James “SplitSuit” Sweeney and Doug Hull answer the question, “Has 3-Betting Ruined Poker?” on this episode of the Red Chip Poker podcast. You don’t need to listen long before you hear that the answer is “no.” The “why” is much more interesting. The pair plumb the depths of fear felt by so many amateur and unstudied poker players, and discuss how it can be exploited.
3-Betting Killed Poker?
This episode was inspired by the following e-mail from a podcast listener:
“3-betting literally killed this game. So many players using it, and balancing it, and yadda, yadda, yadda. Game got so tough, it’s not even a game of cards anymore. So at first blush, what are your thoughts on that?” – Graham
SplitSuit doesn’t think 3-betting ruined the game, though he would agree it’s certainly changed the game a bit, and some people might be uncomfortable with that.
There’s a couple different things in the question: (1) Did 3-betting ruin poker? (2) Are people 3-betting correctly, with balance? (3) Is this game really so tough that it’s not even a game of cards anymore?
A Game of Cards
Hull thinks a lot of people come to play “bingo poker”. They want to come in, win hands and win pots. They don’t necessarily achieve maximum profit over the long term. He gives the example of the common amateur poker player lament, “I haven’t won a pot in a while.”
SplitSuit agrees to many people are focused on playing cheap flops and flopping monsters that get paid off. If you’re of that mindset, he says, 3-betting is not going to be very popular with you. That strategy of trying to play “bingo poker” is not a winning strategy in general. Hull agrees 3-betting irritates many players, from recreational players to regulars. He talks about clearing out an entire game at Ceasar’s by applying aggression to their “bingo” mentality.
Bingo Poker vs. Aggressive Player
The presumption is that you’re playing poker to win money. But Hull points out, most of the people at the table are there to hang out, tip the waitress, flop sets and win pots. So the question becomes, “Why don’t these people 3-bet?”
Hull thinks they don’t have enough reasons to 3-bet. Hull says the basic reason is for value, but beyond that, average Joe and Jane regs are only 3-betting with value hands. They get in the “nit trap” because they often raise transparently with great hands, eliciting folds. Then they adjust by slow playing their big hands pre-flop, instead of raising more of the weaker parts of their range to maximize profit from the respect they’re getting.
SplitSuit agrees. He sees these players adjust, but in the wrong ways. They can come to understand the aggressive 3-bettor doesn’t have aces every time, but they don’t necessarily have anything in the way of counterstrategies.
Nits 3-Betting the Nuts Only
Hull and SplitSuit agree, most players at $1/$2 and $2/$5 are almost always 3-betting the strongest part of their range. They are not playing balanced poker.
They discuss a hand they played in New Orleans where they both got into a battle and Hull shove 4-bet 99 pre-flop because he thought SplitSuit’s 3-betting range was wide and aggressive. The vast majority of players don’t make this adjustment, and their 3-bets are fairly transparent.
The weak players often take a stand versus your aggression, but their problem is, they don’t have the post-flop skills to play small-to-medium SPR pots.
The real adjustment players who hate 3-betting should be making? 3-bet more. Consider it exposure therapy. Face the pressure. Learn how other players make your life hell by making your opponent’s life hell. Don’t be scared of 3-betting, even from the blinds.
People who hate 3-betting compound their hate by often complaining and giving off tons of tells that they are unhappy with your aggression, giving you carte blanche to 3-bet wide.
Hull references SplitSuit’s “Eliminate the Second-Best Player” article in recounting a recent game where he used 3-betting to maintain table captain status and maximize his profit at a soft table. Removing the second-best player by 3-betting them ruthlessly will give you so many more pots to steal and bluff at, as well as connect with.
[Fill in the Blank] Has Killed Poker
SplitSuit says this is not the first time he’s heard a complaint about 3-betting killing the game. And in fact, one can replace 3-betting with anything: overbetting, double barreling, triple barreling, large pre-flop raise sizes, etc.
The sky is not falling. Has any strategic change in poker ever killed the game? SplitSuit and Hull agree: “No.”
The game will change. It will mature. Different strategies will become more and less popular over time. Strategies changes as top players adjust to exploit the patterns of the lesser players, and the variables continue to ebb and flow and change the dynamic of the game.
“There is a meta to any game,” Hull says. “There are strategies that are existing in the player pool. Online has evolved very, very quickly. Over the course of a decade, the strategy went from essentially what you see live, to what is game theory optimal? Live, we’re not much farther than we were 20 years ago. It’s taken a lot longer, we’re not nearly as far along, but the game has shifted a little bit.”
When you’re playing online, SplitSuit says, volume and HUDs conspire to drive the game to mature much faster. Whereas live, there isn’t that kind of volume or statistical data to hasten strategic evolution.