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3-betting and 4-betting pre-flop (Qui Nguyen Style)

08/03/2018 by Steve Blay

From Vietnam to Vegas! front cover

In my previous article for the D&B Magazine I talked about using the squeeze play, which is an important tool in your pre-flop 3-betting arsenal.

A squeeze play is always done against multiple opponents, but what about when you just have one opponent, the pre-flop raiser? Should you 3-bet, or should you call? I find that most people tend to call too much. I don’t know you personally, but if you are like 95% of most typical players, you probably call too much.

In the book I co-wrote with World Champion Qui Nguyen, From Vietnam to Vegas!we reviewed over 170 hands from the 2016 Main Event Final Table. Read through these examples and you’ll notice a trend: Qui doesn’t call many pre-flop raises. He wants to be the one making the pre-flop raise. If someone has already raised, he is generally going to 3-bet or fold.

That’s not to say he never calls a pre-flop raise, but when he does, it’s usually from in position, and he intends to use aggression and his superior instincts on the flop to take the pot away from his opponent.

Most players tend to 3-bet with their ultra-premium hands, and call with everything else. Their thinking is that they want to protect their stack, and don’t want to get into a huge confrontation until they see if the flop is favorable. That type of thinking isn’t all bad – in a tournament, stack protection is always important.

The problem is, they let their opponent keep the initiative by doing this, and when the flop misses both of players (which is going to be quite often), the pre-flop addressor gets to use their initiative to their advantage.

Analyses of large poker databases with millions of hands played by typical players, sometimes 100s of millions of hands, have shown that, on average, 3-betting is more profitable than calling, with a much wider range of hands than you might expect.

Giving you an exact hand chart for what you should 3-bet with pre-flop would be counter-productive, since it depends of your opponent’s strategy, the stack sizes, and more. The important thing to grasp is that you need to make sure you’re three betting with more than just AA, KK, QQ! Not only do you need to 3-bet with more value hands (JJ, AK, AQs), but additionally, you need to add some “semi-bluff” 3-bets to your range.

Your opponents don’t play well in 3-bet pots; it takes them out of their comfort zone. They want to play nice, friendly poker, and only commit to playing a big pot once they’ve seen the flop. So why not 3-bet them more often?

Again, I refer you back to my caveat in the Squeeze Play article that if your opponent is a total calling station, and is going to call your 3-bet with virtually anything, you’d be better off to 3-bet with more value hands – such as JJ, TT, even 99 – instead of semi-bluff hands (see below). He’s going to call you with junk like K8s, and you’ll be in great shape.

Here are two classes of semi-bluff hands I like to 3-bet with, and why.

  1. Medium Suited Connectors – typically, I’ll 3-bet with T9s all the way down to 65s. These hands increase my board coverage so my opponents can’t be sure I always have big cards when I 3-bet.
  2. Suited Aces with a wheel card, A5s - A2s. These hands have an Ace blocker, and take some combinations of premium hands such as AA and AK out of my opponent’s potential holdings. He’s half as likely to hold pocket Aces, because there are only 3 combos remaining, instead of 6 (see why?) Also, when the flop comes 5-2-2, he’s never going to put me on a deuce, and I love that!

Now, how about 4-betting? In the early stages of a tournament, this isn’t very complicated. If your opponents aren’t 3-betting as much as they should (which is generally the case in low stakes tournaments), you don’t want to 4-bet without ultra-premium hands. This means AA and KK.

(If you play cash games at stakes such as $5/$10, or if you play 6-max online, you’re going to see a lot of 3-betting pre-flop, so it’s a different story.)

Occasionally, when you have a 3-bet and a caller before the action gets to you, you can 4-bet with AK. AK knocks out ½ of the available combos of AA and KK. And, you do this because the caller is probably weak, which increases the pot odds in your favor. But I want to stress that the conditions have to be right, because again, in a typical low-stakes tournament, guys really aren’t 3-betting enough, and so you really need AA or KK to 4-bet.

What about when you are the one who 3-bets, and you get 4-bet? First of all, this is going to be a very rare occurrence at low stakes. Think about it, how often do you really get 4-bet pre-flop? Trust me: 19 out of 20 of your opponents at low stakes are not capable of 4-betting with anything besides AA and KK. So unless we are super deep, or they just min-4-bet and the pot odds are huge, we’re going to have to fold virtually everything we 3-bet besides AA and KK.

Yes, that includes QQ. Seriously, fold QQ pre-flop to a 4-bet? Well, the alternative is to play a 4-bet pot against a guy who almost certainly has AA or KK, so the choice is yours. (Let’s say I’m wrong occasionally. Let’s say that 20% of the time he has AK, or the other two queens, and we’re a coin flip. Do you want to see a flop when you’re crushed 80% of the time, and the other 20% of the time you’re flipping?)

Of course, some of you may protest, “This is super exploitable! We’re folding like 80% of our hands when we get 4-bet!” True, and that’s why you shouldn’t try this in a $10,000 buyin bracelet event. But your low stakes opponents are not sophisticated enough to exploit this. They’ll never have enough data to say, “Hey, that guy folds too much of his range when he gets 4-bet!”

Hand 94 (reviewed in From Vietnam to Vegas!) is a good example of a pre-flop value 3-bet that some beginners refuse to make. Michael Ruane raised to $1.8 million from middle position, and Qui Nguyen 3-bet to $5.8 million from the big blind with AKs. I see players just flat here sometimes. Their logic is that survival is so critical, and they “don’t want to commit too much of their stack before seeing the flop.” The problem is though, that the flop is going to disappoint them (no Ace or King) more than 2/3 of the time! A pre-flop 3-bet could have taken down a nice pot right there, or put them in an advantageous position to fire a continuation bet on a favorable flop that gives them some combination of overcards, a gutshot, backdoor flush draw, etc.

I hope this introduction to 3-betting and 4-betting will be helpful for you at the tables!