AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 02.08.2021 · last updated 02.08.2021

We often hear how poker is all about value. We ‘value bet’ when strong to induce calls and eke out that extra bit of profit, or we try to get favorable odds on draws and so on.

It also applies the other way round – just as much as we should strive to get the most out of our chips, it’s imperative that we deny our opponents a cheap way of staying in the chase. When we have a strong starting hand, for example, it’s a cardinal sin to allow the opposition to come along for the ride by giving them a discounted ticket to see the Flop. Generally, the correct strategy – as is often the case – is to be aggressive.

Let’s say we’re in mid-position, have just been dealt QQ, and while waiting for the action to come round to us we’re thinking about what kind of raise we’re going to make. Then a proverbial spanner is thrown into the works by the player to our right, who opens with a potentially inconvenient pre-flop raise. What should we do here?

Clearly, we’re not going to fold our pocket queens, so it’s a case of calling or 3-betting. While there’s an option (reraising) that convention suggests is the superior one, both deserve serious consideration nevertheless. Compared with 3-betting, the case for just calling requires more situation-specific conditions to justify being the preferred play. For example, if in this scenario we have quite aggressive players still to act who are prone to adopting a ‘squeeze’ strategy, our calling has a good chance of inducing such a reraise, after which we can pounce accordingly. Thusly, as long as our previous observations have garnered sufficient information to be confident enough that a call will have the desired result, calling is a good play.

But note that the ‘desired’ result is someone responding to our calling the initial raise with a reraise. What would not be desirable should one or more players now follow our lead and also call? Before thinking about the consequences, we should consider what the likelihood is of more players calling. Anyone with even the weakest Ax, for example, is going to be tempted by the relatively cheap call, perhaps hoping to hit a well-disguised 2-pair. Then there could be others with hands like small pairs and suited connectors who want a piece of the action. Moreover, it’s important to note that with each successive call there’s increasing value to be had for the next player. If the bet is $10, for instance, then every $10 call bumps up the pot, and the value derived from each new call in turn increases. The result, then, is that by our calling instead of raising we invite a host of opponents to see the Flop quite cheaply. And once we get there, we’re in a multi-way pot, essentially in the dark as to what our opponents are holding and, to make matters worse, at a positional disadvantage. At best this is an uncomfortable spot to be in, and at worst it can lead us into trouble.

In order to avoid or at least reduce the likelihood of this kind of problem, we should stick to our original intention of assuming the role of pre-flop aggressor by answering the opener by 3-betting. This creates a totally different dynamic that sees those players yet to act much less inclined to accompany us to the Flop, the price being too much to justify calling a reraise with the aforementioned hands. Furthermore, it’s no longer offering sufficient value, and this impacts on the play as the action moves around the table, the pot staying at the same level as each player folds – if the potential reward isn’t growing, the incentive and justification in calling a 3-bet with, for example, Ax, simply isn’t there.

Consequently, 3-betting tends to do a good job of isolating the aggressor because it prices out successive opponents still to act who might have derived value from staying in had we called. And this is exactly what we need to be aiming for in this kind of situation – we’re isolating and exerting pressure on the initial raiser. If they were trying it on with a medium-strength holding and fold, we pick up a small pot, which might seem like an opportunity missed with our QQ but is far better than allowing others cheaply into a family pot over which we’d have no control. Meanwhile, if our opponent has a decent but nonetheless weaker hand – especially a lower pair! – we’re in a great spot, particularly given that we have position, too.

To conclude, while there can be factors that point to just calling a pre-flop raise with a hand like QQ, it’s usually important to step up a gear and 3-bet in order to make other players pay through the nose if they want to continue.

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