Learn The Fundamentals Of This “Life Or Death Preflop Skill” You Must Master If You Want To Survive And Thrive In PLO
Three-betting is one of the most important skills to master pre-flop, yet I’ve found that many beginning players don’t understand how to do it.
Often good players and coaches describe three betting in position as one of the most powerful tools at your disposal in PLO, but there seems to be a disconnect in regards to widening a three betting range beyond the premium pairs and rundowns.
The Optimal Decision Making Process
Before we begin breaking down a three betting strategy, it’s critical to focus on the OPTIMAL DECISION MAKING PROCESS.
As you may know, I used to be primarily a live player, and while you won’t find me making a ton of live/online or even PLO/NLHE comparisons…
…I think it’s worth adding a few analogies into our discussion based on most players understanding of ‘correct’ NLHE play.
One of the first things to notice in live play is, 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.
Now, before you insta-muck AsKd8h4s, or auto three bet QhJhTd9d, take a moment to consider all of the options available to you.
If you have ever spent time surfing the PLO forums, you’ve surely seen the player who asks the open ended question, “I want to increase my three bet percentage because it’s only 2.5 at the moment, what types of hands can I three bet besides premium rundowns and big pairs?”.
Think “Who” to Three Bet Before “Which” Hands to Three Bet
A glaring mistake I see so many PLO players make is focusing solely on which hands to three bet,
when in reality, you need to focus on who you can three bet profitably.
…so before we get into specific hand categories and what to do with them,
I think our time is BEST spent considering the factors extrinsic to your hand.
I heard Vanessa Selbst say something in a video a long time ago that really stuck with me,
“one of the biggest improvements you can make in your game starts with thinking about your opponents range before you think about your cards.”
When you can learn to do this habitually, your win rate will increase dramatically.
Two KEY Considerations Before You Pull The Trigger
Although there are many factors that determine whether or not we want to three bet in any given spot, the two KEY factors to consider are…
your opponent’s PFR and his play in three bet pots, or more specifically, how he reacts to a continuation bet in three bet pots.
The ideal situation for a three bet occurs when you have a player on your right who opens too much and plays fit or fold post flop.
…against these type of players, you want to consider making a three bet with hands that are capable of gaining equity on a broad range of flops.
This is particularly the case when you get closer to the button, where an aggressive player will be opening 40-50% of hands on a regular basis.
The Truth About Domination and Pot Limit Omaha
You are probably familiar with the concept of domination theory in NLHE, but when it comes to PLO…How can you use it to your advantage?
Look, in NLHE, the goal of pre-flop play is to dominate your opponents without letting them dominate you.
You accomplish this 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 likely you’ll be dominated in terms of equity post flop as well.
…in PLO, you want to think about domination as it applies to post flop dynamics rather than pre-flop play. Everybody knows preflop equities in PLO run very close to each other, eliminating the option of preflop domination.
This is why we must DOMINATE our opponents postflop instead.
You dominate your opponents postflop in PLO by playing hands that flop a piece of equity more frequently, while also gaining equity on future streets, and blocking their equity as well.
Check out this analogy…
You’re playing NLHE, facing an opponent with an 8% PFR.
You can see why it’s atrocious to three bet this player with a hand like AJo, especially when he opens from early position.
Now, if his PFR changes to 35%, you quickly realize that your hand now dominates a significant part of their opening range.
Okay…now, imagine that your opponent’s opening range is the same as their three bet calling range,
…how would you adjust your play?
The best adjustment is to widen your “value three betting range”, because he’s never folding and the majority of his three bet calling range is dominated by our three betting range.
It’s All About The Continuing Range
What I want you to notice is the correlation between someones opening range and their three bet calling range.
In any form of hold ’em poker, it’s not about what your opponent’s opening range is, but MORE importantly…what their continuing range is.
If someone has a PFR of 25%, but they only continue with 5% of those hands, then bluff three betting them will be insanely profitable.
…likewise, if their PFR is 25 and they’re calling 23% of three bets, then widening your value three betting range will be insanely profitable.
If you’ve played any reasonable amount of PLO at the lower stakes,
…you’ve likely noticed that people simply don’t fold to three bets nearly as much as they should…so how should we adjust?
Although there isn’t a program like PokerStove available for analyzing PLO starting hand combinations yet, we can use propokertools to make generalizations about the overall strength and playability of our opponents starting hands based on their PFR.
…a player with a PFR of 10 has an opening range heavily weighted towards high cards, pairs, suits, and connected cards.
In addition, the majority of these holdings will be either single suited or double suited.
These are the WORST players to widen your three betting range against, because you will rarely dominate them post-flop, and you’ll often find yourself getting four bet by hands that are greater than yours.
Against these types of opponents, you only want to three bet premium hands for the purpose of pushing an immediate equity advantage for value, and also of course because of their coverage on a high percentage of flops.
***Now, let’s change our opponent’s PFR to 20, what changes?
The odds of them holding a suited or double suited hand drops 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 four bet, and many times will have to either fold to your three bet, check/fold flops they missed, or get the money in post flop with dominated draws.
Three Betting For Isolation Vs Three Betting For Value
The overarching theme that I want to get into your head here is, 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 the situation meets both of these requirements, then you have a strong argument for three betting your opponent.
Now, when we’re looking for opponents with high PFR’s, it’s critical not only to look for opponent’s with high average PFR’s, but ALSO, opponents who are opening a lot in specific situations.
Take a look at this example.
…your opponent is playing a 22/16. He seems TAG’ish at first glance, but in all reality, he probably still opens about 30% of hands in the cut-off when it’s folded to him.
Basically, if you know he plays fit or fold post flop, this can be a GREAT situation for you to three bet them in a spot you otherwise would not.
What About Position?
Now, as you move closer to the button, you can of course begin to widen your three betting range against opponents with a high steal percentage.
…even players with tighter PFR’s will open 25-40% of hands in late position, so three betting Button vs. Cut Off with a wider range of hands will give us the opportunity to exploit
the opponents who call three bets light, and are forced into check/folding too many flops when they miss.
On the other hand,
…it’s important to consider the “under the gun” and “early position” opening ranges of aggressive opponents, because these player types will still be opening UTG
with a tighter range than normal.
As a result, a strategy of three betting less nutty hands actually ends up backfiring because you get the money in post-flop with dominated draws or made hands.
I’ve alluded to this before, but utilizing good observation skills has a marked impact on how profitable your three bets are.
Here’s an example.
I generally do not three bet an UTG opener light, until they prove they’re doing so. If I’ve seen them go to showdown after opening 9753ss UTG, or if they’re opening >30% in early position over a reasonable sample size, then I’m more comfortable isolating them with a wider range of hands.
For now, just realize that players opening ranges (at least the positionally aware ones) vary with position, and the majority of profitable three betting situations arise in CO vs. BTN scenarios.
Who’s Behind You?
Beyond PFR considerations and post-flop tendencies, you want to take note of who else is left to act in the hand.
the key to ALL profitable preflop decision is not thinking about your immediate equity, but rather, considering what the most profitable situations for yourself is postflop.
KEY Questions to Keep In Mind
- Does my hand play better heads-up 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? If I three bet?
- What will my relative position be post-flop?
Take a look at this example.
…say a solid regular with a 35% steal opens pot in the CO, and I have a hand on the BTN like AsTs9d8d.
Normally this is an easy three bet in position against an aggressive opener. Alternatively, a VERY similar situation where I prefer to call instead is if there’s a loose-passive player in the blinds who will almost certainly call if I don’t three bet.
Remember, it’s ALL about dominating your opponents postflop.
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 dominates many draws/re-draws post flop, as opposed to three betting someone who plays well post-flop. Think about it, not only will you get paid less when you hit, he’ll often fold to your three bet.
The worst case scenario here is that you miss the flop and someone else wins the pot,
or of course the fish in the blinds could fold and you end up playing a single raised pot HU in position against the reg.
I’ll take the former over the latter anytime.
On the other hand, if a weaker player opens…instead of the regular, you want to three bet for obvious reasons regardless of how my hand plays postflop.
***Anytime you can get HU in position with a weaker player, error on the side of aggression rather than passivity. (Tweet This)
Hands: Multi-Way or Heads Up?
If you have not heard me loud and clear just yet, let me repeat one more time; PLO is intrinsically a post-flop game. As a result, you MUST constantly think about incorporating a preflop strategy that sets you up to play profitably post-flop.
I can’t give you every single factor involved in analyzing different hand combinations, but it’s very important to mention that one of the KEY SKILLS you need to master if you want to become a successful PLO player is without a doubt,
…clearly understanding the difference 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.
The key distinction that determines whether or not you want to three bet a hand in this spot is based on table dynamics and other factors outside the actual structure of our hand.
…This is the reason why I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
I want to clearly outline the main differences between hands that play well multi-way, and hands that are best suited for heads up action.
…this is the perfect time to go through this because hands that play better heads up are generally played with a three bet or fold approach.
Hands that play well multi-way are usually hands that do one thing really well (in terms of suitedness, connectedness, high card value), in addition to having a high nuttiness potential.
A hand that’s suited to the ace, and weak/medium AA** and KK** hands are good examples of this.
These hands are unlikely to be a winner at showdown if unimproved, and they 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.
Take a look at this example, let’s say you pick up 44 on the BTN facing an early position open and a middle position call.
Three betting 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 you generally have an equity lock when you connect.
***Think of multi-way hands in PLO the same way.
This is pertinent for our discussion because we don’t want to get ourselves into a situation where we three bet a hand that plays much better multi-way than it does heads-up.
Contrastingly, hands that play poorly multi-way will usually play better heads up.
Hands like KQ97ds and QJT8ss that don’t have a raw equity advantage preflop, but play well post-flop are PERFECT candidates to three bet here.
…This is particularly true against someone with a high PFR because our flush draws are much more likely to be live in a heads up pot, rather than in a multi way pot where the odds that the nuts, or something close to it are greatly increased.
In addition, these types of hands are good to three bet against opponents who are loose both preflop and postflop because the pair + draw combos you flop will more often than not, dominate the ranges your opponents are willing to stack off with.
As your opponents tendency to play poorly post-flop increases, you can begin to include a wider three betting range as well. Hands like 8867ss, 9867ds, and AK77ds are good examples of hands that play terribly in multi-way single raised pots, but they play decently in three bet pots in position against opponents who play poorly post-flop.