What characteristics make a hand good to three-bet? There are many variables other than your cards like opponent type, position, stack sizes, and table image that can encourage, or discourage a three-bet at any given time.
There are mainly three characteristics that determine the three-bet ability of hand. These are raw equity, smooth equity distribution, and a lack of nuttiness. These characteristics are defined and outlined extensively in Tom Chambers book Advanced PLO Theory, which like I’ve said before, is definitely worth picking up if you haven’t yet already.
Raw equity is an indicator of a hand’s flop strength versus all the other hands in play. Simply put, hands that generally have a lot of raw equity are the big single-suited and double-suited pairs and broadway cards.
In Chapter Two, we established that the key to profitability in low SPR scenarios revolves around dominating our opponent’s stack off ranges. Unsurprisingly, hands with a lot of raw equity often times flop dominating combo draws like open-ended + flush draw, pair + flush draws, higher straight draws, and so on. Plus, broadway hands not only trump their combo draws, but can cooler made hands as well, such as flopping top two against top and bottom pair on a QJ7 board, or trips with a better kicker on a JJ6 board.
Smooth Equity Distribution
The second (and arguably most important) characteristic to consider is how smooth the equity distribution is. This makes sense, because depending on the number of opponents and stack sizes, the SPR in three-bet pots generally hovers between 2 and 5. If players are stacking off lighter in three-bet pots, it’s in our best interest to choose hands that flop equity more often, which is exactly what smooth hands do best.
Also, selecting hands with smooth equity distribution provides us with more options on later streets in two different ways. First, if we check back the flop in position, smooth hands allow us to pick up equity on the turn. Polarized hands don’t turn equity very often, so polarized hands such as dry Aces and weak single-suited Kings aren’t recommended for three-betting in the section on hand selection.
Similarly, three-betting smooth hands provide profitable barreling opportunities on later streets, because they pick up more equity on the turn than polarized hands. What this means is that when you c-bet and get called, there are more opportunities to semi-bluff the turn profitably both in position and OOP. It should be clear that when barreling, we’d much prefer having some equity to total air.
Lack of Nuttiness
The third characteristic that influences the three-bet ability of a hand is a lack of nuttiness. To be clear, nuttiness is certainly not a bad thing, and there are plenty of nutty hands that are strong three-betting candidates. For example, a hand like A♥A♦K♥K♦ is a very nutty hand, and if you’re fortunate enough to get dealt this monster, don’t hesitate to pump as much money into the pot as possible.
Nuttiness affects the three-bet ability of a hand because nuttiness matters less in HU pots. If you have two hands of otherwise equal strength, it’s better to three-bet the less nutty hand because pushing people out of the pot cleans up non-nutty draws. Put more simply, when you three-bet a nutty hand to get HU, there’s a risk of sacrificing some of its implied odds value that comes from coolering someone with a higher SPR.
On the other hand, three-betting a non-nutty hand promotes the value of its non-nutty components, which are worth more at shallower SPRs. In PLO, there are many “three-bet or fold” situations, and most of the time this is due to a hands lack of nuttiness.