Like most players new to poker study, I've heard many pro's and coaches say things like, “JTs plays well post-flop” and “Q6o doesn't play so well.” I never really looked into it to learn more about what playability is or what it means to “play well.” I just figured “Yep, suited hands can flop flushes, Q6o makes weak pairs with which we lose money.” I didn't think any deeper on the subject, or how a hand's playability could lend power to specific plays in poker.
That's how I thought at least until I read the latest Tournament Poker Edge article written by theginger45 titled ‘Playability and Blockers: The Keys to 3-Bet Bluffing.' It opened my eyes to the equity you can gain by choosing the correct cards to aggressively 3bet and 3bet shove with pre-flop. I suggest you click on the link above and read the article. Here, I'll dive into playability and give you some charts which you can use to help you create 3betting ranges.
What is Post-flop Poker Playability?
Post-flop Poker Playability refers to how well a hand hits various flops, and how easy it is to play beyond the flop. A hand like JTs is a great hand to play post as it hits lots of decently strong top pair hands, flush draws and nut straight draws. With so many ways to hit flops, it makes it a good candidate to not only win at showdown, but allows you to take down many pots by firing multiple barrels with decent equity to catch your hand should the opponent continue.
On the other hand, Q6o makes weak top pair hands, has very little potential to make straights and flushes, and doesn't often give you enough equity to barrel opponents off of hands. How comfortable are you firing two or three or even two streets with Q6 on a QJ924 board?
Playability Allows for Increased Aggression
A common issue players have as they improve their skills is increasing their aggression in a way that doesn't leave them off balance. Having a 3betting range with only value hands (JJ+ and AK) makes you super easy to play against. Throwing in some bluffs like A5o and K3s helps, but it polarizes you between very good and crappy hands, and makes it so you can only continue when you hit the flop well (which is harder to do with those bluffs).
But, throwing in hands that play well post-flop and have good equity when called make it so you can 3bet bluff or 3bet shove steal more frequently. And as we know, increasing your aggression makes you harder to play against (especially when IP) and makes you hard to read, allowing for more stealing of pots post-flop. Including hands like 76s-JTs, 55-99 and suited 2-gappers 86s+ really widens your range and makes it harder for opponents to put you on hands. These hands all play well post-flop, can win super big pots when they hit big, and allow you to fire multiple barrels to win hands without showdown. The A5o's and the K3s's really don't make playing post-flop any easier.
One of the big things I've been struggling with lately is increasing my aggression as MTT's reach the middle levels. When antes kick in is the time to really ramp up the aggression to gain chips. Being passive in the middle stages is a sure way to survive longer, but you'll often get to the bubble with a small stack and barely make the money. Survival isn't what the pros play for; they go for the win. Using the chromatics below allow me to 3bet more often knowing that if I get called I've got a hand that can win in more ways than just relying on its strength at showdown. I'm now playing with hands that I can barrel with because I've flopped some decent drawing equity.
Here are two Playability Chromatics I made using Flopzilla. They show you the likelihood of flopping certain hands and draws.
Mid-pair+, oesd+ and pair+gs or better
Top pair+, fd+ and pair+oesd or better
There's a few important takeaways from these two graphs:
- Only 3bet bluff with suited cards. Suited cards can give you up to 11% more equity when called. If you must 3bet an off-suit hand, make sure it's got big card strength like AQ or AK, and if not then making a 3bet bluff shove is best for maximum fold equity (at 20bb's or less).
- Suited connectors all the way down to 54s are very playable post-flop. They all make great candidates for 3bet semi-bluffing, and often you can get away from many flops where you have little equity and the opponent shows aggression. It's much easier to fold a 56s than an A6o on a J62r board when your cbet gets c/r and you're pretty sure he's got you beat.
- Pocket pairs have very good equity when called. It was surprising to me to see how often 77-TT can flop some decent equity, allowing for a couple barrels even if you don't hit your set.
Please use these chromatics to help you devise your own 3betting ranges and to help you ramp up your aggression in MTT's when it really counts.
When creating 3bet ranges, you want to incorporate value hands, semi-bluffs (suited connectors and small pocket pairs) as well as a few bluffs. You can create these ranges then test them out in real-world play in tournaments or cash games. If you haven't made any 3betting ranges before, use the following ratios:
- Value hands 7%
- Semi-bluffs 5%
- Bluffs 2%
This will give you roughly a 14% 3betting range, but of course you won't be doing this blindly every time you have one of these hands. Use your better judgement and avoid 3betting unless it's for value when you're reasonably sure your opponent will reshove. A common example of this is a nitty 15bb stack opens to 2.5bb's UTG. Your 3bet will likely just get him to 4bet shove, so don't do it without the top of your range.
If you found these useful, please drop me a line to let me know how you used them.
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