Defending Your Opens Against 3-Bets

Opening range charts are a dime a dozen. The aspiring player is usually very familiar with the types of hands that should be open-raised from each position on the 6-max table. What is far more confusing is the struggle that follows when those opening ranges are attacked, namely by the obnoxious 3-bet – a raise so disruptive that it often prevents us from seeing the flop. Our purpose here is to define our opening ranges from the five positions on the 6-max table where it is possible to raise as the first player into the pot, but we shall not be stopping there.

We must learn which groups of hands we should fold, call and raise with after we have opened and faced that dreaded re-raise. Colour coding shall be our friend as we learn when and how to defend our opening ranges.

The Model Situation

The recommended strategies to follow are for use in the same model situation. Assume that we have made an open raise from the relevant position and that it has folded round to the big blind, who has elected to 3-bet. This 3-bet is of a healthy size – around three times a 3BB open or a little larger if our open happened to be smaller than this. We shall be defining how our opening range from the position in question handles this 3-bet. Of course, being in position will help us flat more comfortably, and if out of position we might have to tighten the recommended flatting ranges slightly and look to open a tighter range in the first place wherever we are likely to get bombarded with 3-bets by an in position opponent.

A Rough Strategy

There are some hands that we shall fold to the 3-bet. After all, a balanced strategy dictates that we should not always defend. If we did, Villain would be able to make far too much money with his strong hands. Similarly, we cannot fold too much, or we make a bluff too profitable an idea for Villain.

We need to 4-bet our very best hands for value, building a large pot while our equity advantage is very high. Wherever there is a value bet, there is a bluff and so we shall use hands that are slightly too weak to call as 4-bet bluffs. This will allow us to defend more hands than we could by only calling or 4-betting for value. In order to make our opponents indifferent to bluffing us and to find an equilibrium against 3-betting, we shall look to protect 45% of our opening ranges in some way. By folding the other 55%, we give Villain some fold equity, but not enough to exploit us.

When it comes to balancing our 4-bets, we may bluff slightly more than we value-raise. This is due to the fantastic strength of our value hands, the playability and blocker value of our bluffs, and the fact that Villain will need a lot of fold equity to shove over our 4-bets lightly with 100BB stacks, provided that we keep our 4-bet between 2x and 2.5x the size of the 3-bet. We can 4-bet and fold 60% of the time to a 5-bet shove without allowing Villain to profit from 5-betting as a bluff. This allows a bluff to value ratio of roughly 1.5 to 1.

A Disclaimer

The following ranges are for use against an aware and aggressive regular, who knows how to apply restrained pressure with 3-bets. There will always be those opponents who are too tight, and against them, we must fold more than the 55% benchmark. On the contrary, there will be those who take the idea of a light 3-bet too far. Against maniacal 3-bet machines, we should fold less than the recommended frequency. The following ranges are nothing but a default guide to protect us against unknown or competent Villains. It is the player’s job to deviate as he or she sees fit if the opposition does not fit this description.

Also note that the opening ranges listed below are slightly on the conservative side. As your skill advantage grows, it will become feasible to widen these slightly and then defend more hands to 3-bets as a direct result.

Colour Coding


This is the first seat to act on the 6-max table and is always three away from the button. If the table is five handed, then no one is UTG – the position does not exist. Ensure that you are clear on this and do not adopt the following strategy every time you are first to act. Make sure that the table is 6-handed first.

Our strategy here is naturally very tight. With five players still to act, we must be very selective with respect to the hands we open. As our range is already tight to begin with, and then becomes filtered again when we face the 3-bet, we end up defending a very strong range. Our primary reasons for opening are for value and to thin the field.

We are careful to 4-bet only the very best hands for value as doing so will result in stacking off for 100 big blinds pre-flop in a climate where ranges and perceived ranges are tight. We call hands that are in good but not fantastic shape against the average 3-bet and don’t expect to make too much money by doing so. We 4-bet bluff the best of what’s left, favouring blockers. Holding an ace and a queen reduces our opponent’s nutted combinations and maximizes our fold equity against his 3-betting range.

In reality, a microstakes population may be very tight with respect to their 3-betting against this position. As a result, folding more than advised below could be an optimal default adjustment for smaller stakes games.


HJ stands for Hi-Jack and is the seat to the left of UTG and two before the button. On a five handed table, the first player to act is the HJ, and on a four handed table, this position does not exist.

Our strategy here is wider and we open some hands that can be classed as semi-steals. These wider opens are not purely for value or field thinning, but rely on sometimes taking down the blinds to be profitable. As we also expect the players ahead to give our range a bit less credit and call wider, we can expect to perform better with some weaker hands after the flop.

Against a 3-bet, we still end up quite filtered and continue a tight range. As we move around the table we are more likely to have our opens attacked. The aspiring player should be very aware that, in reality, it might be prudent to fold to a 3-bet more than advised here. Microstakes Villains do not attack opens from the first two seats as much as they should.


CO stands for Cut-Off. This seat is aptly named because in this position we are in the cut-off between the two last seats, where ranges become very wide, and the two earlier positions, where they are relatively tight. Unsurprisingly, CO opening ranges are medium in width and contain a lot more hands that rely on pre-flop fold equity to be +EV opens. Our sizing will decrease in this seat to 2.5BB unless we are targeting a calling station in the blinds.

We now expect to get 3-bet quite frequently even in lower stakes games. Consequently, there is no need to play a 10NL game any tighter than the range below suggests. We flat a 3-bet with far more hands than in earlier position and use our positional advantage to gain EV post-flop even with some more marginal holdings. We are now happier widening up our 4-bet/call range a little.


Now we start to have some real fun, but a wide opening range encourages aggression from the blinds and demands a wide defence range against 3-bets. As you will see below, we flat a very wide range in position to a 3-bet and end up 4-bet bluffing some very marginal hands due to this expansion in our calling range. Although ranges have widened, it is not necessarily a good idea to get all-in with hands like JJ, TT, and AQs. Instead, we choose to call these holdings to a 3-bet so that we may play them against Villain’s full 3-bet range, rather than isolating his more nutted hands by 4-betting.


And finally the heads-up battle position on the table. The upside: there is just one foe to fold out in order to grab the blinds. The downside: that foe has position on us and is therefore incentivized to defend to steals with a wider range and 3-bet us with impunity if we step too far out of line.

As this is a less advantageous steal position than the BU, we open a slightly tighter range. This is a necessary adjustment to the fact that we are, for the first time in this guide, out of position. If we were to open as wide as we did on the BU, we’d soon find ourselves with an unsolvable dilemma. In order to hit our 45% defence target, we would have to make some very speculative calls from out of position or fold more than is optimal to a 3-bet, and this only encourages punishment. The solution is to open tight enough in the first place that there are not too many combinations to handle.

Next time you open the pot, I hope that you have an idea as to how you will react to a 3-bet from a normal regular in your games. Preparation is key to success, but once again, do not be afraid to tweak these strategies as you gain information on your opponents.