This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on interpreting your opponent’s 3bet range. This part shall focus on static flops. Parts 2 and 3 focus on dynamic flops.
Most players have a reasonable understanding of the “top of their range” when defending 3bet pots (at least when their opening range is <30%, many mistakes are still made OTB). However there are many flops where it feels like we are being exploited as we fold too frequently to a continuation bet. Choosing to (semi)bluff-raise or float with a marginal hand can feel like a shot in the dark. Let’s say we open:
QcJhTc7s in the CO and the SB 3bets us. We call and…
Our opponent C-bets for around half-pot. What do we do?
The answer for most players is to pick from the following depending on their mood…
a) FOLD “He must have AA and won’t fold on this board, he could have KK and then we are crushed and the stupid fish never folds KQT4 to us anyway”
b) SHOVE ” I have 39% equity against AA, he is always C-betting this board, he can’t have it that often and I’ll suck out enough to win.”
c) SMALL RAISE/FOLD “This guy’s a massive nit, I only ever see him stack off with sets or two pair on static flops, he’ll fold AA here.”
d) FLOAT (Turn comes 4d, opponent bets again) “Note to self, don’t burn money like this again”
This article is not going to attempt to be exhaustive in how to tackle defending 3bet pots. However, it is going to provide the foundation for the process, which is interpreting your opponent’s 3-betting range.
RANGE BREAKDOWN: Positive inference
The first action to take is to go into your database, pick a player who you have a large sample of hands on and filter for hands where he 3-bets and the hand goes to showdown. You will have noticed by now that the cornerstone of defending 3bet pots is preparation rather than the overrated table-soul-read. You should take care to distinguish between hands from IP/OOP and the width of the opening range which the 3-bettor is attacking. A 3bet range from the BB versus a UTG open may (and should) be much narrower than one from the BT against a CO open.
An important feature to look out for against players with a 6-10% range is how often they 3bet hands with 3 broadway cards such as (AKJ5,AJT7,KQJ8…). Players who 3bet these hands frequently and combine their aggressive strategy with a high C-bet percentage completely miss low boards with much of their range. We should play back at them on 764-type structures since they will have to fold so often before the river. Whether that is by raising the flop, calling the flop to shove the turn light or calling the flop to bet when checked to depends on the opponent’s post-flop tendencies. Note that we should avoid making a move on boards with three wheel cards since Axxx/AAxx-heavy ranges have made straight or overpair+gutter combinations.
RANGE BREAKDOWN: Negative inference
Negative inference is particularly helpful for improving your defense on static flops and is easier to note on-the-fly in-game. Does your opponent flat certain AA/KK pre-flop? This weakens his range on K high boards especially, but also makes your Axxx hands more playable pre-flop and when an Ace flops. It also enables you to start shoving lighter on A or K high boards with marginal hands. Here is the breakdown for AAxx:
All AA: 2.57%
AA without AAA: 2.50%
(All the below now exclude AAA)
AA not rainbow: 2.18%
AA with a suited A: 1.89%
AA double-suited: 0.3%
We can see from the above that an opponent who flats rainbow AAxx and hands of the structure AhAd7c6c has far from the oft-quoted 2.5%-AA hands in his 3betting range. The figure is around 1.9%. This means that a player with an 8% 3-betting range who chooses to 3bet decent AA only has them <1/4 of the time. A player with a 12% range with a similar tendency has them around 1/6 of the time. Such a tendency can be reasonably extrapolated to KK-hands (Few thinking players will just call with AhAd7c6c and merrily 3bet KhKd7c6c). An Ace or King on the board will cut the total combinations of pocket AA/KK in half, thus a player with a 12% range only has top set 1/12 of the time on an A high board if he uses the refined range versus >10% of the time if he 3bets any AA without trips.*
The choice of which AA to 3-bet also has a huge effect on monotone boards. If your opponent 3-bets all of his non-trip AAxx, then he has the bare nut flush blocker 64% of the time when he has the Ace of the suit and the actual nut flush only 36% of the time. If he only 3bets AA with a suited A he has the actual nut flush 51% of the time. If our opponent likes to triple barrel the nut flush blocker our call-down (with say the 3rd nut flush) is going to be clearly profitable in the first instance but likely losing in the second. Whilst calling down on static boards takes us into the realm of player tendencies post-flop and some more complex mathematics than is within the scope of this article, an understanding of his pre-flop range is critical for informed decision making.
Back to the hand QJT7 on Kc7d2s
Armed with the knowledge we have gained this article, let us revisit the hand posited at the top of the page. On this type of dry, unconnected board we will flop top pair or better 40-45% of the time when our range does not include AA. Our opponent’s half-pot continuation bet is profitable with any four cards if we fold more than 1/3 of the time. Note that on boards which hit his range really hard it is OK for him to be able to C-bet A4C profitably, but we want to minimize how much profit he can make by doing so. Folding 55-60% of the time is going to be giving up too much if he C-bets with a very high frequency and has a wide pre-flop range. If he is extremely tight (and has lots of AA/KK) pre-flop and only C-bets 50-65% of the time on these flops then folding our mediocre hands is certainly OK.
If we do continue, we should be calling; many LAGtards shove this spot and laugh when their opponent folds AA. The problem with this is that although in a vacuum we start having a very profitable shove, it is extremely easy for our opponent to adjust to: he simply starts calling wider on these boards. Of course this means he will be forced to give us action when we have two-pair or a set, but the middlepair+ combinations vastly outnumber our very strong made hands on this texture. We should save shoving here for when our opponents pre-flop range is so wide and C-betting frequency on both flop and turn so high that we rate to be ahead of most of his range with 1 pair(!).
After we call we can shove over a turn C-bet (assuming our opponent doesn’t have a turn C-bet of 35% or so) on any two-pairing card or card which adds a flush draw or a non-Ace open-ended straight draw (20 cards in total).
We should prefer to fold the flop if our opponent has a tendency to 3-bet many of the 3-card broadway hands described at the top. This is because he will often turn a higher two-pair when we hit on the turn. Strangely, a hand like 8765 will play much better against such opponents since our two pair is more likely to be good when we hit and he will be facing a decision with one pair more often when we shove a turned straight draw.
*Card removal effects can make this number bigger also. If your opponent tends to 3bet high-card hands then since the other hands in his 3bet range are also discounted by the Ace on board, top set comprises a larger part of his range once more. This only matters for tighter ranges.