You’ll often hear good players and coaches describe three-betting pre-flop as one of the most powerful tools at your disposal in Pot Limit Omaha. It’s no wonder why every time you visit a PLO forum there are many general discussions about this topic, with players often trying to find out what a correct three-betting strategy looks like.
In my experience after years of playing and coaching many students, most people have a hard time widening their three-betting range beyond the premium pairs and rundowns, without going overboard and starting to spew too much. Before we begin breaking down a solid three-betting strategy, I think it’s important to address the thought process you need for making the most optimal decision at any point in a poker hand.
I’m not a big fan of making analogies between live and online poker, or even PLO/NLHE comparisons, but I think it’s worth sprinkling a few of them into our discussion based on most player’s basic understanding of No Limit Hold’em play.
One of the first things to notice in live play is how the players who look at their hole cards immediately after they’re dealt are usually weaker players.
THE BETTER PLAYERS ALWAYS WAIT UNTIL IT’S THEIR TURN TO SEE WHAT CARDS THEY HAVE.
The reason for this is not only to avoid giving away tells, but more importantly 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 not completely applicable to online play, I think this concept is certainly relevant when considering the optimal decision-making process in poker. That is, before you instantly muck A♠4♠K♦8♥, or auto three-bet 9♦T♦J♥Q♥, take a moment to consider all the options available to you.
As I wrote earlier, if you have spent some time surfing the PLO forums, you’ve undoubtedly seen someone ask the open-ended question of, “I want to increase my three-bet percentage because it’s only 2.5% at the moment. Which types of hands can I three-bet besides premium rundowns and big pairs?”
Of course, there is no simple answer to such a general question, but there is definitely some secrets I can share with you…
The mistake these players make is actually reflected in their own question.
TOO MANY PLO PLAYERS FOCUS TOO MUCH ON WHICH HANDS TO THREE-BET, WHEN IN REALITY THEY SHOULD FOCUS ON WHO THEY CAN THREE-BET MORE OFTEN IN A PROFITABLE WAY.
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. A long time ago I heard Vanessa Selbst say 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 is a fundamental part of taking your poker game to the next level and dramatically improves your poker thought process. So get ready and read the rest of this blog post approaching it as a process, instead of looking for a magic formula or rules to try and memorize.
Although there are many conditions capable of pushing our decision one way or the other, there are two key factors to consider when you have the option to three-bet your opponent. They are:
- Your opponent’s Pre-Flop Raise (PFR) percentage, and
- How your opponent reacts to a three-bet, pre-flop and post-flop.
Today we’ll take a deeper look into both of these key factors, but first we have to remind ourselves of the concept of domination and how it presents itself in PLO.
Here it might make sense to use another analogy from Hold’em. In NLHE, a big goal of pre-flop 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. If you’re dominated pre-flop, it’s very 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 close to each other, so if we can’t dominate our opponents pre-flop, we must try to dominate them post-flop by choosing hands that flop a piece of equity more frequently and also pick up equity on later streets while blocking their equity.
Here’s another useful example from Hold’em:
Say you’re playing NLHE, and you’re against an opponent whose PFR is 8%. When someone like that opens from early position, most players understand why it would be atrocious to three-bet with a hand like AJ off-suit. If we change the PFR of our villain to 35%, it’s easy to see that hand dominates a significant part of their opening range.
Now, imagine that our opponent’s opening range is the same as their three-bet calling range. How would you adjust your play? Well, since they’re never folding to a three-bet and their wide calling range is more often dominated by us, our best adjustment would be to widen our value three-betting range.
What I’m trying to get you to understand is the correlation between someone’s opening range, and their three-bet calling range.
That is, it’s not about what their opening range is, but more important, what their continuing range is. Another helpful way to look at it is if someone has a PFR of 25% but is only continuing with 5% of these hands, then he will fold very often and three-betting them as a bluff will be insanely profitable. Likewise, if their PFR is 25% and continuing with 23% of their range, then widening our three-betting range will be insanely profitable as well.
If you’ve played any reasonable amount of PLO at the lower stakes, you’ll have noticed that people simply don’t fold to three-bets. So how should we adjust to that? Although combinatorics is much more complicated in PLO, we can still make generalizations about the overall strength and playability of our opponents starting hands based on their PFR percentage.
(Note: Does your hand pass the “3 Bet Test”? Watch this free 5 minute video to discover a quick & easy trick you can use to instantly identify the hands you can 3Bet profitably. Watch it here.)
Here are some examples:
Someone with a PFR of 10% only 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. It shouldn’t take long for you to realize these are the worst players to widen your three-betting range against, both because their pre-flop range is so strong that you will rarely dominate them post-flop, and also they will be able to profitably four-bet more often. Against these types of opponents, you should only three-bet premium hands for the purpose of pushing our immediate equity advantage and because these types of hands play very well post-flop.
Now let’s change our opponent’s PFR to 20%. What changes?
The probability of him having a double-suited hand drops significantly. In addition, their hands are less connected and the high-card value of their starting hands decreases. If we increase our opponent’s PFR by 10 percentage points more, what changes now?
Well, an opponent with a PFR of 30% will rarely have hands premium enough to four-bet, and many times will either fold to your three-bet, check-fold the flop, or get the money in post-flop with a dominated range. An ideal situation occurs when we have a player to our right who opens too much and plays fit or fold post-flop. Against this type of players, any type of hand capable of flopping some reasonable equity should be considered for a three-bet, particularly as we get closer to the BTN.
What I’m trying to get across here is that if someone’s opening range is the same as their three-bet calling range, then we should be three-betting 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 three-betting.
Here’s an hand history example of what we’re talking about so far:
$0.25/$0.50 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Hero (BTN) $50.95
Pre-flop ($0.75, 5 players) Hero is BTN A♣K♦J♦5♦
1 fold, CO raises to $1.75, Hero raises to $6, 1 fold, BB calls $5.50, CO calls $4.25
The villain in this hand is playing a very loose VPIP/PFR of 52/30 through 55 hands, and decides to open for pot in the CO, after which we three-bet from the Button. A beginning player may think that three-betting our hand bad because after all, we’re only suited to the King and the five in our hand is considered a “dangler”.
But let’s take a closer look at the hand.
As we’ll see later, some of the characteristics to look for when considering a three-bet are raw equity, lack of nuttiness, and smooth equity distribution. Because this hand is only suited to the King, it makes for a better candidate to three-bet than if it was suited to the Ace, although it’s worth mentioning that versus such an opponent we would still three-bet if it was suited to the Ace. This is due to the fact that A♣K♦J♦5♦ has good raw equity because of the three connected broadway cards and it’s equity distribution is decently smooth because of its suit and connectedness. Even our dangler still gives us a chance to make a wheel straight.
More importantly, three-betting wide openers with three broadways and a strong suit is an excellent strategy because you’ll flop better combo draws and made hands that dominate their wide three-bet calling range.
Flop: 2♦3♣J♣ ($18.25, 3 players)
BB checks, CO checks, Hero bets $18.25, BB folds, CO raises to $73, Hero goes all-in $26.70
Turn: 5♣($136.20, 2 players, 1 all-in)
River: 9♥ ($136.20, 2 players, 1 all-in)
Final Pot: $136.20
CO shows two pair, Nines and Threes
Hero shows two pair, Jacks and Fives
Hero wins $105.15 (net +$54.20)
CO collects $28.05 (net -$50.95)
BB lost $6
The rest of the hand plays itself out. The Big Blind cold calls, and so does the Cutoff. My student then gets it in as a 55/45 favorite and scoops the pot. Take note of what the villain in this hand called with pre-flop when facing a three-bet and remember never to do this ourselves. Calling three-bets with these holdings OOP is similar to lighting money on fire and watching it burn. It should never be imitated.
As we saw in this hand, there are some other crucial factors to take into account before beginning to master three-betting. Let’s continue with…
Don’t forget that when we’re talking about opponents with high PFRs, it’s important to realize that the PFR statistic will be an average number. That is, there will be many players who are playing a VPIP/PFR of 18/16, which seems very tight at first glance, but they still open 30% or more from the Cutoff when it’s folded to them. If you know they play fit or fold post-flop, this can be a great situation for you to three-bet them in a spot you otherwise wouldn’t.
This is why many players three-bet more often in Button vs Cutoff situations, it will generally be correct to widen our three-betting range against opponents with high steal percentages in late position. This gives us the opportunity to take advantage of the opponents who call three-bet’s too lightly and have to end up check-folding too many flops when they miss (for what it’s worth, it’s OK to fold to three-bets sometimes).
On the other hand, it’s important to consider that the early position opening ranges of even the more aggressive opponents will be tighter on average, so our strategy of three-betting with non-nutty hands has the potential to backfire on us and lead us to getting the money in post-flop 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 post-flop.
Constantly be asking yourself questions like:
- Does my hand play better heads-up or multi-way?
- What are the stack sizes of the blinds? Stack sizes of the original raiser?
- What player types are in the blinds? How likely are they to come along if I flat?
- What will my relative position be post-flop?
A solid regular opens pot in the CO with a 35% steal, and I have a hand on the BTN like AsTs8d9d. Normally this would be an easy three-bet in position against someone who is opening a ton in that spot, but a situation where I’d just call is if there’s a loose-passive player in the blinds who will almost certainly come along behind us.
And in this case it’s certainly more profitable to play a single-raised pot in position against a regular and a weak opponent with a hand that can dominate many draws post-flop, as opposed to isolating someone who will play decently versus our range or might even fold pre-flop to a three-bet.
On the other hand, if the positions of the strong and weaker player were reversed, I would definitely three-bet our hand on the Button, in order to isolate the weaker player and push out the regular. Anytime you can get heads-up in position with a weaker player, I strongly prefer erring on the side of aggression rather than passivity.
OK, you’ve made it this far. It might seem like a lot of information, but remember mastery of concepts doesn’t happen overnight. You should aim for steady and stable improvement over time. There is always room for improvement, and fortunately at the beginning every small change in your game can have a huge impact. Now that you have a better idea where, or better said, versus whom we can find opportunities to three-bet more, we can finally talk about the last topic.
Ready to talk about hand selection when considering three-betting? Let’s go.
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 post-flop.
ONE OF THE MOST USEFUL SKILLS TO BECOMING A GREAT 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 three-bet our hand will be based on the factors we’ve previously mentioned and table dynamics.
Today, I want to outline the basic main differences between hands that play well multi-way, and hands that are more suited for heads-up action. This should be useful for many players because hands that play better heads-up are generally played with a three-bet or fold mindset.
Hands that play well multi-way tend to do one thing really well. What I mean by that is that they have:
- high nuttiness potential in at least one of the following ways:
- suitedness, as in suited to the Ace
- connectedness, as in rundowns that can dominate other rundowns
- or high card value, as in being able to hit top set and dominate made hands post-flop
Remember we are talking about hands excluding the top 10%. So marginal Aces and Kings, not double-suited rundowns or double-suited broadway hands, and somewhat disconnected hands suited to the Ace. The principle is the same for these kinds of hands. They don’t flop good equity very often, but when they do, they have so much equity and nut potential you would generally prefer there be as many people in the pot to get value from.
This is a good spot for my last useful NLHE analogy of the day.
Let’s say you pick up 55 on the BTN facing an EP open and a MP call. Three-betting in this situation would be terrible, because you won’t flop a set very often, and when you do, you want as many people to be in the pot since your equity is so high. Think of multi-way hands in PLO the same way.
The same is true if we reverse the principle. Hands that play poorly multi-way will usually play better heads-up.
WHICH HANDS PLAY POORLY MULTI-WAY? WELL, TO BEGIN WITH, HANDS THAT HAVE LOW NUTTINESS! HANDS THAT AREN’T SUITED TO THE ACE OR THAT AREN’T AS CONNECTED THAT THEY DON’T OFTEN DOMINATE OTHER DRAWS IN MULTI-WAY POTS.
This means hands like KQ97ds and QJ98ss are good candidates to three-bet, particularly against someone with a high PFR because our flush draws are much more likely to be live if we manage to get it heads-up. In addition, even though these hands don’t have a raw equity advantage pre-flop, they play pretty well post-flop because of their smooth equity distribution. This makes them good to three-bet against opponents who are loose both pre-flop and post-flop because the pair plus draw combos you flop will more often than not dominate the ranges your opponents are willing to stack off with.
We haven’t talked about three-betting out of position because it’s a very complicated concept, but for today let’s just mention you will want to tighten you three-betting range to mostly premiums and hands with very smooth equity distribution. Since people will not often fold pre-flop, we want to have hands that are either pushing a pre-flop raw equity edge and/or are very playable post-flop and will allow us to c-bet and barrel effectively and profitably out of position.
Let me make more clear with a hand history example:
$1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Hero (SB) $200
Pre-flop ($3, 6 players) Hero is SB J♥T♣9♦7♥
3 folds, BTN raises to $7, Hero raises to $23, 1 fold, BTN calls $16
Flop: 3♠J♠A♥ ($48, 2 players)
Hero bets $41, BTN calls $41
Turn: 2♥ ($130, 2 players)
Hero bets $130, BTN folds
Final pot: $260
Hero wins $257 (net +$63)
BTN lost $64
The villain in this hand wasn’t excessively aggressive but when I looked up his positional stats on my HUD it showed he opened over 50% of buttons through 125 hands.
I’m generally more likely to three-bet good rundowns when out of position instead of big pairs because they provide more barreling opportunities on later streets. They also provide the ability to represent a wider range of hands. Another benefit of three-betting OOP instead of calling is that it allows you to get the pot heads-up by knocking out the big blind and reducing the SPR.
Do you see why it would be more difficult to play post-flop if I had just called instead of three-bet?
It would have been an awkward spot facing two players OOP with so much money left in our stack. Since I three-bet OOP I can represent a set of Aces fairly easily in this spot which results in taking the pot down uncontested more often.
So, not only is there great potential to out flop your opponent, but it also creates bluffing opportunities on Ace-high board textures. On dry board textures you can get away with c-betting smaller since there are fewer combos of hands that have equity against a set or pair of Aces. On wet boards you’ll have to bet bigger to make sure your opponents don’t peel too lightly.
The villain in this hand is in a tough spot on the flop with a draw because if he ships he could be in very bad shape against a set of Aces. Instead he peels here and risks getting barreled off of his equity on the turn. My decision on whether to barrel here depends on what comes on the turn. Picking up a flush draw allows me to semi-bluff more profitably than if I hadn’t picked up the draw.
OK, so the last topic I want to touch on today is three-betting smaller than a pot-sized bet. This can actually be a good strategy versus both nits or maniacs against whom we can expect a four-bet and want to set a preferable stack-to-pot ratio post-flop with our hands with smooth equity distribution.
Here are a couple of hand histories that exemplify this strategy:
$1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Hero (BTN) $330.95
Pre-flop ($3, 6 players) Hero is BTN K♣Q♦T♦3♣
2 folds, CO raises to $6, Hero raises to $16, 1 fold, BB raises to $55, CO folds, Hero calls to $39
Flop: 6♦J♦9♥ ($117, 2 players)
BB bets $117, Hero raises to $234, BB goes all-in $35.65
Turn: 7♦ ($503.65, 2 players, 1 all-in)
River: T♥ ($503.65, 2 players, 1 all-in)
Final Pot: $503.65
Hero shows a flush, King high
BB shows a pair of Aces
Hero wins $499.65 (net +$210.65)
CO lost $6
BB lost $207.65
The villain in this hand was playing an VPIP/PFR of 82/64 and was auto three-betting and four-betting practically anyone that raised him. What I want you to note first is the three-bet sizing. If you plan on three-betting smaller than pot, it should be around 7-8 big blinds.
One of the benefits of three-betting smaller in position against maniacs is that it gives you the same implied odds to win their entire stack but for a cheaper price. Another benefit is if someone wakes up with a hand behind you get a better price on a four-bet. In this case the four-bet size would be the same regardless if it came from the BB or the original opener.
Keep in mind that in similar situations a four-bet out of the blinds will usually turn out to be Aces. Notice how much my opponent was able to c-bet post-flop in comparison to how much he would’ve been able to c-bet had I three-bet the maniac full pot. In the actual hand he four-bet to a little over 27 big blinds, and then c-bet around 59 big blinds. If I had three-bet full pot? He would’ve been able to four-bet to 35 big blinds, and then c-bet to 73 big blinds, resulting in a 14 big blind difference.
Fourteen big blinds over the long run is a lot to add to your win-rate!
Do you see what I mean by getting the same implied odds but for a cheaper price? Most players c-bet full pot on any flop in most cases with 100bb stacks. If they c-bet and you ship on them they can’t fold at this stack depth which results in playing perfectly against their range. If I would’ve bricked out on the flop I would’ve casually folded and moved on to the next hand because of how certain I can be about what my equity is against his range and whether I should continue. By the way, in this hand I was a 66% equity favorite on the flop.
$1/$2 Pot Limit Omaha Hi
Hero (BB) $203
Pre-flop ($3, 6 players) Hero is BB Q♠J♣9♠6♣
UTG calls $2, 3 folds, SB raises to $8, Hero raises to $17, UTG folds, SB raises to $53, Hero calls $36
Flop: 5♦6♦7♠ ($108, 2 players)
BB bets $108, Hero goes all-in $150, SB calls $42
Turn: 7♠ ($408, 2 players, 1 all-in)
River: 8♠ ($408, 2 players, 1 all-in)
Final Pot: $408
Hero shows a flush, Queen high
SB shows a pair of Aces
Hero wins $405 (net +$202)
SB lost $203
UTG lost $2
This hand is similar to the last one except this time we are three-betting smaller in position against a nit instead of a maniac. The villain in this hand was playing a VPIP/PFR of 20/10 through 220 hands and showed no signs of erratic play or getting out of line. Something I have noticed is that when players open over a limper out of the blinds, their range is mostly composed of very good broadways or premium Ace-high type hands. This is player dependent but applies as a rule of thumb against straightforward opponents.
What’s our best plan of action after he raises?
We should three-bet small, but why? First, if we smooth-call we will have poor relative position post-flop with a hand that could potentially result in dominated flush draws post-flop. Also, this multi-component hand is ideal for three-betting small in position against players with four-betting ranges heavily weighted towards Aces.
How can you be so sure that he four-bets here? What do we do if he just calls? That is a good question. Actually, both of the outcomes that result from three-betting small work to our advantage. Similar to the last hand, if he four-bets we get to play perfectly in position. If he only calls then we still get to play a three-bet pot in position with an SPR ~7. This gives us plenty of room to maneuver and play profitably post-flop on a wide range of board textures.
The rest of the hand plays out standard. He four-bets his Aces, which results in an easy call on the flop with a pair, a gut shot, and a backdoor flush draw. Just in case you’re curious, I had 47% equity on the flop.
As our opponent’s tendency to play poorly post-flop increases, we can begin to include a wider three-betting range. Hands like 8♣8♦7♣6♠, 9♥8♦6♦4♥, and A♥K♣7♥7♣ are good examples of hands that play poorly in multi-way single-raised pots, but play well in three-bet pots in position against opponents who play too weak post-flop.
I think that’s a lot of information for today, but there’s still a lot of topics to touch on, like going more in depth on equity distribution, when to three-bet Aces, how to react versus three-bets (hint: folding can be correct sometimes!) and maniacs, how different categories of hands play against a range of PFRs, three-bet sizing, setting up optimal stack-to-pot ratios post-flop, and how to better approach three-betting OOP.
When deciding whether to three-bet or not, approach the situation as a process and take into account the following factors:
- Your opponent’s PFR from that specific position.
- His continuation range versus a three-bet.
- His tendencies post-flop after calling a three-bet.
- Whether you are going to dominate or be dominated.
- Which position you are in and who is behind you.
- The stack sizes of the original raiser and the people behind you.
- Finally, whether your actual hand plays best heads-up or multi-way.
Make sure you practice going through this thought process before mucking your hands and soon enough it’ll become second nature, and you’ll find a lot more opportunities to three-bet profitably that you missed before. Get out there and make it happen!
(Note: Does your hand pass the “3 Bet Test”? Watch this free 5 minute video to discover a quick & easy trick you can use to instantly identify the hands you can 3Bet profitably. Watch it here.)