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Three-Bet & Four-Bet Pre-Flop Wars

Poker Plays You Can Use is all about finding good spots for getting value, bluffing and rebluffing. These spots are found through pattern recognition. Poker Plays You Can Use shows you those patterns.

For instance, not many of you notice the huge number of green VW Beetles that are driving around. I did not either until something happened: I bought one. Now, I notice them all the time. I bet whatever car you drive you see all over too, but I miss it. We notice things when we recognize them.

Here is how this applies to poker. Yesterday at Mohegan Sun, there was a weak-tight fit-or-fold player to my immediate right. We will call him Victim.  There is a TAG to my immediate left, we will call him Villain.

  • First pattern: Victim open limped into pots and then folded when he missed the flop. This was predictable. Predictable is exploitable. I noticed this pattern and used an exploit.  Whenever the cards I held helped, I would isolation raise him. Sometimes for value, sometimes with a pretty lite speculative hand.  I usually took it down on the flop.
  • Second pattern: Villain iso-raised just like I did. Villain to my left clearly noticed the first pattern also.  Very often when I saw the first pattern but did not have the right kind of hand to exploit it, Villain would do the same exploit I had been considering. It is an all-you-can-eat buffet, I had no problem with him helping himself at my table.
  • Third pattern: Hero iso-raises Victim, Villain three-bets Hero.  Now this is a pattern I do have a problem with. He noticed that I was often raising the limpers and since I acted first, I got to raise before he did.  Clearly he had a problem with this because he started three-bet my iso-raise. It was almost as if he knew I was doing this lite!   I let this aggression go the first time. And the second. And the third. Now that this behavior went from accident to coincidence to enemy action I had to stop him.

So how do I defeat pattern three: Raising my iso-raises.

  • Defense one: Hero stops iso-raising Victim so often. While that has merit, it is just going to let Villain pull the exploit in more situations and me in less.  No way I am going to let Villain just eat my lunch.  I do slow down a little though.
  • Defense two: Catch a premium hand and call.  I could hope to get a real hand and then call his lite three-bet and see a flop. Again, this has merit, but the cards need to help. Then I am out of position to a good player without the initiative.  Even with a premium hand, this is not ideal.
  • Defense three: Catch a real hand hand and four-bet. I could hope to get a real hand and then re-raise him.  He is likely lite, so he is mostly just going to fold though.
  • Defense four: Catch a speculative hand and four-bet him lite.  Speculative hands like A7s, QJs, 88 are a lot more common than the AA, KK, AK hands.  If I am going to four-bet him, most of the opportunities are going to be with something like this.  The first time I stand up to him, he is likely to laydown anyways, so I might as well do it with a speculative hand.

I used defense four. Three times Villain had stolen from me while I was in the midst of a burglary myself!  How rude.  Well the fourth time, Hero had QJs and good reason to believe Villain would lay down most of his range.  Villain had been three-betting me from $25 to $75.  Three times Villain picked up my $25.  This time, I made it $200 and Villain released his $75.  I considered us even at that point.  He slowed down with the three-bet lite, and peace through superior fire-power was achieved.

I don’t particularly like getting into these three-bet, four-bet wars.  However, I am not some lamb to be sheared either.

Am I going to four-bet lite when the table nit three-bets me the first time?  No way.  What about the second, third or fourth?  Probably not.  It is completely feasible, but unusual, that he just woke up with a hand a few more times that is expected.  His larger pattern of nittyness is the most important factor there.  I am just the unlucky guy to be in a hand when he catches.

Occam’s razor says the simplest explanation is probably right.  When a TAG keeps raising me, he is probably exploiting me.  When a nit keeps raising me, he probably has a hand.

Doug Hull
Doug Hull
I am a poker player and author of the book "Poker Plays You Can Use". Contact me if you are looking to improve your live poker game.
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