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Talking Poker: Three-Betting

Phil Ivey and Paul Jackson

Welcome back to the Talking Poker series in which we highlight a particular poker term, giving you a clear, to-the-point definition and an example of the strategic concept to which it refers. Today we discuss “three-betting.”


A “three-bet” is a term commonly used to refer to an initial reraise before the flop. The term has its origins in fixed-limit games where the first raise is worth two bets, then a reraise is equal to three bets. Similarly in no-limit games the big blind is the first (forced) bet, the first raise is the second bet, and the first reraise is called a “three-bet.”

After that, the next reraise is called a “four-bet” and so on. Thus when someone is described as “five-bet shoving all in,” it is understood that the final all-in reraise came following a series of raises back and forth.

The term “three-bet” can also be used with reference to postflop betting, though again refers to the third bet made — i.e., the first reraise in a bet-raise-reraise sequence. So, too, can players speak of “four-betting” (and so on) after the flop, although more often than not the terms are used to describe preflop action.


Player A on the button opens with a raise, then Player B in the big blind defends by calling. The flop comes {q-Diamonds}{j-Clubs}{8-Clubs}, and Player B leads out with a bet. Player A raises, then Player B reraises or three-bets.

Strategic Considerations

Years ago, before the poker “boom” and the significant shifts in strategy that followed, a no-limit hold’em player making a three-bet or reraise before the flop could be counted on to be signaling a fairly narrow range of possible starting hands, all very strong. In fact for a significant category of players, a preflop three-bet could be reasonably read as suggesting the player likely held {a-}{a-}, {k-}{k-}, {q-}{q-}, or {a-}{k-} and perhaps {a-}{q-} and {j-}{j-}, though nothing worse.

Such is no longer the case thanks to the growing popularity of aggressive preflop maneuvering, where even players who four- and five-bet can be doing so with less than premium hands. The old saying “the fourth raise means aces” — referring to what would today be called a “five-bet” — no longer holds as a safe generalization, although it does readily apply to a number of players who aren’t capable of making a five-bet with less.

That said, it is often the case in many lower-stakes cash games don’t, in fact, feature a lot of preflop three-betting, which means the move is still (frequently) going to be a sign of strength. Building pots before the flop with strong starting hands (like aces, kings, queens, and ace-king) is desirable, and so three-betting with such hands after someone has raised is recommended.

Tournaments are different, of course, especially when differing stack sizes might encourage a big stack to pressure a smaller one with a “light three-bet” or reraise with a lesser-strength or speculative hand. And sometimes in cash games players with position or with an idea they can push a preflop raiser off a hand either before or after the flop by making a show of strength with a preflop three-bet will reraise with a wider range of hands, too.

Even so, on its surface a three-bet — whether before or after the flop — represents a strong holding, and so from there you must determine the chances a player might be representing something other than what he or she actually has when proceeding.

Watch and Learn

In an installment of “Ivey Stories,” PokerNews spoke with the U.K. pro Paul Jackson about a famous televised hand he played against Phil Ivey a decade ago when the pair were heads-up at the Monte Carlo Millions.

With the blinds 10,000/20,000 and Ivey enjoying a big lead versus Jackson with about 4 million to Jackson’s 1 million. Jackson limped in from the button with {6-Spades}{5-Diamonds}, Ivey checked with {q-Hearts}{8-Hearts}, and the two watched the flop come {7-Clubs}{j-Clubs}{j-Hearts}.

Ivey led with a bet of 80,000 (a bluff), and Jackson raised to 170,000 (also a bluff). Ivey hesitated, then pushed back with a three-bet to 320,000.

Neither player had a piece of the flop, but both were continuing with their aggression as Jackson four-bet to 470,000 total. Ivey paused again, asked what Jackson had left, then after about a minute said he was all in (a “six-bet shove”), finally earning a fold from Jackson. (Ivey went on to win.)

Watch and listen to Jackson talk about that hand, including his reference to the fact that “at that time, because it was so long ago, it wasn’t called three-betting and four-betting” — an allusion to the fact that those terms have only recently come into vogue in no-limit hold’em.

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  • This week's "Talking Poker" discusses "three-betting" and associated strategy while looking back at a famous, bluff-filled Phil Ivey-Paul Jackson TV hand.

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