A Frequent Mistake I Saw at the WSOP

The WSOP is right around the corner, so in this blog post, I am going to share with you the most frequent mistake I saw amateur players commit on a regular basis during the last WSOP. Most of these players don’t even realize they are committing this egregious error. This mistake is difficult to notice, especially for players in the small or middle stakes, because the vast majority of the player pool exhibits this flaw. Once the amateurs become aware of it, they will instantly be able to improve their strategies, allowing them to play in a much more profitable manner.

Most amateurs simply do not apply enough pressure before the flop. Their strategy is to wait for strong hands and then 3-bet (reraise), hoping their opponents will blindly pay them off with all sorts of junk. This results in their opponents easily folding to the passive amateur’s aggression, making it nearly impossible for the amateur to extract significant value from their strong hands. If you only win small pots with your premium hands, you will have a difficult time winning in the long run.

Instead of 3-betting with only premium hands, you should 3-bet with a wider range determined by how you expect your opponents (especially the initial raiser) to react. If you expect your opponent to call your 3-bet with a wide range of marginal hands such as 2-2, A-T, and K-9, you should 3-bet with what is referred to as a linear range. This range consists of your best hands, such as A-A and A-K, as well as hands that should have your opponent dominated, such as 9-9, A-J, and K-Q. You will find this strategy works best against weak players who are not capable of folding to a 3-bet before the flop once they have any amount of money invested. Going to the flop against players who are frequently dominated will work amazingly well for you.

If you expect your opponent to either fold or 4-bet (rereraise) when you 3-bet, you should 3-bet with what is referred to as a polarized range. This range consists of your best hand, such as A-A and A-K, and hands that are not quite good enough to call your opponent’s initial raise, such as Ad-4d, Kd-Ts, Th-8h, and 5d-4d. Notice that when implementing this strategy, you will be calling with your hands that flop decently well, such as A-J, K-Q, and 8s-7s. This strategy works well because when you 3-bet with a weak hand, you rarely expect to see a flop. With hands like A-J and K-Q, you typically want to see a flop, and calling ensures that happens most of the time.

While 3-betting with marginal hands is an excellent way to make you more difficult to play against, against certain opponents, you should only 3-bet with your premium hands. If you expect your opponent to only raise with a premium hand before the flop, which is a trait some small stakes players exhibit, there is no point in bluffing because your bluff is almost certain to fail. This will usually be the case when the initial raiser is in early position or known to be overly tight. Against these players, it is important that you do not overvalue hands like T-T and A-Q because if you 3-bet and your opponent does not fold, you are often in bad shape. Your goal with your strong hands should not be to play them in a manner that forces you to fold. Instead, call the initial raise and see what develops after the flop. Against the tightest players, your 3-betting range could be as tight as A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and A-Ks.

If getting out of line and 3-betting with non-premium hands feels too risky for you, you must understand and accept that if you want to succeed at poker, you have to steal pots that don’t belong to you, especially once you move to the middle and high stakes. If you sit around and hope for someone to dump their chips to you, you will frequently be disappointed and end up blinding off. Instead, take control of your destiny and don’t rely on playing only the best starting hands in a straightforward manner.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed it, you will love my training site PokerCoaching.com. Check it out and sign up for your free 7-day trial. Let me know what you think!


39 thoughts on “A Frequent Mistake I Saw at the WSOP”

  1. Charles Morrow

    This is great content! I have adopted a three betting strategy that is a hybrid of the linear and polarized range type but I haven’t considered enough which opponents I should be using it against. This is going to help me a lot. ( I also need to do more work on when I should call in position and not three bet. ).
    Thanks so much.

  2. Like always Mr. Little give us good information, he is a good coach and i learn a lot from him and his poker play. I am thrilled to know this post blog because when i play cash games and make a 3 bet vs a reg ho likes to call a lot my 3 bets now i know i should 3 bet a linear range. Thank u Mr Jonatan.

  3. Jonathan,

    For years I played the straightforward style referenced above. I could not understand why I always lost money. I recently adopted the above strategy because of your great coaching. Thanks!

  4. This is great content, I need to start employing a 3 betting strat. I have been doing well without it, but find that lately in tournaments I have been blinding out due to not getting enough hands I would steal or have hit and couldn’t rep the cards I should have been able to. I am putting in work, thanks for laying some foundation Jonathan.

  5. Thanks JL for the article

    Couple of questions

    Do I apply this strategy early in a tournament or after ante’s are introduced? Is the idea to establish an image early? Typically I don’t get involved in too many hands early in a tournament, especially big pots.

    I also assume when three betting my range will vary based on my position?

    1. I use this strategy all the time. It is not to develop an image. It is simply good poker because your bets to not indicate obvious strength or weakness, leading to your opponents to make mistakes. As the opponent’s range is tighter, your range should be tighter. Also, position is relevant. We discuss this a ton at PokerCoaching.com.

  6. Had a hand a few weekends ago when I was slumming 1/2 NL while waiting for my normal game, and raised a limper to 15 w/ AJo. Big raise because I know they won’t three bet me, and they’ll call me with trash preflop like A9, J8, etc. Sure enough old man calls BTN, sb calls and we go off 4 ways.

    I end up flopping an ace and getting some dude’s last 100 when I had him outkicked. After the hand, the first caller says “The Ace always comes when you have Kings”. Had he 3 bet preflop, he denies me my equity (AJo still have 28,5% against KK), or gets it heads up w/ the best hand in position. Both sound pretty good.

    But yeah, a lot of live players fall into two camps: one never battles at all (like that old guy). They just wait for the nuts and wonder why no one pays them when they hit (or don’t even care, they’re just relieved to win the pot). The other will do battle, but always wait until after the flop. I’ve seen the guy who will limp/call pre and then fastplay any decent flopped equity in order to “outplay” their opponent. Which is funny because the whole reason they’ve adopted limp/call strategies is to make seeing the flop as “cheap” as possible.

    Good post JL.

  7. ok, i expect my opponent to fold or 4bet so i adopt a polarized range and 3 bet 5s4s on the button. What happens when the opponent does what is not expected and he/she calls? And what happens when flop bricks? How to proceed? What started off as a fairly simple adjustment (adding 3bet range) with little cost can quickly turn into a costly endeavor with post flop play. Thoughts?

    1. You should usually bet 54s on most flops because you will have a range advantage, and it should be some sort of draw. This is all discussed extensively at PokerCoaching.com.

  8. I’ve subscribed to your pokercoaching.com site Jonathan and find your content is very, very valuable and well explained. I find that I’m consistently being successful now, more than doubling my initial investment in just a few weeks of play in small stakes sit n gos. It’s far more fun to win and when I get my QQ’s all-in vs AA’s twice in the same game and still being able to finish in second place, it’s a blast!

  9. Here’s a twist on the concept of 3betting with a linear range. In a lot of low stakes amateur settings, likely carried over to the WSOP, you will see the following pattern: early position limps, 2 or 3 players in mid-position over-limp, then late position raises to 3x.
    First, that is clearly an error since the raiser isn’t sizing properly to consider the limps and is inducing a string of calls behind him. This puts a target on his back.
    Second, say we are on the button with part of our linear range. We should consider 3betting fairly large to clear the field and potentially win the pot now. When we get callers, we will have both relative and absolute position with a range advantage on most flops.
    If we are then 4bet, we can confidently get out of the way.
    This move may also be valid when in the blinds, although I can see arguments for just calling to avoid bloating the pot OOP.

  10. Hi Jonathan,

    I’m having trouble in my home cash game because the max buy-in is 50BB, and the rake is 3BB. So, it kind of forces you to play tight because you have no implied odds against the short-stacks. Checking a street rarely means anything because there’s enough time to get all the money in on 2 streets, and likewise, raising either for value or as a bluff on the flop or turn means less because no one fears a massive river overbet– basically if they’re going to continue in the hand past calling a C-bet, the money is going in. How would you adjust to this environment?

    Don’t play? 🙂

  11. Hey Jonathan,

    Good post. Also I feel that (assuming we have positional awareness//freq. % of being squeeze from behind is low//other factors + etc), we can use similar 3bet linear ranges to our 2bet linear ranges limped pots as well when our opponents will call with a wide range of hands? I assume there’s some situations where there are TOO many limpers already in the pot in order to ISO other stacks, right?

    As for the polarized ranges, some parts of the range could also carry over to 2betting vs limps, however there are some weaker holdings that could benefit from just a call behind? Maybe we decide to construct these particular parts of our range to “sometimes raise//sometimes call” ?

    I definitely do not think range construction for 3bet vs (2bet vs limp) ranges are exactly the same, but we can come to similar conclusions? I think the issue is when we get back raised, we’ll have to plan to r/c more than we r/f, right ?

    1. The exact hands selected are not too relevant. Instead, you want to ask which hands are at the bottom of your calling range. Those hands become part of a polarized 3-betting range. You will almost never get raised by someone who initially limped. If you do, you should usually fold as an exploitative play unless your opponents are lunatics.

    2. Sorry I phrased that wrong, not backraise, i mean if we 2bet vs a limp (or limps) and someone behind us 3bets…

    3. That is a very different spot and it depends on the opponent’s raising strategy. Also, it depends on your pot odds. It is not as simple as “call a lot” or “fold a lot”.

  12. Hi Jonathan. There’s possibly some economy of words in the blog which is leaving me confused. The term 3betting preflop implies we are making an opening raise, so is this blog outlining a strategy to deal with those that ***may*** become our opponent, i.e., those behind us and/or the blinds? How can we know which one will respond? But then, reference is made to responding to the initial raiser and based on the way they are expected to respond, applying an appropriate aggressive strategy. So is this blog describing an in position 4betting strategy then? Am I making this too complicated?!? lol I broadly get the concept that we should be open raising more than just the red tiles. But after that I’m getting a bit lost in the logic. Thanks.

  13. Thank you for the timely advice. Will be playing my next tournament in a few days and will be applying this strategy

  14. Just read this the morning of day 2 of the $1100 at the Hard Rock Hollywood. Blinds 1500-3000, I have 81000, still 50 from the money. I raised 7500 from the cutoff with Js8s and young pro called in the BB. Flop 10s10c8c. Big blind to my surprise leads 11k, I put him on a draw or small pair… I called. Turn is 7h which gives me a gut shot. BB bet again 18k: I called… river 8c… BB bet 35k… I put his bet and my remaining 18k in the pot and he shows J10o.
    Cooler or mistake??

    1. Your first mistake was “putting him on a draw or small pair”. Just because someone leads does not instantly narrow their range to a very small subset of hands.
      I am fine with your flop and turn call. Once he bets again on the river, you have an incredibly easy call. If you raise, you are only going to get called by a full house, almost all of which you lose to.

    2. Jonathan, thanks for the reply as always. And yes after exiting the building I asked myself why did I put the rest of my chips?? Even if I would have been left with 6 blinds; A chip and a chair is always better than watching from the rail… What happened in this hand is I think another subject you should tackle: The frustration call or shoved… “If he has this hand then I give up”…

  15. Jonathan,
    We met during a break in the stands on Sunday. I forgot to mention that I read this post prior to play. I applied this technique and it worked very well. Thank you,


    1. Actually, it might have been on Saturday. We were discussing your vlog from the WSOP main. Anyway, thank you for the advice. It is greatly appreciated.

  16. Thanks for the selfie in the Amazon room the other day Johnathan. I really enjoy reading your blogs and your advice amongst a few other pros has really sharpened my game 🙂

  17. Should I tweak this so that unless there are short stacks left I raise a little weaker as a bluff 3bet vs an opponent who will fold or raise? My thinking is some of the hands you 3bet as a bluff are just strong enough to want to see showdowns so I’d want to 3bet bluff just a bit weaker in the range of hands I wouldn’t consider strong enough to call. Then I can fold to 4bet if raised and no value is lost and can call in position with a hand with some good implied odds and better represent mid card and lower card flops since I actually have low suited connectors in my range.
    I would agree that a little more value when called as call frequency increases makes sense, but if we are looking at two extremes as “always calls 3bet” vs “never calls and always 3bets or fold” and then by defining the extremes we can estimate how to adjust for where on the spectrum the opponent lies.

    Is there anything about this tweak that would be a problem? Does my call range become too wide/weak so that it becomes vulnerable? Or is it more about the players left to act that may cold call the 3bet and if I don’t think they will either it’s okay?

    1. Using your adjustment (3-betting polarized), you are keeping your calling range strong. The most important player involved is the initial raiser who you are 3-betting. If someone yet to act frequently cold calls, you can adjust to 3-betting mostly for value.

  18. Been at the WSOP over a week now and have been astonished at the degree to which the weakness described in this post has been displayed.

  19. You would think if someone puts down $1500 they would have some skill. Most of the players very unimpressive.
    Same as if I played a $20k tourny at my local card room.

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