It’s pretty common knowledge in the poker community that online poker games are usually much more difficult than live games at similar stakes. For example, $1/2 no-limit hold’em games are fairly difficult while $1/2 live no-limit hold’em games are typically very, very soft. Because of this, new plays that become popular in Internet games don’t always cross over to live games because the players simply aren’t difficult enough to play against to warrant advanced strategies. One mode of play that has become commonplace in Internet hold’em games that isn’t particularly popular in live games of similar stakes is 3-betting or re-raising the initial raiser pre-flop with a wide range of hands. Here we’re going to look at why people have shifted towards this hyper-aggressive style of pre-flop play on the Internet, and what you can do to defend yourself from it.
The general scenario plays out like this. It folds to a tight-aggressive player in the cutoff seat (one off of the button) who open-raises to three and a half times the big blind. The button looks down at something like Queen-Nine suited, and makes a 3-bet to twelve big blinds. The blinds fold, and the cutoff folds as well, and the button takes down a nice profit from a hand that didn’t even see the flop. The reason this play works is that the cutoff knows he should be open raising a wide range of hands in such a late position. If the button is aware of this, and also thinks that the cutoff will fold anything but good hands to his re-raise, then you have an instant profit by 3-betting pre-flop with anything close to a good hand just because of how often the cutoff will be folding.
There are two aspects to why this works, which leads to two general ways to combat it if you have someone on your left who likes to 3-bet you a lot. Since this play requires us to raise a wide range of hands but fold a lot of the time to the 3-bet, the two variables that come into play are how wide of a range we open raise to steal with, and how much of that range we fold when we’re re-raised. If we drop some of the worse hands from our raising range to begin with, then our relative fold percentage will go down since that will be fewer hands we would be folding to the 3-bet.
Another tool to deal with this problem is re-raising ourselves. If we start re-raising against the 3-bet (referred to as a 4-bet) more often both as a bluff and for value, then the 3-bet becomes less profitable as well. An added benefit of 4-bet bluffing once in a while is that if we get caught, our opponent will be more likely to stack off pre-flop with slightly worse than premium hands like Ace-Queen or pocket Tens, which increases the profits we see with our super-strong hands like pocket Aces and pocket Kings.
When you’re facing frequent 3-bets from your left, you should immediately adjust by dropping the worst 20%-25% of hands from your open-raising range. This by itself is usually enough of an adjustment to keep your opponent from being very profitable at all. If that seems insufficient, then it’s time to start 4-betting more often and let the profits roll in.