week and see how you enjoy them. Maybe they’re too tight and you like playing more hands, or maybe you end up with your first profitable week in months. You won’t know unless you use them on the felt.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Open-raise and Isolation Raise Bet Sizing
Before I give you my open-raise sizing and isolation raise sizing recommendations, let me ask you a question, “Why do you raise preflop?” Take a second to answer this before moving on…
We raise preflop for one of two reasons, to either take the pot down right now or get only one player to call. Preferably, the caller is the worst player at the table.
So, you want to choose a raise size that will accomplish either of these. Does a 2bb open-raise take down the pot as often as a 3bb open-raise? No. Does a 4bb isolation raise isolate the weakest player as often as a 7bb isolation raise will? No.
It’s up to you to find and use a sizing that works in your games to either get everyone to fold or the worst player to call.
Here are my recommended raise sizings:
Open-raise Sizing Recommendations:
- From EP, 3bb-3.5bb
- All other positions, 3bb
Isolation raise Sizing Recommendations:
- In position, 6bb+1 per limper or more if the weakest is willing to call more with weaker poker hands
- Out of position, go at least 1bb larger and often make it 9bb+
If you’re a LIVE player or a tournament player, your sizing will probably differ from these recommendations. But, the overall goal must still be achieved with the size you choose: get everyone to fold or the weakest player to call.
Put more thought into your preflop raise sizing.
Strive to earn the pot right now with your steals or get the weakest player to call vs your value raises.
Don’t make their calls or their folds easy decisions. Put them to the test with the sizing you choose and adjust it up or down as necessary based on the players you’re up against.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Preflop Calling Ranges
Have you ever thought about the potential situation you're putting yourself into when you call somebody's preflop raise?
Sometimes we simply look at our 2 cards and we say, “Nice, KJs. That's good to see the flop with, right? I call.”
If that's as far as your calling thought process goes, you're probably losing money when calling preflop.
Listen to episode #256: What happens when you call a preflop raise?
Run this filter in your PokerTracker 4 database right now: Called Preflop 2bet.
If you're like most losing or break-even online poker players, you’re going to see a lot of red. Your overall win rate might be -150bb/100 hands or even worse.
If your win rate is -150bb/100 hands, that means you are losing 1.5 bb's on average every time you call. If your win rate in the non-blind positions is worse than 0, you would've been better off folding every hand.
Take the time to review 5 losing calling hands by position to learn from your mistakes and to make better calling choices in the future.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
2bet – this is the first raise pre-flop. It can be an open-raise or a raise over limpers.
2bet Call – this is the first call after a 2bet.
Over-call – this is a second caller of somebody’s 2bet.
3bet – this is a re-raise over a 2bet.
3bet Squeeze – this is 3betting over a 2bet and a caller.
Preflop Calling Example: Poor Win Rates with “a sea of red”
In the MP, CO and BTN this player called 102 times and lost $21.39 total. If they would’ve folded all of these hands, and that includes all the winning hands where they flopped 2p and sets, they would’ve lost $0. And because a penny saved is a penny earned in poker, their bottom line would be $21.39 richer right now.
That’s the non-blind positions. But, what about calling from the blinds?
If you fold every single small blind (SB) hand, your win rate would be -50bb/100 hands or -.5 bb's for every SB hand you folded. If your win rate is worse than that, you would've been better off folding every single SB hand, even the winning hands. The example player above has a SB win rate 4.3x worse than if they had folded every SB hand.
If you fold every big blind (BB) your win rate would be -100 bb/100 hands, or -1 bb for every BB hand you folded. If your win rate is worse than -100 bb/100 hands, you would've been better off folding every single BB hand, even the winning ones. The player above is doing barely better at -96.37bb/100 hands when calling in the BB.
So, what can we do to stem these losses when calling? Simple answer: make better calls.
We do this by being aware of the situation our call puts us in and only calling when it's a money-making situation to be in.
What 2bet Calling Does
Here's an example situation where calling might seem like a good play, but it exposes you to some downsides and a potential money-losing situation.
- You’re in the CO at a full-ring table and look down at KJs. This is in your normal CO calling range.
- UTG limps in, UTG+1 folds, UTG+2 folds and MP1 folds.
- MP2, or the HJ, raises to 3bb’s.
- You choose to call 3bb’s. Now the total pot is 8.5bb’s including the limper and the blinds.
- The remaining players are a BTN Fish who likes to call a lot, an aggressive SB 3bettor and an aggressive BB 3bettor who seems to love squeeze 3betting.
Your Call Builds the Pot and Entices Callers
Calling often leads to multi-way pots where each successive caller mathematically needs less equity to make a break-even call. Due to this, players are enticed to call with wider and weaker ranges as the pot grows. These multi-way pots are more difficult to earn.
In our example situation, if the BTN calls after you, it sweetens the pot for the blinds and the limper to call. Your call can lead to a 4-way or greater flop with lots of “land mines to dodge”.
You Capped Your Range
When you just call the raise, you’re telling them you don’t have AA or KK nor all the other hands you normally 3bet with. Sure, you could be sucking them in, but you’re not. Most people don't like to run the risk of lots of callers when they hold a preflop monster.
Your Call Entices a 3bet Squeeze
Loose-aggressive players love to 3bet squeeze. They know the open-raiser could be on a wide range, and they also know the caller just capped their range. It's a great situation to earn 6bb+ with some easy preflop aggression.
In our example, you’ve got two LAG’s in the blinds who like 3betting, so you’re opening yourself up to facing a large 3bet with your non-premium KJs.
You Give Them Bread & Butter
Bread and Butter is when you’re the preflop raiser and in position against 1-2 players. This is the most profitable poker situation to be in.
When you call from the blinds, you’re giving the raiser Bread & Butter. You’re allowing them to be in the best money-making situation poker has to offer. This is why we MUST limit our calls from the blinds. It’s not your job to defend against their steals. Instead, IT IS your job to make the most +EV decisions possible, and giving somebody B&B is most of the time -EV.
In our example, your call isn’t giving them Bread & Butter, but for all the reasons listed already it might be a -EV call to make even with position.
You’ve Given Them Flop Initiative
When you call a player's preflop raise, they now have the initiative to put more pressure on you with a continuation bet (cbet) on the flop. You’re putting yourself on the defensive by calling. Normally, callers just fold vs cbets because most of the time they don't hit a pair or good draw on the flop. But, let’s say you don’t fold nor raise, but just call the flop cbet instead. Now, you’ve given them another opportunity on the turn to put more pressure on you with a double-barrel cbet.
In our example, before you call with KJs look at the raiser's cbet %’s when out of position (OOP). Do this to help you plan for post-flop play.
KISS 2bet Calling Ranges
These ranges were created by position versus the open-raiser's position.
- The smallest calling range is only 3% and it is made up of QQ-88, AQs and KQs. This is the range that you would call from the SB versus an EP open-raise. I’m sure you can see why this is the smallest calling range; you are in the worst position and for the most part, people open-raise very tight and strong ranges in the EP.
- The widest calling range is when you are in the BB versus a SB open-raise. It’s a 13% range made up of 99-22, ATs-A8s, ATo, KJ-KT, QJ-QT, JTs-87s, J9s-97s and JTo. This is the widest range because you will have post-flop position and the SB open-raiser often has a very wide range. Plus, with nobody else involved, your call ends the action so you don’t have to worry about facing a 3bet.
Reasons to Narrow Your 2bet Calling Ranges
#1: You’re currently losing a lot of $ when calling 2bets
If you’re not following ranges, find some ranges to follow like my KISS Cash Game Ranges. Or, start tightening up and call less often to avoid money-losing situations.
And, let’s say you are playing with my KISS calling ranges, but you’re still losing. So, tighten up even more. I recommend calling 6% in the CO, but you can drop it to 3%. I recommend calling 13% in the BB vs a SB open-raise. Go ahead and drop this to 6%.
Maybe the two hole cards you hold aren’t the issue. It could be poor post-flop decisions that are leading to losses. So, work to rectify this by reviewing your post-flop play with preflop calling and losing hands.
#2: A High Squeeze Risk
If you can foresee a 3bet squeeze and would hate to face it, don’t call.
#3: Against a Nit Opener
They have small and strong ranges, so you don’t want to call with dominated hands. If they’re only raising with AK and AQ, then calling with AJ -EV.
#4: Facing Larger Bets
Larger bets give worse pot odds, so your hand needs to be stronger to profitably call.
#5: Multiple Prior Callers
Multi-way pots are harder to win unless you strike gold.
#6: Facing a Post-flop Aggressive Player from Out of Position
You know the raiser loves to barrel cbet when in position. Fold instead of calling and don’t give them Bread & Butter nor the opportunity to throw loads of bets in your face.
#7: When You’re Unsure
If you’re ever in doubt about the profitability of making a call, fold the hand and tag it for review.
Reasons to Widen Your Calling Ranges
#1: You’re Last to Act
When you’re last to act, you know the exact pot odds being offered and there’s no 3bet to worry about.
#2: In Position Against a LAG Opener
LAG’s have wide open-raising ranges, so you can call with more hands and being in position post-flop helps the situation.
#3: Facing Smaller Bets
Smaller bets mean greater pot odds, so you can call with more speculative poker hands.
#4: The Opener Has Post-flop Weaknesses You Can Exploit
If you can read them well and know how to exploit them post-flop, calling can be a great situation to put yourself in.
The Break-even Formula for Calling
The break-even formula is what we use to determine how much equity our hand needs in order to make a profitable call. This formula can be used at any time, preflop or post-flop.
This doesn’t take into account future actions, your opponent’s post-flop weaknesses or the potential to bluff in the future. It’s just the equity your hand needs right now vs your opponent’s range to make your call a break-even, 0EV play.
Calling a 2bet from the BTN
- UTG opens to 3bb’s, we have KJs and are reasonably sure that both blinds will fold after our call (they're Nits).
- We have to call 3bb’s to win a total pot of 7.5bb’s (after our call goes in).
- Break-even calculation: 3 / 7.5 = 40% equity needed.
- Our KJs vs a 12.2% EP open-raising range has 44% equity, so it's a mathematically profitable call.
- The worst King we can call with is K8s as it has 40% equity vs the 12.2% range, making for a break-even call.
Calling a 2bet from the BB
- UTG opens to 3bb’s, everyone folds to us in the BB. We hold KJs.
- We have to call 2bb’s to win a total pot of 6.5bb’s (after our call goes in).
- Break-even calculation: 2 / 6.5 = 31% equity needed.
- Again, KJs has 44% equity, so it's a mathematically profitable call.
- The worst King we can call with is K2o as it has 31.5% equity vs the 12.2% range, making it barely better than break-even.
Over-calling a 2bet from the BTN
- UTG opens to 3bb’s, CO calls and we’re on the BTN w/KJs. We’re sure the blinds will both fold.
- We have to call 3bb’s to win 10.5bb’s total.
- Break-even calculation: 3 / 10.5 = 29% equity needed.
- The worst Broadway hand we can call here is T3o with only 29.3% equity.
So, the more callers already in the hand, the bigger the pot. This means we can call with wider and weaker ranges due to the growing pot. But, a very important point to consider is that the more callers there are, the more difficult it is to earn the pot post-flop.
Here's a video with Flopzilla Pro and break-even calling math.
Preflop 3betting Ranges
Why are you 3betting?
3betting without a good reason is a leak too many players have. This leads to spewing chips and your more knowledgeable and patient opponents are just waiting for the opportunity to exploit your overly loose nature.
If you want to make more money on-the-felt, it’s critical that you know why you’re 3betting.
There are only three reasons to 3bet: 1) for value, 2) as a bluff, or 3) to isolate the 2bettor.
Listen to Episode #258: “Why are you 3betting?”
3Bet For Value
A value 3bet is made with the expectation that your opponent can continue with worse poker hands by calling or re-raising.
You’ve thought about their 2betting range and how they respond to 3bets, so you know they are capable of giving you value right now.
Most of the time, value 3bets are effective when your opponent open-raised with a large range of hands and you’ve seen them continue vs 3bets with hands weaker than yours. A common value 3bet example would be with JJ and you’ve seen them call 3bets in the past with every pocket pair, suited Aces and other strong broadway hands. You’re crushing them.
If your opponent will only call or 4bet with better hands, then you made a failed value 3bet. A common example of this is when an opponent will only continue with QQ+ but you 3bet with JJ; they’re going to fold everything you beat.
3Bet as a Bluff
A bluff 3bet is made with the intention of getting your opponent to fold and award you the pot right now. Pure and simple: Bluff 3bets want folds.
If they ain’t folding, you ain’t bluffing.
If you 3bet bluff and your opponent re-raises with a 4bet, they’re saying to you, “I got ya beat” so you should probably just fold. You were bluffing, after all and they called your bluff.
3Bet For Isolation
An isolation 3bet is made for Bread & Butter potential: playing in a post-flop money-making situation with a weaker player in a larger pot. If you call, others can call behind you and it’s no longer the situation you prefer.
Sometimes you 3bet isolate against a TAG who folds quickly on the flop, or the Maniac who raised and can’t fold any pair post-flop. Whoever it is, you 3bet with the intention of getting HU on the flop with this specific player. You don’t mind seeing the flop, and you don’t mind if they fold either.
3betting for isolation also has an additional benefit: you take away bluff squeezing opportunities for other players yet to act.
Do you know your profitability with your value 3bets and non-value 3bets? Most value 3bet ranges are JJ+ and AK. So, filter for these hands when 3betting preflop. Do it right now in PokerTracker 4. What’s your win rate?
Now, what’s your 3betting win rate without these strong hands? Just filter for 3bets made without holding JJ+ and AK. Are you losing money? If so, you’ve got some poker hands to review and mistakes to catch in your next study session.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
See how it's done in this video:
When to 3bet
Great 3bets have a high likelihood of yielding the result you want (gaining value, winning the pot before the flop or isolating a weaker player). Just because a hand falls within your range doesn’t make it a “good 3bet”. You must look for signs that your 3bet will give you what you want.
First, consider the type of player the raiser is. You MUST utilize any HUD stats and history you have with them before 3betting, even when 3betting with AA. If their Raise/Fold to 3bet statistic is at 90%, that means they only continue with a small range (don’t look at their Fold to 3bet stat; Raise/Fold to 3bet is more useful). You want value with your AA, but 3betting them will earn folds most of the time. If this is the case, consider a smaller 3bet in an effort to keep the raiser in or to elicit a 4bet from another player. Or, you can call and keep the raiser in the hand with their entire range. This runs the risk of other players calling behind, though.
If you’re considering a 3bet bluff, you want to know that your opponent can fold. That same opponent who Raise/Folds to 3bets at 90% is ripe for a 3bet bluff. But if another player folds < 50%, your bluff is less likely to work.
If you’re attempting an isolation 3bet, consider the players yet to act and how they’ll respond. If you’ve got ultra-passive Fish yet to act, will they call your 9bb 3bet? Will the LAG Maniac on the button see that you’re isolating a weak player and come over the top with a 4bet? Consider how the remaining players will respond and adjust your range and your sizings as necessary to get what you want from your 3bet.
Sometimes your table doesn’t respect 3bets. It can be full of Whales that love to call 3bets and see flops, or full of LAG’s and Maniacs who refuse to fold their open-raising poker hands. If your table doesn’t respect 3bets, be inclined toward strictly 3betting for value.
But, on nitty tables full of TAG’s and Nits, feel free to 3bet bluff more frequently. If they let you get away with it, it would be a shame to not earn the dead money in the pot.
Be aware of your image at the table. How your opponents think of you will have an effect on how they respond to your 3bets. If you’ve 3bet five times in the past five minutes, your next 3bet is less likely to win the pot. Conversely, if your opponents realize you’ve folded every hand in the prior six orbits, they’ll respect your 3bet.
Lastly, your position matters. When you look at their Raise/Fold to 3bet stat, make sure you view it for in position (IP) vs out of position (OOP) in your Smart HUD popup. You might see that they fold only 20% when IP and 65% when OOP. 3bet bluff this type of player when they’re OOP and strictly value 3bet when they have position against you.
You need to give post-flop play some thought before you 3bet. Visualize how the hand could play out if you get to the flop. What kind of boards help your hand, and what boards help your opponent’s range? Does the opponent fight for 3bet pots post-flop, or are they quick to give up when they strike out?
Take a look at their Fold to Cbet in 3bet Pot statistics. This will help you plan out any future bluffs before you're forced to make them.
What do you do when your opponent throws it back at you with a 4bet?
If you were 3betting for isolation or as a bluff, folding is in order. Don’t 5bet re-bluff unless you've seen the 4bettor bluff like this before and you know they can fold. If they’ve already committed a huge portion of their stack with the 4bet, they’re less likely to fold now.
Don't feel the necessity to defend your 3bet because “those are my chips!” Just give up your failed 3bet and move on. Folding here is a 0EV play, but calling or re-raising can easily be -EV.
If they use a small 4bet size, the odds might be good to call. But, you were bluffing and smallish 4bets are often meant to entice you to stay in the pot. So, don’t turn your bluff into a value-giving hand.
But what if your 3bet was for value?
Hopefully, you put thought into their 4bet range before you made the 3bet. If they're only 4betting better hands, like AA vs your JJ, then fold.
If they’re capable of 4betting with worse (like QQ-TT and AK vs your KK), then you must make a decision. You can call with your value hand to keep all their weaker hands in the pot and take the action through the streets to try and extract additional value.
Or, you can 5bet for value with the intent of getting it in. Only do this if they can get it in with worse hands, though. Utilize any prior notes you've taken and history with the opponent before you go all-in, though.
3bet Sizing Recommendations
When IP, 3bet to 9bb’s or more. Squeezing: go 12bb+.
When OOP, go to 10-12bb’s or more. Squeezing: go 12bb-15bb+.
Don’t do the standard 3x sizing. Players who min-raise to 2bb’s are happy calling 6bb 3bets. Don’t give them what they want.
The strategy with your 3bet size is that it hits their pain threshold. If you go too small, you make their call or re-raise too easy to do. If you make it too big, they have an easy fold.
The size you choose should make it difficult for them to decide how to respond while at the same time you’re getting value with our value poker hands, they fold vs your bluffs and they call when isolating them.
KISS 3bet Ranges
The KISS 3bet ranges were created with your position in mind and the open-raiser’s position:
There are six different 3bet ranges, used in 11 different scenarios.
The earlier your position and the earlier the open-raiser’s position, the smaller your 3bet range.
For example, the smallest is when 3betting in the SB vs an early position open-raiser. You’re 3betting for value with only KK+ and AK along with A5s as a bluffing hand. This is the same range you’ll use in the BB vs an early position open-raise.
I know this seems extremely tight, and it is. But, one thing I’ve always said about ranges is that YOU MUST NOT FOLLOW RANGES BLINDLY.
If you think that the early position raiser has a wide 30% range, and you believe you can value bet with TT+ and AQ+, do it.
The ranges only know 2 things: your position and the raiser’s position.
They don’t know the player types involved, the stack sizes, the statistics, the table dynamics, the game flow, the player images involved or how the open-raiser is feeling right now. Because the ranges don’t know these things, you need to take them into account before you commit any chips with your 3bet.
The KISS ranges above are examples of polarized ranges: they contain a mixture of value hands and bluffs that are weaker and outside of the 2bet calling ranges. Some players 3bet “depolarized” ranges. This means that their range consists of value and near-value hands.
I prefer polarized ranges as I like a clear delineation between my value and bluff poker hands. When 3bet bluffing just outside your value ranges (like AJs and ATs), you may be tempted to call and put yourself in a dominated position when your opponent is 4betting with AK/AQ. It’s easier to fold bluffing hands like A5s and 76s when caught.
Why 3bet bluff with AXs and suited-connectors?
Why I like AXs for 3bet bluffs:
- They block very strong hands like AK-AT and AA that can call or 4bet
- If Villain calls KK-TT or other hands:
- You can hit an Ace for TP
- Hit a flush or a straight
- Flop good draws and put semi-bluffing cbet pressure on opponents
Suited-connectors work well because:
- They're unexpected hands to 3bet with
- They can get sneaky value with 2p+ against AK, AQ and TT+
- If your opponent 4bets, it’s an easy fold
Begin adjusting your 3bet sizing as necessary to hit their pain threshold.
Focus on this for the next 3 sessions. When you decide to 3bet, gauge the best size that will get you what you want: either value, bluff or isolation. When you find that perfect size that makes it hard for them to read into your intent, pull the trigger on your 3bet.
Tag and review any questionable hands or interesting situations.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Did you know that 3bets are the bane of 2bets? Yep, they sure are. “Bane” is defined as “a cause of great distress or annoyance”.
I’m sure that hits home for you because you probably hate facing 3bets just like I do (but making them can be fun).
Let me who you why you hate facing 3bets…
Listen to episode #259: Preflop 3bets: the Bane of 2bets
Open your PokerTracker 4 database right now and filter for Preflop 2bets made. Your win rate is probably around +100bb/100 hands. So, you’re making money when 2betting.
Now, filter for Preflop 2bet made with the opportunity to 4bet (opportunity to 4bet means you faced a 3bet). I call this the 2bet/Face 3bet filter.
What’s your win rate now? It’s probably around -300bb/100 hands. The closer it is to 0, the better, but it’s more likely negative than positive.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Now you see why you hate facing 3bets… you’re profitable when 2betting, but as soon as you face a 3bet, you lose money on average each time.
From this point forward, I want you to start tracking these 4 win rates:
- 2bet Preflop
- 2bet/Face a 3bet
- 2bet/Call 3bet
At this point, a lot of people think, “Okay, I lose money every time I face a 3bet. So, how can I defend properly against them?” That’s a good question, but not the best question right now.
The best question to ask right now is:
“Okay, if facing 3bets is costing me money, how can I avoid 3bets?”
How to Avoid 3bets
You will never be able to avoid 3bets entirely, but these 4 strategies will help you face them much less frequently.
1. Stay Tight in EP-MP
Your 3betting tendencies: you probably 3bet less often vs a player with a tight range, so conversely, you 3bet more often vs wide ranges.
Your opponents are the same way! If they think you can have J9s, 76s, K5s and A9o in your range, they’re more inclined to 3bet you wider for value and bluff 3bet you more often.
So, you want to use tight raising ranges in the early and middle positions, and start widening your ranges in the CO and the BTN.
Tighter early and middle position ranges have two benefits:
- Your stronger range means you defend more frequently, so they’ll 3bet you less.
- With less players to act after you in the CO and BTN, you’ll face less 3bets.
2. Look Ahead
Your 3betting tendencies: you 3bet players more often when you have position on them (when in the CO and BTN) and you know you can utilize your post-flop positional advantage against them in case they call.
Your opponents are the same way! If they can get into a Bread & Butter spot against you in a 3bet pot, they’re more likely to do it.
So, before every open-raise, look ahead at the players still to act for anyone with a high 3bet > 6%. The higher it is, the more likely they’ll 3bet you.
Make sure you use your 3bet popup, like I have in my Smart HUD, and view their 3bet stat by position.
If any player has a 3bet % in that position greater than 10%, you must simply expect the 3bet. Now that you expect the 3bet, is your hand worth open-raising? If not, fold instead.
You know that facing 3bets is a losing play, so if you expect the 3bet, don’t give them the opportunity.
3. Make Larger Open-raises
Your 3betting tendencies: you feel more comfortable 3betting vs a 2bb open-raise than a 3bb open-raise. Their smaller sizing is often weakness, so you find spots to exploit this by 3betting.
Your opponents do the same thing! Most players 3bet at 3x the open-raise sizing. So, they feel they only have to 3bet to 6bb’s over a 2bb open-raise.
But, what size do they feel they have to make it vs your 3.5bb open-raise? They’ll think they have to 3x it to 10.5bb’s. This is a daunting size to bluff with, so you’ll face less 3bets when you open-raise bigger.
If you want to open-raise, but expect 3bets and don’t want to fold, go larger with your open-raise sizing to 3bb’s or more.
4. Avoid 3bettors on Your Left
Your 3betting tendencies: you love having position on weak players. You see this as your opportunity to get aggressive against them and push them around with bets and raises. One of your goals is to tick them off so they spew chips at you when you’ve got a great hand. And 3betting helps you get under their skin.
Your opponents are the same way! Especially the aggressive ones.
So, make poker easier on yourself and switch seats when you have aggressive players on your left. If you can’t switch seats, leave the table and find a better one.
3bettors on your left makes poker more difficult and as you’ve already seen, less profitable.
You want to be the one making things tough on your opponents.
The KISS 3bet Defense Ranges
The 3bet defense ranges go by your position and you’re facing either an in position 3bet or an out of position 3bet.
Once again, just like with all the other KISS ranges I’ve given you…
Don’t follow ranges blindly
Your ranges don’t know:
- The type of player who 3bet you nor their 3bet %
- Your history with the 3bettor nor any important table dynamics
- Your open-raise size nor their 3bet size
- The size of the pot nor the stacks
- Any other players involved or who still has an opportunity to act
All the ranges do is tell you hands worthy of 4betting or calling vs an average 3bet range that consists of value and bluff 3bets.
3bet Defense Considerations
Before making your 3bet defense decision, be sure you know what you’re getting into. You’re committing lots of preflop chips when you call, and even more when 4betting.
You must take into account the following 6 factors to help you answer the question, “Is this a +EV opportunity to defend against the 3bet?” Your answer will guide you to the correct decision.
1. The 3bettor’s Tendencies and History
What type of player are they? If they’re aggressive, they could be 3bet bluffing you. But, if they’re nitty or fishy, then their 3bet is more likely for value.
The more bluffs in their range, the more often you can defend with calls and 4bets.
Use their 3bet statistic by position. Anything at 6% or higher contains bluffs, so look for that. But just seeing 6% isn’t good enough. You also want to see that it’s over a sample size of 50 opportunities or more. You basically want a good indication that their 3bet % is reliable, and the more hands the better.
Also, before you defend, look at their post-flop stats in 3bet pots to gauge how they play the flop in these bigger pots. Flop honesty is good, so you can bet when they check or cbet bluff them frequently. But, if they’re aggressive or sticky on every street in 3bet pots, be more careful before continuing preflop.
2. The Size of the 3Bet
Depending on the player, the size they choose can tell you a lot about the strength of their hand.
In general, smaller 3bets are weaker hands, larger 3bets are stronger hands.
Make sure to take note of any 3bet sizing tells you spot. You might see “SuzyBuns” 3bet to 12bb’s with AA and only 8bb’s with JJ and AK. Use this information to your advantage.
3. Their 3bet Range
Every time you face a 3bet, you MUST assign the 3bettor a preflop range. The prior two factors will help you do this.
Passive fish 3bets with a 3bet at 1% to 10bb’s >>> a tight range of QQ+.
TAG player 3bets with a 3bet at 4% to 9bb’s >>> a range of TT+ and AQ+.
Mega-LAG player 3bets with a 3bet at 12% range to 8bb’s, and you’ve seen them 3bet with 44, KQo and 65s >>> Don't give their 3bet range any respect and come back over the top frequently.
4. Your Hand
Now that you assign them a range, you have to compare the equity of your hand vs their range before you call.
If you hold JJ and they only 3bet QQ+, you must fold instead of call.
But, if you hold JJ and they could have 44, KQo or 65s, you’ve got to come back over the top or call to keep all their bluffs in the pot to earn more chips from them post-flop.
If you think they’re 3bet bluffing you and you want to 4bet re-bluff them, the first question to answer is, “Can they find a fold?” If you think they’re committed for any reason, don’t bluff them. But, if they can find a fold, then choose a sizing that puts pressure on them to fold. Most of the time it’s between 20-25bb’s.
5. Your Relative Position
Position is always important.
When you have post-flop position, you can defend with 4bets and calls more liberally. And when out of position, you must tighten up.
Position is THE advantage in poker, and it’s even more valuable in 3bet pots.
They’re more likely to fold vs your 4bet from in position, and if you don’t have position, they’re going to put loads of pressure on you post-flop if you call their 3bet.
6. Stack to Pot Ratio (SPR)
SPR is the size of the remaining stack to the size of the pot. If both players started with 100bb’s, and both put in 10bb in a 3bet pot, the size of the pot will be about 20bb’s on the flop. With 90bb stacks remaining, the SPR on the flop is about 90:20 or 4.5.
The higher the SPR, the more room there is to maneuver post-flop, which gives you more options.
Players feel committed in low SPR situations, and in 3bet or greater pots, the SPR is likely going to be low. Players begin to feel “pot committed” at an SPR of around 3. That would be like a 20bb pot with 60bb’s behind.
Look at your opponent’s stack before you call or 4bet. If they’re already pot committed, then don’t 4bet bluff, but 4bet shove for value instead.
When contemplating a call, and the flop pot will be so large that there’s no chance of bluffing them, weigh this into your decision before you call with non-pair hands. If you need to hit the flop hard or you’ll be forced to fold to the cbet, just fold preflop and save yourself the 3bet calling chips.
Over your next 5 sessions, before every open-raise or isolation raise you make, look ahead to see if you should expect a 3bet. If so, either increase your sizing, fold the hand or make the raise with a plan for the eventual 3bet.
If you’re at a tough table with 3bettors on your left, switch seats or find an easier table to play on.
Tag and review every single hand where you face a 3bet regardless of how you respond.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
We’re going deeper into selecting the best starting hands over at The Poker Forge this month.
Forge members will learn how to put themselves into more money-making opportunities through improved preflop hand selections.
They’re going to learn the principles behind solid hand choices which lead to profitable poker. The hole cards you hold are important, but Forge Members will learn that every time they choose to play a hand, they're also choosing to enter that situation and face those opponents.
The first video for the month covered a new equation I’m sure you’ve never heard before:
Your Hand + Your Opponent(s) + The Situation = Money-making (or Losing) Opportunity
Along with the strategies I taught in the video, I also supplied a nifty graph called “The 3 Factors of Preflop Profitability” to help Forge members gauge the profitability of every hand dealt to them.
I released 14 videos this month including hand history reviews and quizzes along with a LIVE Q&A for members only.
To learn more and to become a member, visit www.thepokerforge.com.
Support the Podcast
Adam Choquette-Fuks, Mo, Greg Thompson, Matt Liebowitz, Nancy B., John and Dale Silver picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software. I love it and use it everyday! In appreciation, I sent them each a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4. Along with the growing database of hands to study, the Smart HUD is a powerful tool in anyone’s poker toolbox.
Orlando Imperior, Lippo, Shaggy, Barbara Newton, Richard Canelle, Ferdinand Groenewald, Ian Woolley, Bradly, Ross Jack and Andy Failes bought the Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4. It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.
Ade picked up the classic Getting Aggressive Webinar ($5 off). This one teaches you how to up your aggression both pre and post-flop in order to exploit your opponent's folding tendencies.
Richard Canelle and Brad Hunt are looking to improve their poker math skills, so they picked up the Poker Mathematics Webinar ($5 off) that Mark Warner and I collaborated on. Take your time with this one as it's chock full of helpful poker math concepts and strategies to employ them on-the-felt.
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