3-bet light or call?

Recently, I have joined the donks league, which has much stronger play than pretty much any other tournaments on this site, which has caused me to make adjustments in my strategy, one I have been wondering recently is if against a raise I should be 3-betting light or calling with marginal hands. Donks players have all sorts of raising ranges, some open around 25% of hands or even more when it folds to them in the late position or SB while others never raise. Against those that do raise more than 10-15% of hands I have been wondering what to do with my marginal hands (Meaning 3bet or call against their raise). In position there are pros and cons to both. If I call in position, I allow the pot to have a higher SPR (Stack-to-pot ratio), and with a higher SPR, positional advantage becomes more important, however, I give the raiser the opportunity to c-bet with his entire range forcing me to fold a good amount of the time or making me in tough spots on many turns. The other option is to 3bet somewhat light, which gives me the advantage of being the pre-flop aggressor, while protecting my premium hands that I am 3betting. A lot of the time my opponents will be forced to check fold since a 3better typically has a premium range, the con is that the SPR will typically be low, which decreases my positional advantage.

Out of position I am just as confused. In the blinds I am getting a discount price on raises which could make me want to call, however I will be OOP without being the preflop aggressor which seems -EV in a lot of scenarios. The other option is to 3bet, which once again protects my premium 3bet for value range and lets me take down these pots preflop which can help since I have positional disadvantage from the blinds, however if they call my 3bets often out of the blinds, I will be OOP in a large pot which is not good either.

One more advantage to 3betting is that almost every time I will be heads up, which is good since multiway pots can be hard to navigate. I understand that I probably should be 3betting with hands that have blocker value like some Ax hands and calling with implied odds hands like low pocket pairs and suited connecters, but hands like KJs I am not sure. What do you guys think?

Out of position, I’m a little more inclined to 3 bet or fold, but that just means that my calling range collapses somewhat. This is more true shallow stacked than deep stacked, as deep stacked, especially if I’m last to act to the raise, small pairs, Ax suited and suited connectors might be playable (it’s nice to have stacks behind 25 to 30 times the raise I’m calling).

Both in position and out of position, I want to decide on a what range I want to 3 bet, flat, or fold. To do that, I’ll start by trying to guess the size of the raising range. You suggested 10% to 15%, and so let’s go with 12.5%, which might look something like this (though of course it will vary a lot from player to player, even with the same percentage):

My main advice, relative to most of the play I’ve seen on this site: 3 bet more. You have many possible types of 3 betting ranges: strictly linear, using the best hands only; a merged range, were you have stronger hands and some more “bluffy” hands, but all have decent value; and a polarized range of both strong and trash hands. If you haven’t done a lot of 3 betting, I’d generally start with one of the first two, although if you want to protect a broader checking range, the 3rd option is probably the most suitable (but is usually the hardest to balance).

A straight linear range might look something like this:

A merged and more aggressive range:

A polarized range:

If you took the 3rd option, then some possible flatting hands (though in general I wouldn’t pick all of these, especially only 100BB deep).

Again, if you don’t 3 bet a lot, I’d start with the first option, gradually expanding your 3 betting range, and when you get comfortable with that you can try the other two.

Edit: oh, you had also asked specifically about KJ suited. I’ve placed it in the possible calling range above, but I think it can be played in a merged 3! range some of the time both IP and OOP, though as the big blind, I’d probably mostly include it in my calling range. Note though that KJs only has 43% equity against the full 12.5% range that I picked, and realizing that equity out of position will be harder than in position. Still, it seems like a sensible defend to me.

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Oh, one more thing perhaps of interest: the equity of the three 3 betting ranges against the original 12.5% raising range:

  • linear (range size: 5.28%): 60.2%
  • merged (6.03%): 55.8%
  • polarized (5%): 52.3%

I think it depends on how you define “light.” I wouldn’t call a 5% or 6% range light, especially in a tournament environment.

If you don’t have anything invested in the pot (not one of the blinds, no ante) there’s nothing wrong with folding marginal hands, especially when OOP with hands that don’t play well post flop.

If CO or the button raises my BB a lot, I defend wider, usually with a 3! instead of a call. Adding fold equity to my actual equity gives me enough of an edge to make this worth while.

The “life or death” aspect ot tournament poker makes me less likely to want to get into marginal situations after the first few blind levels. Early on, I accept the higher variance because I have less time invested and the average skill level is at its lowest.

Mid tourney on, I play to lower variance and stay above the average stack. I open up when below average stack and tighten up a little when above it, except in special cases.


I should add that one can’t really change variance, it is what it is. When I say “play to lower variance,” I mean play to minimize the effect of normal variance.

The way I see it, big bet poker produces much larger swings, while small ball type betting keeps things on a more even keel. I say one increases variance and the other reduces it, but this isn’t technically correct.

I adjust my sizings, 3! frequencies, and to some extent, ranges to keep myself above the average stack. Why?

Well, the average skill level keeps going up, as does the average stack. If you get behind, it gets harder and harder to get back on track. If you stay above the average stack the entire tournament, you would win every time.


What do you consider a “marginal” hand? If a “loose” late position opening range is 25% of hands, there will be very little room to 3! light. that is a really nitty late position RFI range. At 30bb+, a modest CO RFI range is ~35% once antes are in play.

SPG had a key point here - fold equity. Before making a decision, you have to estimate the opening range and the % of that range villain will fold facing a 3!. Someone who folds to often to a 3! should be attacked liberally. Someone who never folds preflop once they have decided to invest chips should be attacked with a more value heavy range.

Some other factors to consider:

  1. stack depth - different hands have different values as stacks become shorter. Positional advantages are reduced as stacks get shorter.
  2. players left to act - the fewer players left to act ,the more you can 3! isolate. If you have a bunch of calling stations left, you may be better off calling or folding. Call more if you are guaranteed position and fold more otherwise.
  3. how likely are you to be 4!? If villain will 4! liberally, you can’t screw around as much with them. 3!/folding too often will kill your stack.

If you define variance as the risk of busting out on the current hand, then the definition works. With a skill edge vs some of the players at the table, you can take fewer large risks and increase your stack through the weaker players. The fewer soft spots on the table, the more willing you have to be to take risks and go broke.


That’s a really good question. I think it comes down to your willingness to accept risks. Sometimes it comes down to the necessity of taking risks. “Marginal” is a constantly moving target.

Let’s look at an extreme example that only takes one of the many factors into account…

Your opponent only plays 1 hand in 200, and has never folded to a 3 bet. Against him, everything except aces is marginal, and even aces are probably playing for a chop.

What’s “marginal” against someone literally opening every hand? That’s a lot harder to say, because an “any 2 cards” range includes big hands too.

It’s not an easy question to answer.

If you end up allin (and called) 3 times as a 2-1 favorite, your tournament is over, on average. How big an edge is enough?

So to me, “marginal” is closely related to my willingness to accept varying levels of risk, and that is constantly changing as the situation changes.