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StrategySit & Go

Playing Preflop (2): Entering an Opened Pot

Before reading this lesson, you should have previously read through:

By now you should have an idea of how to enter an unopened pot. However, it often happens that someone has already entered the pot before you. This might be by open limping or, more typically, by an open raise. In this lesson, it is assumed such a raise is not an all-in nor is equivalent to one, as such situations will be dealt with separately.

It is important to understand which options are available to you and what the most important factors when approaching a spot like this are. In this lesson, you will learn all that and gain the theoretical foundations for constructing your preflop ranges in opened pots.

Entering a limped pot

When someone limps in before you, and you decide you have a hand worth playing, your first instinct should be to raise (or isolate, as it is called in that context). If there is a single limper, it is almost always better to raise than to over limp.

Even if there is little to no fold equity preflop, in most cases the limper employs a very weak fit-or-fold strategy postflop, which will make your continuation bets auto-profitable enough to make up for the additional investment preflop.

Another gain from raising as opposed to over limping is that you prevent players behind you from raising. They need a stronger hand to 3-bet or call your raise than they would to raise a couple of limpers. Often, they will perceive your range as stronger than it really is, and in effect tighten up too much.

As for the sizing of the raise in this situation, you should use the sizing that you would use to open raise from early position, and add 1 big blind for every limper.

As for what hands to raise a limper with, often any two cards would be good if you disregard the players behind you. In practice, as there is always a chance of someone getting involved, you should raise with hands that have some value if you get called by a player behind you and have some blockers to hands that such a player might 3-bet with – ideally an ace or a king.

Below you can find an example of a range that you could isolate a limper with. Please note that it should be adjusted depending on your position, the position of the limper, your reads on the limper (for example, if the limper is a player who almost never limps, it is very possible that he is trapping and you should raise with a very tight range) and the remaining players.

1. Sample range for isolating a single limper

The situation is different when there are two or more limpers. In such case, your fold equity preflop or on the flop is lower, and you need a stronger hand to compete with two opponents should the hand go to showdown. On the other hand, your implied odds go up, as there are more players in the pot who might pay you off if you hit.

As a consequence, you should raise with a tighter value range, and over limp with mid-strength hands relying on implied odds, such as low pairs and suited connectors/gappers. Below you can find an example of isolating and over limping ranges in such a spot.

2. Sample range for isolating multiple limpers (blue) and over limping (yellow)

Entering a raised pot

You can enter a raised pot in three different ways; reraise small, reraise all-in or flat call. When someone enters a pot with a raise and you decide to just make a small reraise (so that it doesn't commit you to the pot), such a play is called a 3-bet small.

When someone enters a pot with a raise and you decide to go all-in over his raise, such a play is called a repush.

When someone enters a pot with a raise and you decide to just call his bet, even though you could reraise, such a play is called a flat call.

Take a look now at when and how you may use the above options in your game and which factors have an influence on your decisions when it comes to entering a raised pot.

3-betting small

In general, you can make small 3-bets for value (value range) or for bluffs (bluff range).

First, you should identify your value 3-bet hands. Those are the hands that you would be happy to play for all your chips, so in other words, this is your 3-bet/calling range, because your plan is to call if your opponent pushes all-in over your 3-bet. To become a part of this range, a hand must beat your opponent's likely 4-bet range.

To balance your value hands and in order to steal some chips from time to time, you should also bluff 3-bet with a number of hands (so this is your 3-bet/folding range). Depending on your opponents tendencies, you should do this more or less frequently. If your opponent folds a lot to 3-bets, you should 3-bet him frequently. If he doesn't fold much, you should 3-bet bluff just enough to stay balanced and get max value with the top of your range, but not more.

For your 3-bet/folds, you should use the best hands that cannot be profitably 3bet/called, flat called, or repushed. Hands with ace or king blockers should take priority.

It is important to know how to size your non-all-in 3-bets. This sizing should be standard throughout.

In position, your default 3-bet size should be between 2x and 2.5x the original raise size. Out of position, your 3-bet size should be between 2.5x and 3x the original bet.

The reason for such disparity is the following: when out of position, it is important to discourage calls by the original raiser using your bet size, as position makes it easier for him to call and play postflop. On the other hand, when you are in position, this fact itself does a good job of discouraging calls, and you can safely save some chips in order to bluff cheaper, and have deeper stacks for postflop play, which favours the player in position.

In general, you should not 3-bet small if such a bet represents more than 25% of the effective stack. This is because if the effective stack is so small, after 3-betting you are getting the right odds to call off an all-in from the original raiser with your whole range (or most of it). In other words, such sizing commits you to the pot. In such a case you are better off just repushing yourself, or sometimes deciding to fold instead.

To better understand the problem here, take a look at the following example of pot commitment:


In this example, you decide to 3-bet small as a bluff and then you face an all-in bet for 1,700 chips total. Including blinds, there is 2,350 already in the pot. Disregarding risk premium, you need 700/(1,850+700) = ~27% equity to call profitably. With such pot odds, you are forced to call the all-in even if your opponent has a very tight range, like 88+ and AQ+, as against this range your equity is around 27%. This is what is called pot commitment (commitment, being committed, etc.).

In this example, you should then decide between repushing and folding, as you can't profitably 3-bet/fold as a bluff, so you wouldn't be able to balance your 3-bet/calls with 3-bet/folds.

Pot commitment: situation when the pot is big enough in relation to your remaining stack that you have to call (usually an all-in) regardless of the action and your hand.  

The situation occasionally arises where you don't have to call an all-in from the original raiser based on pot odds, but might be forced to do so against one or more short stacked players still to act. In such cases, you don't need to necessarily change your bet sizing, but instead you have to 3-bet with a tighter range, keeping in mind that you could be forced to go to showdown with your hand.

Flat calling and repushing

As you already know, when someone enters a pot with a raise and you have a hand that you want to play with, 3-betting small is not your only option. You may also choose between flat calling and repushing.

In general, don't reraise/fold hands that you can profitably call or repush with.

When 3-bet bluffing, the strength of your hand doesn't matter a whole lot. It is therefore better to do it with slightly weaker hands if by doing so you gain profitable spots for calling or repushing. In effect, you can play profitably with a wider range.

As a result, you should 3bet/call with the top of your range and flat call or repush with the next best group of hands – this will typically include high aces and mid pocket pairs (or low pocket pairs, when it comes to repushes), but with deeper stacks your flat calling range can also include hands such as suited connectors/gappers, broadways, and low suited aces as well.

In general, you should not flat call if by doing so you invest more than 10% of the effective stack. This is because the intention of flat calling is to base further decisions in the hand on hitting or missing the flop. However, if you have to invest too large a part of the effective stack in the call, you won't be getting the correct price to try to catch a favourable flop.

You should also avoid flat calling in the SB, as it forces you to play out of position postflop. The same situation occurs in the BB, but in this case the odds offered to you are way better and you close the action, so there is no risk of someone getting involved behind you.Therefore, in the SB you should generally resort to a reraise or fold approach, whilst in the BB you may also choose to flat call.

Below you can find an example of ranges with which you could react by 3-bet/calling (in red), 3-bet/folding (in blue), flat calling (in yellow) and repushing (in green). The example is based on a scenario where you, sitting on the button, are facing a miniraise open from an aggressive regular in the cut off, with effective stacks of around 25 big blinds.

3. Sample ranges for 3-bet/calling, 3-bet/folding, flatting and repushing


In this lesson, you have learned:

  • You should isolate a single limper wide, and when facing multiple limpers raise them with a tighter value range and over limp with speculative hands.
  • When facing a raised pot, you may 3-bet/call (value range), 3-bet/fold (bluff range), repush or flat call.
  • The situation when the pot is big enough in relation to your remaining stack that you have to call regardless of the action and your hand, is called pot commitment.
  • As a default, you should construct your ranges so that there are flat calling and repushing ranges between the 3bet/calling and 3bet/folding ranges.

Next steps

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Comments (5)

#1 mirth, 09 Apr 15 16:29

some very good information here. the learning continues!

#2 DieRich, 20 Oct 15 22:19

very helpful article, thanks alot!

#3 lycoreus, 24 Dec 15 14:43

Nice article! Time to test it in action!

#4 bubamarasr, 29 Jan 16 15:44

Read it. Thank you.

#5 sedinbsng, 03 Apr 16 21:50