Light Three-Betting in No-Limit Hold'em
The decision to three-bet light often has more to do with your opponent, position, and stack sizes than with the cards you're dealt.
Among the potential benefits to three-betting light is the chance to pick up bigger-than-usual pots preflop without a fight. There will also be times when an opponent who calls your three-bet misses the flop and folds to your c-bet, enabling you to collect an even bigger pot without having to make a hand.
Once upon a time a preflop three-bet -- that is, a reraise over an opening raise -- was an unmistakable signal of strength in no-limit hold'em. When it came to preflop play, the vast majority of players refused to consider reraising unless they'd been dealt a hand from the tippy-top of their range. Now "light" three-betting has become a favored move in NLHE, with players at all stakes often making that reraise with a much wider range of possible hands.
The shift in strategy is relatively recent, largely a post-"boom" development that accompanied the explosion in popularity of the online game. There were those ahead of the curve, of course, aggressive players who were able to exploit a pool of tighter players by opening their three-betting range before the flop. But now that strategy has become popular among an ever-widening group of players, even among those at the lower limits.
Among the potential benefits to three-betting light is the chance to pick up bigger-than-usual pots preflop without a fight, capturing blinds (and antes, if there are any) as well as that initial raise. There are also times when the raiser calls your reraise, enabling you to keep the initiative after the flop, and when he folds to your continuation bet you've collected an even bigger pot without having to make a hand.
A light three-bet can additionally create a lot of confusion in opponents regarding what kind of player you are, especially in those instances when a hand goes to showdown. Win or lose, revealing to the table that you've reraised before the flop with something less than a premium hand automatically gives your opponents something out-of-the-ordinary to consider as they try to size you up going forward. Playing off this image -- e.g., tightening up and only playing big hands aggressively thereafter -- can subsequently result in a big payoff from doubting Thomases.
That said, the decision to make a light three-bet should be carefully considered. Aside from your own comfort level when making this sort of play, there are at least three other factors you'll want to consider before reraising light.
1. Your opponent. Probably the most important factor to consider before reraising with a marginal hand preflop the playing style of your opponent. Usually you're making the play in the hopes of getting a fold either preflop or on the flop, something that is only going to work if you're up against a player capable of making such folds. Tighter opponents are going to better targets for light three-bets, but be careful not to get involved with a super-nit who only makes initial raises with monsters and thus isn't likely to let go.
2. Position. The light three-bet is always going to be preferable in situations where you'll have position on the raiser post-flop. This fact alone may sometimes encourage the preflop raiser to fold to your three-bet, and if not you'll still have both initiative and position once the first three community cards arrive, thus increasing the likelihood of picking up the pot at that point. A light three-bet from the blinds can be beneficial occasionally against obvious steal attempts from late position, discouraging players from picking on your blinds going forward. But don't get too carried away with such blind defenses -- especially in cash games -- since you're really just making the pot bigger with a so-so hand and playing out of position.
3. Stack sizes. The light three-bet preflop is of little value in short-stacked games since in many cases you're committing too great of a percentage of your stack before the flop to allow for much room for maneuvering should your opponent do anything but fold. Medium-to-deep stacked games are better for trying light three-bets, although be aware that the deeper the stacks the more likely players will call and stick around for flops -- or perhaps even come back with four-bets (including "light" ones with less than premium holdings).
Speaking of the four-bet, one other principle worth keeping in mind with regard to the light three-bet is that you have to be willing to let go of the hand in the face of an obviously strong opponent playing back at you.
Say a timid type opens from the hijack seat and you decide to reraise with Qd-6d with thoughts of taking it down either right there or on the flop. But when it folds back around your opponent reraises right back. Don't be stubborn. Let it go and look for another spot. In fact, some benefit can be had by simply showing you are capable of three-betting and then folding insofar as players see you aren't always three-betting with monsters and might play back at you later (when they shouldn't).
In any case, the light three-bet is a play that can be of great benefit both immediately and later in the way it affects one's image. However, be sure to keep all of these factors in mind before trying it. In other words, the decision to make a light three-bet shouldn't itself be made lightly.
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