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A guide to 3-betting from the Small Blind in poker MTTs

A guide to 3-betting from the Small Blind in poker MTTs

The small blind is arguably the hardest position to play from in No Limit Hold’em multi-table tournaments (MTTs). 

First off, you’re guaranteed to be out of position post-flop, regardless of whether the hand is heads-up or multi-way, so you always have to take that into consideration.

Secondly, by calling an open from the small blind you give the player in the big blind a great opportunity to come along, making the pot multi-way. You also present them with an attractive squeeze spot and there aren’t too many hands in your small blind calling range that you’re going to want to continue with versus a 3-bet.

So what can you do to counter these negatives? You can 3-bet yourself, of course, and you don’t always need a premium hand to do it.

BBZ & Apestyles

Hand #1

In the two-part video series from Jordan “bigbluffzinc” Drummond (aka BBZ) and Jonathan “apestyles” Van Fleet, the two crushers analyse a $1,050 buy-in Super Tuesday event which BBZ won for around $30,000.

With 191 minutes in total of world-class analysis, it’s no surprise to learn that both volumes of ‘BBZ & Apestyles’ contain a wide variety of scenarios covering all positions, both in terms of seats at the table and stages of the tournament.

What we’re going to look at today are the times that BBZ elected to 3-bet from the small blind, as well as a hand in which he could have, but chose to call instead.

In the first example, the table is six-handed and it folds to the button who opens to 2.2 big blinds from a 42-big-blind stack. BBZ has jq in the small blind and goes for it, 3-betting to 9.5 big blinds off 78 big blinds. The big blind folds and the opener quickly does the same.

Now, the first thing you’ll notice is that BBZ went for a 4.3x sizing. 3-betting from the small blind often requires a larger sizing than a regular 3-bet (in position, this would be somewhere around three times the open size) due to being out of position.

Of course, your 3-bet size will depend on a few very important things: your hand, your range, and your stack size.

“Deep-stacked, I think jq is definitely a 3-bet [versus a button open],” says Apestyles. “Shallow, I still think it’s a 3-bet, but it’s a little closer.”

Apestyles goes on to explain how ranges in general change here based on stack size.

“In my opinion, the difference between a 100-big-blind range here and a 40-big-blind range is that with 40 bigs we’re going to be a little more polarized because we don’t want to 3-bet fold hands which are very strong.”

In this spot, BBZ has ~70 big blinds–a stack depth betwixt those two examples–and one that BBZ thinks makes the jq specifically even more of a 3-bet.

“I think it’s less of a 3-bet when you’re deeper because with shorter stacks we do 3-bet more polarized,” he says.

Apestyles points out that k10-suited and a10-offsuit are examples of hands he wouldn’t 3-bet at 40 big blinds effective, as they’re too strong and play well post-flop. But he would consider shoving them.

However, BBZ says he will often 3-bet with a10-offsuit from the small blind from this stack depth, showing that the two beasts have different styles.

High stakes poker players aren’t robots, folks.

Key points:

  • Opt for a larger sizing when 3-betting out of position
  • Consider your stack size – are you happy to 3-bet fold?
  • Consider your range – does your bet size make you polarized?

TIP: If you’re unsure of how to construct ranges for yourself and your opponents, check out our Breakdown of poker hand ranges article.

Hand #2

The second situation in which BBZ finds himself facing an open from the small blind is far simpler for the two to analyse.

This time the player on the button opens to 2.04 big blinds off 52 big blinds. BBZ has 30 bigs in the small blind and shoves with 66.

“This is just a shove,” says Apestyles. “But a lot of people think it isn’t.”

“Yeah,” BBZ agrees. “A lot of people are really uncomfortable with these deep jams, which is great because they overfold when you do it.”

The reason for shoving is that the player on the button will be opening an incredibly wide range in this position, particularly with two shorter stacks in the blinds.

What other hands might you shove in this spot? Well, certainly other pocket pairs. But also hands like aq-offsuit (“I had a student who told me how bad it was that I shoved 40 big blinds from the small blind against the button with aq-offsuit, and that was in a PKO!” Apestyles adds.)

So, why are people uncomfortable facing deep shoves?

“Everyone wants to chip up without showdown,” says Apestyles.

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” adds BBZ. “And if he folds it’s great!”

Unfortunately for BBZ, it wasn’t the opener he had to worry about in this hand. The player in the big blind woke up with pocket aces and four-bet shoved for 24 big blinds, after which the button folded.

Hand #3

Now let’s look at a small-blind spot in which BBZ could have 3-bet but instead opted to call.

The villain min-opens under the gun off a 33-big-blind stack and BBZ looks down at kj in the small blind. In this instance, he elects to call with his 68-big-blind stack, but there’s also some merit to 3-betting, as the two discuss.

“I think kj can go into my 3-bet fold category,” says BBZ. “I wouldn’t mind [doing that with this hand] and then folding to a 4-bet versus a player who’s a little bit looser. I’m OK with that. But it’s harder to 3-bet when he min-raises. I’ll mix the call in more when he’s min-raising rather than opening 2.2x.”

Apestyles agrees. “This hand plays well in a call pot and obviously we don’t like to fold.”

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When you do elect to flat from the small blind, you’re now giving the big blind a great price to peel. That’s exactly what the big blind does and it goes three-ways to a flop.

It comes kja, giving BBZ bottom two pair. It’s checked to the original raiser and they continue for 2.6 big blinds into the pot of seven big blinds (around 38%).

BBZ can clearly call or raise in this position. “I think my raising range is going to be really narrow here. q10 is a hand which can raise, but it will also call too. My hand can conceivably check-raise, but I don’t think this situation calls for it.”

“Yeah, I think there are so many combos which can beat you,” says Apestyles. “Typically this hand is also in my call range. I just think most players see two pair and raise.”

He makes the call and the big blind lets it go. The turn is then the 4, essentially a brick on this board texture.

BBZ checks again and the villain continues betting, this time for five big blinds into 12.2. BBZ doesn’t think he’d be doing this with hands like a8, a9, even a10.

As the villain bet the flop multiway and then double-barrelled, if BBZ was putting him on a top-pair hand, he’d specifically be locking him to aq.

However, the villain’s HUD stats paint a different picture. Apestyles notices the player had a 48% Raise First In (RFI) across 33 hands and a 67% RFI from early position (10 out of 15 hands). Based on those numbers, Apestyles can make some informed assumptions.

“I’d think this is a player who overvalues aX,” he says, so there definitely would be an argument to raising the turn. “But I think the standard here is to check call.”

The river is a nasty-looking a, counterfeiting BBZ’s hand if the villain does have an ace. When checked to, the villain 11.10 bigs into 22.20, exactly half pot, and BBZ lets it go.

“Does that mean that the only hand we can call with is ax?” asks Apestyles.

“Well, I’ll answer that in a couple of ways,” BBZ replies. “First, his bet size requires me to defend 67% of my range, so I don’t do that much folding. That being said, I don’t call on the flop and again on the turn with much kx or jx. So I’m going to have an ace a lot.

“Second, to call the river with this hand, I’d really need to have the conviction that the villain is double barrelling q8-suited, pocket deuces, pocket threes, pocket fives or something. But I don’t believe he has enough air.”

By betting half pot on the river, the villain needs to win the pot one in three times. According to GTO, that means BBZ must be calling two out of three times. “So in order for us to bluff catch with hands other than ax, we would have to think the villain is bluffing more, but this is a field in which we can assume that most players are under bluffing. So I totally agree with your thought process.”

In hindsight, there are some interesting things in this hand which go right back to the pre-flop decision. Had BBZ noticed the villain’s high early position open stats, it might have made a small-blind 3-bet more attractive.

Then again, by calling and keeping his range wide, he was able to put himself in a great spot to win a big pot had that pesky ace not hit the river.

Key points:

  • Keep track of your opponents’ tendencies
  • Study GTO range strategies so you can exploit correctly
  • Understand the price you’re getting and how often you need to call

TIP: If you’re unsure of how to convert your pot odds into equity, check out this article.

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