3-Betting Preflop

3-Betting pre-flop is making a re-raise of an open or isolation raise. 3-Betting with a high frequency is an integral part of a healthy winning game. There are a few inherent general advantages to 3-betting over calling:

  • We can pick up many pots uncontested. This is a very reliable source of income.
  • We can build pots early with higher EV hands to increase their profitability.
  • We can thin the field and ensure that we win the pot as often as possible either at showdown or via fold equity post-flop.
  • Our range is uncapped after we 3-bet so we can represent the best possible starting hands.

In this installment, we shall be thinking in terms of ranges, not hands. It is important to see the bigger picture with 3-bet opportunities as they occur very frequently. If we play each hand in isolation, we can quickly end up playing an unbalanced indefensible strategy. Moreover, thinking about the range we want to 3-bet with in a certain spot also allows us to plan how to handle any hole card combination we could be dealt and not just the AJo or 55 that we happened to hold this time.

Value Linear Ranges

The simplest type of strategy available is one in which we 3-bet only hands that we expect to be in good shape vs. Villain’s continuance range. We would choose such a game plan whenever we suspect that our opponent is calling a lot of 3-bets and very rarely folding. Such an opponent removes all of our incentive to 3-bet a lighter hand as a bluff. A linear 3-bet range is one that 3-bets every hand from AA down to wherever we start to consider the holding too weak to 3-bet. A value linear range is one that 3-bets from the top down, but only if the hand is 3-bettable for value (we learned the correct definition of value back in part 4). Against a very tight-passive player who calls most of his narrow opening range to a 3-bet we might choose something snug like [QQ-AA, AK]. In position against a loose recreational who raises and continues 3-bets with far too many hands, we might make it three times his raise with something much wider.

Here is an example of a wider value linear range for use when we are in position against a wide opening loose opponent. We call the hands in blue, 3-bet the hands in green for value and fold the rest.

3-Bet or Fold Linear

Sometimes flatting an open can be a very unenticing proposition. We should feel reluctant to develop any kind of calling range vs. an open whenever we are getting a mix of poor pot odds, poor position, and active 3-bettors waiting to act after us. The main position on the table where we are discouraged from calling an open is in the SB, particularly when the open comes from later position and is therefore more likely to attract squeezes. Sometimes even the BU can be an unattractive place to call an open raise, particularly where there are two aggressive regulars occupying the blind positions.

When we have deemed the factors too negative to build a calling range, we simply 3-bet everything that we would like to play. This equates to a linear strategy. Since it would not make sense to play a weaker hand than one we were folding, there will be no gaps in our 3-bet range – we shall be 3-betting with AA down to any hand good enough to apply pressure and go after fold equity. Some of the 3-bets in this range will be for value, some will be more reliant on making our opponent fold some of the time, and others will be a sort of hybrid. We do not need to be 3-betting for either clear value or as a clear bluff to make a 3-bet the correct play.

Let’s say that an aggressive regular opens the BU and we expect him to do this with about 50% of hands. We might defend our small blind by always 3-betting a range like this:

Polar Ranges

The final type of strategy we should examine before moving on from the topic of 3-betting is the polar range. There are three sub-ranges that comprise a polar range. At the top we have the 3-bet value range which, just like we noted earlier, is the collection of hands that we expect to be in good shape when called by our opponent. The difference between a polar strategy and the linear value strategy is that underneath the calling hands there is a new group of hands, which although are deemed to weak to call, we expect to be profitable 3-bet bluffs. Needless to say: a high expected degree of fold equity is the motivational force in building a polar strategy in the first place. It would not be rational to 3-bet weak hands against an opponent who treats the fold button like a deadly plague.

Besides high fold equity, the other necessary condition to adopting a polar 3-bet range is the desire to form a calling range against the open. We saw what happened when we decided to 3-bet everything we were going to play: we became linear through force of logic. Only a calling range can separate a 3-bet value range from a 3-bet bluff range. A polar range requires this separation and so it also requires a calling range to exist in the first place.

Here is an example of a polar strategy that we might adopt in the big blind against a tight regular who opens in the HJ. Note that we have a tight value range because we only want to build the pot if we are in good shape after Villain continues. Our bluffs are more abundant than our values hands and this is to be expected given that we expect Villain to play too tight against our strategy. In the following model, green hands 3-bet for value, blue call, and red 3-bet as a bluff.


This part of the series has described the bare bones of forming 3-bet ranges. There is much more to 3-bet theory than just these three types of range, but if you can cement a firm understanding of when to use polar and linear ranges and how to construct each of them, you will already be ahead of weaker players who have not seriously studied this aspect of the game.

Test your knowledge with our short quiz below