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Pre-flop Strategies for Better 3bet Defense | Podcast #181


Sky Matsuhashi

on April 1, 2018

I discuss (and show you) the steps to creating 3bet defense ranges, as well as the critical in-game considerations for implementing these ranges.

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


Pre-flop 3bet Defense Strategy (2:25)

When faced with a pre-flop 3bet, you have three options:

Fold. If defending with a 4bet or a call is -EV, then folding is the best option.

4bet. Before 4betting, know why you’re making the play. If you 4bet for value, they must be able to continue with worse. If you 4bet bluff, they must fold often enough to make the bluff profitable.

Call. You call when your hand plays well post-flop and has equity vs the 3bet range. Calling means that you want to see the flop and you’re willing to take the hand through the streets and play some poker.

If calling 3bets is a leak, why can’t you just use a 4bet or fold strategy?

If the only defense you mounted was 4betting, then you’d have to 4bet 30-35% of the time, making this an unprofitably huge 4betting range.

Calling can put us in valuable, +EV situations. We can dominate our opponent’s range if we keep our calling hands at the top of their 3bet range. If they have every Ace in their range, we dominate them by calling with only the strongest Aces like AK and AQ.

Calling can also be profitable with non-premium speculative hands like sc’s and medium pp’s. The smaller the 3bet, the better pot odds we’re offered. A min-3bet to 5bb over our 3bb open raise means we only need to call 2bb to win a total pot of at least 8.5bb. At these pot odds, we need less than 24% pre-flop equity to make a profitable call, so we’re easily seeing the flop with hands like 76s and 88.

And when we call the 3bet when IP (ex. CO vs SB 3bet), we can utilize our post-flop positional advantage to earn the pot with bluffs or gain chips with value bets.

Create Your 3bet Defense Ranges in 6 Steps (4:55)

Developing 3bet defense ranges allows you to take your logical and mathematical off-the-felt work and apply it to your on-the-felt game play. This will help to simplify your pre-flop decision making and free-up brain space for situational considerations.

BONUS VIDEO: How to Create 3bet Defense Ranges

1. Know Your Positional Open-raising Ranges

For 6max games (can be adapted for full-ring as well), I recommend open-raising ranges for EP, CO, BTN and SB. This keeps things simple so you don’t have too many ranges to confuse things.

Through these 6 steps, I’ll show you how to create a 3bet defense range when opening in the CO and facing a BTN 3bet.  Here's the 266 combo, 20% CO open-raising range:

2. Determine Your 3bet Defense Frequency by Position

In order to make our opponents indifferent to 3bet bluffing us (meaning it’s not automatically profitable to do so), we need to defend somewhere between 30% and 35% of the time.

We’ll keep it simple and target a defense frequency of 33% across the board (this will be adjusted up or down, which I’ll show you in a bit). Defending at 33% means we’ll 4bet or call with 87 out of the 266 combo range.

3. Determine Which Ranges to Create

With the recommended four open-raising ranges I gave (EP, CO, BTN and SB), you’ll need to create seven 3bet defense ranges:

1. EP vs CO 3bet (OOP post-flop)

2. EP vs BTN 3bet (OOP)

3. EP vs Blinds 3bet (IP)

4. CO vs BTN 3bet (OOP)

5. CO vs Blinds 3bet (IP)

6. BTN vs Blinds 3bet (OOP)

7. SB vs BB 3bet (IP)

4 of these ranges are defending OOP post-flop, and 3 are defending IP. When OOP post-flop, we need to have slightly tighter ranges to make up for the positional disadvantage we’re in.

4. Build Your Total 3bet Defense Ranges

Use an equity calculating program like Flopzilla or Equilab to do this work. I like Flopzilla because it quickly gives you combo counts as you build out the range. You’ll do this for all 7 (or more) vs 3bet ranges you need to create.

Begin by inputting hands until you reach your desired defensive combo count. This will be your entire 4bet and calling range. The hands from your open-raising range that you don’t select make up your folding range.

Start it with auto defending hands, like QQ+ and AKs. Then, add hand after hand until you reach your defense frequency (87 combos for us). This is where you’ll have to make some decisions about which hands you’ll want to include.

This is a solid OOP 84-combo 3bet defense range.

5. Divide the Range Between Calls and 4bets

Now that you have your defending ranges, it’s time to decide which hands you’re 4betting and which you’re calling with.

Make your 4bet range anywhere from 10% of your range to 25% at most. There’s no magical frequency here, but if you include JJ in your value 4bet range, then your opponent must be able to continue with worse hands like TT, 99 and AK or AQ.

For this range, I would choose KK+ and AKs for 16 total value 4bet combos. The other 68 combos are calling combos.  In the figure below, by highlighting the calling hands, we can see the 4betting range in the top left area (KK+ and AKs).

6. Test, Assess and Adjust as Necessary

Now that the ranges are created, it’s time to put them to the test.

I recommend playing with them through 10,000 hands or more. But, if it takes you 6 months to reach that many, don’t fret.

Just start using them in every session you play. Tag every 3bet facing opportunity for later review.

Once a week, assess your tagged hands by position to see how your 3bet defense ranges are performing (you can also just filter for facing a 3bet in your poker tracking software).

If you find difficulty playing specific hands for calls or 4bets vs 3bets, determine if it should be replaced by another strong hand. Then, go back to do more testing as you play.

Ranges aren’t set in stone and it’s up to you to put them to the test and gauge their effectiveness.

6 Critical In-game Factors When Facing a 3bet (17:35)

Don’t rely strictly on your ranges in-game. They’re just a starting point. It’s up to your assessment of the situation you’re getting yourself into that will determine if defending against the 3bet is +EV or not.

If you understand your ranges, they’ll help you make better on-the-fly decisions.

1. Your Hand

Your hand is obviously within your open-raising range, but is it in your 3bet defense range? If not, be highly predisposed to just folding it then and there. You’ve already determined the correct defense frequency and selected worthy hands to fill that frequency. You chose to NOT include this hand in that range, so it’s not worthy of calling.

But, I’ve always said that ranges are not meant to be followed blindly. Poker is situational, and there may be other factors (below) that can make defending with this hand in this situation a +EV decision. If you determine, logically, that it’s +EV to defend, then do so.

People love to set-mine with 22-66. Only set-mine if the math is on your side with pot odds and implied odds. You’ll realize your set-mining equity more when IP and against an opponent with post-flop weaknesses you can exploit if you miss your set (a hit-or-miss opponent, quick to fold post-flop, or specific flop/turn honest).

2. The 3bettor’s Tendencies

Attack weakness and avoid strength.

Your response must be dictated in part on how frequently your opponent makes aggressive pre-flop 3bets.

Versus a Maniac (mega-LAG) who 3bets too frequently, we can 4bet and call with wider value ranges.

Versus the Nit, who 3bets rarely with an incredibly strong range (think KK+), you must fold most of your hands as we’ll often be dominated in the growing 3bet pot.

Use your opponent’s HUD stats and be sure to make note of the types of hands you’ve seen your opponent 3bet in the past. Every bit of info you have against your opponent will only serve to improve your reaction to their 3bets.

It’s critical to take note of all hands that your opponent 3bets that get to showdown. You can learn so much from their bet sizing and how they bet or checked or raised with their hand strength through the streets.

3. The Size of the 3Bet

The size determines the pot odds you’re being offered to continue with a call, so you know if you’re getting the right price to call versus the 3bettor’s range.

The smaller the 3bet you face, the more often you can call. The bigger the 3bet, the less often you can call as your hand needs more equity due to the worse pot odds being offered.

You also want to consider calling with hands that have a better chance of realizing their equity. 22 might have 26% pre-flop equity vs KK+ and AKs. T9s also has 26% pre-flop equity, but that hand is much more likely to make it through the streets to win at show down, much more often than 22.

4. The 3bettor’s Range

The prior two factors, tendencies and sizing, give you important information that will help put your opponent on a range of 3beting hands. You’ll use these along with your opponent’s history to assign them a 3betting range.

They’re 3betting for a reason, ask yourself what it is. Are they only 3betting for value (expecting you to call or 4bet with worse), or do they have bluffs mixed in their range and are hoping you fold?

In general, a 3bet below 5% (66 combos) is a value-heavy range:

Anything above 5% includes weaker hands, growing exponentially weaker the higher it goes. Here’s a bluff heavy 10% range:

5. IP vs OOP

Position is a critical factor when deciding whether or not to defend against the 3bet. When you have a positional advantage, you can defend with 4bets and calls more liberally, and when OOP you must tighten up. Position is THE advantage in poker, and it’s an even bigger boon in 3bet pots.

Don’t rely on just position to determine if a call or 4bet is warranted. Look at your opponent’s post-flop HUD stats in 3bet pots to see what you can expect to face if the hand gets to the flop.

6. Stack to Pot Ratio (SPR)

With a low SPR, your 3betting opponents are less likely to fold. They’re thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a big hand, there’s no way I’m folding in this $6 pot with only $8 behind.”

Conversely, when the SPR is big, there’s so many more chips at risk, leading to the potential for more folds and greater value to be earned.

So, be less prone to calling in small SPR situations, and more prone to calling with high SPR situations.

Challenge (26:50)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Create your 3bet defense ranges. Follow the steps that I outlined here. You need to know your open raising ranges ahead of time by position. Once created, divide them up between 4bets and calls. Over the next few weeks, test out the ranges in your play sessions and assess them afterwards. Make any necessary adjustments and get back to testing them again.

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

Support the Show

John Parasidis shared a great Socrates quote that relates to my favorite Japanese philosophy of Kaizen:

“I’m getting older while being taught until the end of my time.”

Andrew Banny and Orlando Imperior purchased my Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4.  Watch out for these two at the talbes (although you likely don't know their screen names).  Get the Smart HUD here.

Jason Roberts and Mr. Farah also supported this past week by picking up a copy of PokerTracker 4.  Go here to learn more and get your own copy.  PokerTracker 4 affiliate link.

And, George Kelemen is improving his skills with the Rejamming Like A Boss Webinar.  Make some $$$, George.


Sky Matsuhashi

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