What’s the most important strategy to learn in Texas Hold’em? There are many ways to skin a cat, but if you think about poker from a financial standpoint, you have more incentive to perform better as the pot gets larger. That means getting very good at playing in raised pots. When one player opens pre-flop and another player 3-bets, the pot is already getting pretty juicy. Throw in a 4-bet, and now the chips are really flying.

As part of our Bovada online poker strategy guide, we want to help you get better at playing in these massive pots. We’ll discuss the best poker strategy to use in 3-bet and 4-bet situations, with a special look at some advanced poker strategy concepts for our more experienced players. Once you’ve got these concepts figured out, you’ll be ready to take down those bloated pots the next time you play online poker at Bovada.

Why Use a 3-Bet Strategy

It wasn’t that long ago, maybe even 30 years, that most poker players still didn’t understand the importance of raising. Doyle Brunson was one of the first people to tell the world about the power of the 3-bet, although that term wasn’t even invented when he published Super/System in 1979. Back then, you would raise, re-raise, and re-re-raise if you felt particularly spicy. Brunson recommended raising (and betting) as the backbone of an aggressive “power poker” strategy and the reason is simple: People fold too much.

As poker has progressed, more and more people are catching on to the importance of 3-betting, but there are still plenty of other players who fold too often, and when they do, they’re basically handing you their money. Every once in a while, depending on what stakes you play at, you’ll also find people who fold too little, which can also be profitable for you – if you make the right adjustments at the table.

Besides the money itself, here’s another one of the great things about playing in 3-bet pots: Your decisions actually get easier the more raises people make. Consider a 6-max game of No-Limit Hold’em. If you open from the cut-off and the big blind calls, that player could have a lot of different hands in their range. But if the big blind 3-bets instead of calling, they might only have pocket Queens or better, Ace-King, Ace-Queen, or Ace-Jack suited. That’s a much smaller range of possible hands to deal with. The chances of you making a mistake here are much lower, especially if you’re an advanced player with sound online poker fundamentals.

When to Use a 3-Bet Strategy

The best times to raise in Texas Hold’em are when you have a very strong starting hand. This should make sense to just about everyone; if you have pocket Aces pre-flop, by putting more money in the pot, you give other players the chance to call (or raise) and make the pot even bigger – you might even get them to go all-in pre-flop with a hand like pocket Kings, pocket Queens or Ace-King that you have dominated.

It’s also a very good idea to 3-bet bluff from time to time. If you always have a strong hand when you raise, other players will eventually catch on and stop fighting back. However, if you mix in a healthy dose of bluff-raises, you can get your opponents to fold stronger hands, which is the other good outcome that can happen when you 3-bet. As with any other bluff, your chances of success will be higher if you use a hand that has some equity behind it, in case your opponent doesn’t fold. Suited Aces, suited connectors and small pairs are usually the best hands to do this with in Hold’em.

Of course, you’ll need to have some post-flop skills if you want to maximize the value of your 3-bets – and to fight back when your opponent is the aggressor. Once you do get post-flop in these 3-bet pots, you should have an easier time figuring out what to do than in single-raised pots. For example, players who 3-bet pre-flop almost always fire out a continuation bet on the flop, regardless of whether their hand improved or not. If the flop comes out low with lots of connected and suited cards, like Eight-Five-Four with two Spades, that board probably doesn’t help your opponent much – giving you the opportunity to check-raise as a bluff.

At the same time, if the flop has an Ace or a King in it and not much drawing power, like Ace-Nine-Four rainbow, there’s a good chance your opponent improved, and you can fold where appropriate. If you’re the one doing the 3-betting, make sure to temper your aggression when the flop comes out low and connected; don’t hesitate to check instead of firing a c-bet if the cards don’t fall your way. And be more willing to follow up on your 3-bet bluffs when the flop is high and dry.

Why Use a 4-Bet Strategy

Poker strategy gets even easier when there’s a 4-bet involved. Let’s take the above scenario where you open-raise from the cut-off, but now it’s the small blind that raises, and the big blind comes in with a “cold” 4-bet. What hands are in the big blind’s range? Maybe just pocket Tens, or maybe something better. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of how you should respond. The 4-bet also makes the pot even larger, which makes it that much more important – and lucrative – to execute a solid poker strategy.

When to Use a 4-Bet Strategy

Again, if you’re the one doing the 4-betting pre-flop, you’ll mostly want to do it with your premium hands, mixing in some bluffs on rare occasions to keep people on their toes. As a general rule, the best hands to 4-bet bluff with are your suited Aces. This is because you have an Ace in your hand, which makes it less likely that your opponent is 3-betting with pocket Aces or Ace-King. In other words, you’re blocking some of those premium hands from your opponent’s 3-bet range.

The 4-bet is particularly important when you’re out of position. In position, you have the opportunity to call your opponent’s 3-bet with certain medium-strength hands, specifically medium pairs (pocket Fives through Nines) and suited Broadway combos like King-Jack suited and Queen-Ten suited. But if you’re out of position, you’ll have to fold most of those hands instead, since your chances of realizing your equity post-flop will be too low. Sometimes, you can 4-bet those middling hands instead, provided your opponent’s 3-bet range is wide enough; maybe you opened from the cut-off and they raised you from the button, for example. You can 4-bet even wider than that if you opened from the small blind and they raised from the big blind.

You might also want to call instead of 4-bet when you’re in position with pocket Aces, in order to trap your opponent. This tactic can be very effective against overly aggressive players who c-bet 100% of the time after they raise pre-flop. A lot will depend on how the board runs out, of course, but in many cases, you’ll be able to call the flop comfortably, then jam either the turn or the river to get all your opponent’s chips in the middle.

Note that these 3-bet and 4-bet strategies are best used in cash game situations. When you play online poker tournaments, survival is more important than accumulating chips, so you’ll want to bluff less often in general, especially as the stacks get shallower. There’s still a place for raising aggressively, but be more selective; do it against the right opponents, and make sure you both have enough chips in your stacks to make it worthwhile.

3-Bet and 4-Bet Percentages

It’s usually recommended that players learn pre-set ranges for starting hands in Hold’em. You’ll be advised to open a certain percentage of your hands from each position at the table; for example, in a 6-max cash game, opening the Top 15% of your hands from the lojack is a common benchmark. You can use the same principle for learning pre-flop 3-betting and 4-betting ranges, as well. Just remember to take the playability of your hands into consideration, and don’t just use all the top hands in terms of hot-and-cold equity.