October 25, 2009

3b'ing in PLO


I wrote in a previous blog that I want to start including some strategy content in each blog, so I think what I’ll do from now on is pick a random area where I think people are making a ton of mistakes and basically give my overall take on it. Please, let me know if you guys want me to write about something specific and I’ll do my best to come through. Consider it a free coaching lesson :).

Today I’ll pick 3b’ing, mostly because I see a ton of general discussions about 3b’ing in the forums and from my students, but also because it’s something I struggled with greatly when I began playing. You’ll often hear good players and coaches describe 3b’ing as one of the most powerful tools at your disposal in PLO, but where the disconnect seems to lie is in regards to how to widen our 3b’ing range beyond the premium pairs and rundowns.

Before we begin breaking down a 3b’ing strategy, I think it’s important to address the kind of thought process you need for making the most optimal decision at any point in a hand. I’ve mentioned before how I used to be a live degen, and while you won’t find me making a ton of live/online or even PLO/NLHE comparisons, I think it’s worth sprinkling a few analogies into our discussion based on most players understanding of ‘correct’ NLHE play.

Anyway, one of the first things to notice in live play is how the players who look at their cards immediately after they’re dealt are usually weaker players. The better players at all levels always wait until it’s their turn to make a decision. The reason players do this is to get in the habit of considering position, table dynamics, game flow, and several other factors before adding in the final variable to the equation; their cards.

While this is obviously impossible to do for online play, I think the concept is certainly relevant when searching for the optimal decision making process in poker. Before you insta-muck As4sKd8h, or auto 3b 9dTdJhQh, take a moment to consider all of the options available to you. If you have ever spent some time surfing the PLO forums, you’ve undoubtedly seen a player ask the open ended question of, “I want to increase my 3b percentage because it’s only 2.5 at the moment, what types of *hands *can I 3b besides premium rundowns and big pairs?”.

The simple answer is several things. A glaring mistake I see many PLO players make is focusing too much on *which *hands to 3b, when in reality they should be focusing on *who *they can 3b more often profitably. So before we discuss what to do with specific hand categories, I think it’s better to spend some time considering the factors extrinsic to your hand. I heard Vanessa say in a video a long time ago that one of the biggest improvements you can make in your game starts with thinking about your opponents range before you think about your cards. This will dramatically increase your game, I promise!

Although there are many factors capable of pushing our decision one way or the other, the two key factors to consider when you have the option to 3b your opponent is their PFR and his play in 3b pots, or more specifically, how he reacts to a c-bet in 3b pots. The ideal situation for us occurs when we have a player on our right who opens too much and plays fit or fold post flop. Against these type of players, any type of hand capable of flopping some reasonable equity should be considered for a 3b, particularly as we get closer to the BTN, where an aggressive player will be opening 40% of hands or more.

Many players are familiar with the concept of domination theory in NLHE, but are confused with its application to PLO. In NLHE, the goal of preflop play is to dominate your opponent without letting them dominate you. This is accomplished by looking at their PFR and using a general understanding of frequencies to figure out how often your kicker or pair is dominated, because if you’re dominated pre flop, it’s likely you’ll be dominated in terms of equity post flop as well.

In PLO, thinking in terms of domination is more applicable to post flop dynamics rather than pre flop play. Even novice players are aware of the fact that pre flop equities run next to each other in PLO, so if we can’t dominate them pre flop, then we must dominate them postflop by choosing hands that flop a piece of equity more frequently, and also pick up equity on later streets while blocking their equity as well.

Here’s a useful analogy for you. Say you’re playing NLHE, and you’re against an opponent who’s PFR is 8%. Now, most players understand the logic for why it would be atrocious to 3b a player like this with a hand like AJo, especially when they’re opening in early position. If we change the PFR of our villain to 35%, you’ll quickly realize that our hand now dominates a significant part of their opening range. Now imagine that our opponents opening range is the same as their 3b calling range, how would you adjust your play? Our best adjustment would be to widen our value 3b’ing range, since they’re never folding and the the majority of their 3b calling range is dominated by our 3b’ing range.

What I’m trying to get you to notice is the correlation between someones opening range, and their 3b calling range. In any form of hold ‘em poker, it’s not about what their opening range is, but more important, what their *continuing *range is. If someone has a PFR of 25% but is only continuing with 5% of these hands, then bluff 3b’ing them will be insanely profitable. Likewise, if their PFR is 25 and they’re calling 23% of 3b’s, then widening our 3b’ing range will be insanely profitable as well.

If you’ve played any reasonable amount of PLO at the lower stakes, you’ll quickly notice that people simply don’t fold to 3b’s nearly as much as they should, so how should we adjust? Although there isn’t a program like PokerStove that’s available for PLO starting hand combos yet, we can use propokertools to make generalizations about the overall strength and playability of our opponents starting hands based on their PFR.

For example, someone with a PFR of 10 opens premium pairs, rundowns, and the stronger two pair starting hands. In addition, the majority of these holdings will be either single suited or double suited. These are the *worst *players to widen your 3b’ing range against, because you will rarely dominate them postflop, and you’ll often find yourself getting 4b by hands that are greater than yours. Against these types of opponents, you should only 3b premium hands for the purpose of pushing our immediate equity advantage, and because these types of hands play very well postflop.

Now let’s change our Villain’s PFR to 20, what changes? The odds of them having a suited or double suited hand drop significantly. In addition, the cards become gappier, and the high card value of their starting hand decreases significantly as well. For the sake of examples, let’s increase the PFR 10 points more, what changes now? An opponent with a PFR of 30 will rarely have hands premium enough to 4b, and many times will have to either fold to your 3b, c/f flops they missed, or get the money in post flop with dominated draws.

The overarching theme that I’m trying to get across here is that if someone’s opening range is the same as their 3b calling range, then we should be 3b’ing for either isolation, or for value. If you can meet both of these requirements, then a strong argument should be made in your head for 3b’ing. In addition, when we’re talking about looking for opponents with high PFR’s, it’s important not only to look for opponents with high _average _PFR’s, but opponents who are opening a lot in specific situations. For example, someone playing a 18/16 seems nitty at first glance, but they probably still open 30% of hands in the CO when it’s folded to them. So, if you know they play fit or fold post flop, this can be a great situation for you to 3b them in a spot you otherwise wouldn’t.

Positional Considerations:
As we move closer to the button, we can begin to widen our 3b’ing range against opponents with a high steal percentage. Even players with tighter PFR’s will open 30-50% of hands in LP, so 3b’ing BTN vs. CO with a wide range of hands will give us the opportunity to take advantage of the opponents who call 3b’s too lightly, and have to end up c/f’ing too many flops when they miss (there are many of these, and fwiw, it’s ok to fold to a 3b!).

On the other hand, it’s important to consider the UTG and EP opening ranges of even the more aggressive opponents, because even someone with a PFR of 25 will still be opening a reasonably tight range in EP, so our strategy of 3b’ing less nutty hands will end up backfiring because we’ll be getting the money in postflop with dominated draws or made hands.

Who’s behind us?
Beyond PFR considerations and post flop tendencies, it’s important to look at who else is left to act in the hand. Remember, the key for any pre flop decision is not to necessarily think about your immediate equity, but to consider what the most profitable situation for yourself is postflop. Constantly be asking yourself questions like:

Does my hand play better HU or Multi-Way?
What are the stack sizes of the blinds? The Opener?
What player types are in the blinds? How likely are they to come along if I flat?
What will my relative position be postflop?

For example, let’s say a solid reg with a 35% steal opens pot in the CO, and I have a hand on the BTN like AsTs8d9d. Normally this would be an easy 3b IP against someone who’s opening a ton in that spot, but a situation where I’d call would be if there’s a loose-passive player in the blinds who will almost certainly call if I don’t 3b. Remember, it’s all about dominating your opponents post flop, and in this case it’s certainly more profitable to play a single raised pot in position against a regular and a fish with a hand that can dominate many draws/re-draws post flop, as opposed to 3b’ing someone who plays well post flop, won’t pay you as much when you hit, and who may even fold to your 3b. The worst case scenario being that you miss the flop and someone else wins the pot, or the LP in the blinds happens to fold and you play a single raised pot HU in position against the reg. I’ll take the former over the latter anytime.

Contrastingly, if it was a weaker player who opened instead of the reg, I would 3b for obvious reasons regardless of how my hand plays postflop. Anytime you can get HU in position with a weaker player, I prefer erring on the side of aggression rather than passivity.

We’ve made previous references about how PLO is intrinsically a post flop game, and how we need to constantly be thinking about incorporating a pre flop strategy that sets us up to play profitably postflop. I’m not going to discuss all of the factors involved in analyzing different hand combinations, but it’s important to mention that one of the most useful skills for becoming a successful PLO player is gaining an understanding about the differences between hands that play well multi-way, and hands that play better heads up.

The top 10% of hands can generally be played either way, and for the most part the fork in the road for whether to 3b our hand will be based on table dynamics and factors outside the actual structure of our hand so I’ll leave that discussion for another day. For now, I want to outline the main differences between hands that play well MW, and hands that are more suited for HU action. This should be useful for many players because hands that play better HU are generally played with a 3b or fold mindset.

Hands that play well MW are usually hands that do one thing really well (in terms of suitedness, connectedness, high card value) and that have a high nuttiness potential for obvious reasons. A hand that’s suited to the ace, and weak/medium AA** and KK** hands are good examples of this. They are unlikely to be a winner at showdown unimproved, and don’t flop good equity very often, but when they do connect with a flop, their equity against any hand is overall very good. A useful NLHE analogy can be made with low pocket pairs. For example, let’s say you pick up 44 on the BTN facing an EP open and a MP call. 3B’ing 44 in this situation would be terrible, because you don’t flop a set very much, and when you do flop a set, you want as many people to be in the pot since your equity is so great when you connect. Think of MW hands in PLO the same way.

This is pertinent for discussing 3b’ing because we don’t want to get ourselves into a situation where we 3b a hand that plays much better MW than it does HU.

Contrastingly, hands that play poorly MW will usually play better HU. Hands like KQ97ds and QJT8ss that don’t have a raw equity advantage pre flop but play well postflop are perfect candidates to 3b, particularly against someone with a high PFR because our FD’s are much more likely to be live in a HU pot, rather than in a MW pot where the odds that the nuts or a draw to it are greatly increased. In addition, these types of hands are good to 3b against opponents who are loose both pre flop and postflop because the pair + draw combos you flop will more often than not dominate the ranges the Villains are willing to stack off with.

As our opponents tendency to play poorly postflop increases, we can begin to include a wider 3b’ing range as well. Hands like 8876ss, 9864ds, and AK77ds are good examples of hands that play terribly in MW single raised pots, but play decently in 3b pots in position against opponents who play poorly postflop.

I think that’s all I can write for now, but I’ll write another post in the next few days to go a little more in depth about how different categories of hands play against a range of PFR’s, and I’ll also write about how our approach needs to change when we 3b OOP. If anyone wants me to cover something specific, please comment here. Thanks a lot! I

I hope everyone has a great week and is running well.



Posted By KasinoKrime at 08:32 PM



Entity posted on October 26, 2009 at 20:16 PM


Sickeningly good post, John. This should be required reading for PLO players.

WotaWaster posted on October 31, 2009 at 15:31 PM


First time I read your blog but just want to say I really enjoyed this post.

fslexcduck posted on November 01, 2009 at 14:56 PM


Really awesome post.

Kaptenkman posted on November 05, 2009 at 23:32 PM


Great info John! This has been a weak area of mine. You shed some light in a very dark area. I look forward to hearing more esp. about 3'betting OOP.

KasinoKrime posted on November 06, 2009 at 01:04 AM


Thanks for the kind comments everybody! I'll try to add something else in the next couple of days. GL!

TomGrill posted on November 08, 2009 at 21:36 PM


nice article John, was really helpfull for me to refresh the stuff we talked due the coaching. im trying to implement it to my game right now :)
what i like to see is an article about 3betting oop and/or multiway 3bettet pots preflop.

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