Betting is the name of the game in poker. The following betting strategies: the 3-bet, continuation bet and check raise, are all aggressive plays. In poker and especially online, you need to get your money in the pot when you have the best hand, and these are some of the best ways to put pressure on your opponents.
What is a 3-bet? In NL Texas Hold’em, a pre-flop 3-bet is different than a post-flop 3-bet. The blinds are considered the first pre-flop bet. Say Player A makes a raise from mid position. Player B, on the button, makes a re-raise. This raise is the third bet, or “3-bet.”
The only difference in post-flop play is that the blinds no longer count as an initial bet. A post-flop 3-bet consists of an initial bet, a raise and a re-raise.
So when should you 3-bet? What cards should you have? What should you do when someone 3-bets you?
First, the 3-bet should be made selectively with premium hands. Here’s a good example of an opportune time to 3-bet:
The $1 and $2 blinds are posted. The action folds around to Player A in mid position. Player A makes a standard raise to $6. The action folds to you, and you’re on the button. You look and see Big Slick (A-K) smiling back up at you. You know Player A to be a loose-aggressive player (LAG). He’s won a couple showdowns with mediocre hands that he played hard and fast. He has also been making a lot of pre-flop raises. You raise to $20. The blinds fold and Player A calls.
Why was it a good time to 3-bet? Let’s review:
- You had position on your opponent. Since you were on the button, you had the opportunity to come in last. There were no other players in the hand besides you and Player A.
- Your opponent is a loose-aggressive player and could therefore be raising with a wide range of hands. He might have something like A-10 or K-J. He could also hold a mid-range pocket pair or some suited connectors. If he’s been playing a bunch of hands, you probably have a solid lead pre-flop.
- You gain some information about your opponent if he folds or comes over the top of you. If he re-raises you to say $40, he might have a powerful hand like Queens, Kings or even Aces. If he folds, you catch him with his hand in the cookie jar and he might think twice about raising you pre-flop again.
On the flip side, you need to play differently when defending against the 3-bet. A player’s position should be foremost in your mind, followed by his playing style. Sometimes you just need to lay down that A-J when someone comes over the top of you and has position. I’ve seen it countless times online: players will call a 3-bet out of frustration or curiosity, catch top pair on the flop and then go all-in, only to be called by a player with a better kicker.
Continuation Bet (C-bet)
The continuation bet involves making a pre-flop raise and then betting the flop, regardless of whether or not you connected. Over time it has become a standard (some would say overused) play, especially in online poker.
The continuation bet is a usually a good move when going against a tight player. Say you’re in middle position and you raise with A-Q. A tight player calls you from late position and you go to the flop. The flop comes out 10h-7s-5d. With such a dry flop, and considering your opponent’s propensity for tight play, this is a good spot to lead out with a c-bet. Of course, you want the bet size to reflect a good hand, so make a bet about 2/3 the size of the pot. However, if your opponent re-raises you, it’s likely he has an overpair and you should fold.
On the other hand, say you are in middle position and raise with 9-9. You are called from late position and the board comes out Ah-Kh-Jh. You should avoid making a c-bet in this situation because of the flush draw, straight draw and three overcards.
The check-raise is simply that: You check behind your opponent, only to raise him after he bets. The logic behind check-raising is that you will lure your opponents into betting and then calling you down with a weaker hand. This strategy works best against calling stations, but does not work well against tight players.
The risk of check raising is that your opponents might not bet at all! So then you’ve wasted an opportunity where you could have bet and extracted chips.
Ideally, you want to check-raise when you have a powerful hand. In this way, check-raising is similar to slow playing. Say you are in the small blind and hold pocket Jacks. You make a pre-flop raise and get two callers. The flop comes out 7h-As-Jd. With a set of Jacks, hopefully someone has an Ace and bets. You can even just call your opponent’s bet here and wait until the turn to check-raise, although you are putting yourself at risk with each card you allow your opponent to see. Keep in mind that check-raising sets of all the alarms in your opponents’ head, and may not be the best way to extract chips.
Check-raising can also be used as a flat out bluff or a semi-bluff. You can hold a hand like 7h-9h and the flop comes out 6h-Ah-8d. Here you have an open-ended straight draw and a flush draw, and by check-raising you might get your opponents to fold. If they don’t you have a lot of outs on the river.
The 3-bet, continuation bet and check-raise are all powerful, aggressive plays to have in your arsenal of skills. Always take into account factors like table position and what type of play your opponent is before making any risky move.