Playing Pocket Threes in Cash Games: A Guide

Pocket pairs in poker offer a unique advantage, instantly providing a strong hand before the betting even begins. Given the rarity of being dealt any pocket pair (only a 5.9 percent chance), maximizing this opportunity becomes crucial. However, when it comes to lower pairs, such as pocket threes, also known as “the crabs,” their value varies significantly based on the situation.

Understanding how to navigate the gameplay with pocket threes is essential for improving your performance in cash games. The following guidelines aim to enhance your approach to playing pocket threes in online poker.

Preflop Strategy: Raise, Call, or Fold?
In cash games, the primary objective is to consistently win money from opponents hand after hand, with the secondary goal of avoiding losses. When dealt pocket threes, the initial decision revolves around whether to invest chips in the pot. While some players instinctively want to see the flop with a low pocket pair, it’s crucial to consider the broader context beyond having a made hand.

Opening the Pot or Not
In a full-ring cash game, playing pocket threes profitably is position-dependent. It’s advisable to fold when in early positions (under the gun through lojack) due to the high likelihood of encountering 3-bets. Pocket threes are not effective at blocking opponents’ 3-betting ranges, making it probable that your raise will only contribute to the pot for someone with a stronger hand.

However, when in hijack position or later, raising becomes a viable option if the action folds to you. With fewer players remaining, the chances of facing a 3-bet decrease. This position also offers a better opportunity to win the pot preflop, and if the blinds call, you’ll have postflop positional advantage.

In the event of facing a 3-bet after your raise, opting to call is generally the correct move, aiming to hit a set on the flop and capitalize on a potentially lucrative situation.

What if a player preceding you decides to raise? The only position where it is advisable to call with pocket threes is when you are in the big blind, with the specific goal of trying to hit a set of threes. From any other position, technically, folding is the correct move. However, before making that decision, take a moment to assess the table dynamics in the cash game you are participating in. Pay attention to your opponents’ playing frequencies, table conversations, and overall playing style. Unless they exhibit a loose-aggressive poker style, there might be an opportunity to call their raises, particularly if they are inexperienced players prone to making mistakes after the flop.

Postflop Strategy
If you find yourself seeing the flop with pocket threes, it is either because you initiated the betting from a late position (typically the button) or you called from the big blind.

Preflop Raiser
As the player who raised before the flop, you enjoy the advantage of having position. However, your actions postflop should be contingent on the nature of the flop itself.

Most of the time, you will likely have an underpair to the flop. On a connected board, the advisable strategy is often to check back. For instance, if you raised on the button with 3♠ 3♦, the big blind called, and the flop revealed J♠ 8♥ 6♣, checking back provides an opportunity to reach showdown with your pocket threes without investing much.

On a disconnected flop, like K♠ 87♥ 2♣, if your opponent checks, maintaining aggression and making a continuation bet (c-bet) is recommended in the hope of inducing a fold. Having a backdoor flush draw adds to the appeal.

Preflop Caller
As the player who called before the flop, you are out of position, which weakens your likely underpair. Consequently, you should typically fold in response to a continuation bet. However, there are exceptions. If facing a smaller-sized c-bet (50 percent of the pot or less), the flop is disconnected, and you have a backdoor flush draw, calling may be justified.

In the case of a low or medium pair appearing on the flop, occasional check-raising is appropriate. Your opponent’s range is less likely to connect with flops like 8-8-3 or 7-7-4, making them reconsider calling. Simultaneously, your pocket threes are susceptible to overcards, and a modest check-raise can serve to safeguard your hand and potentially prompt your opponent to fold their overcards.

On subsequent streets, avoid calling additional bets unless your hand improves (e.g., the turn provides you with an open-ended straight draw).

What occurs when you initiate a raise, get a call with your pocket threes, and proceed to hit a set on the flop? This occurrence is only realized 12 percent of the time, making it advisable to default to a bet to construct the pot and potentially secure your opponent’s stack. When in a favorable position, you have the option to exert pressure by making a continuation bet (c-bet) if your opponent checks, and you can also choose to peel if the board looks promising. However, when out of position, pot-building becomes more challenging as your opponent may opt to check behind to regulate the pot size.

It’s important to note that the above scenarios assume a heads-up pot, which is the ideal scenario, aligning with the earlier discussed preflop strategies. In a multi-way pot, the dynamics become significantly more intricate, and it’s prudent to let the table dynamics guide your decisions. Engaging in set mining against multiple skilled opponents is not recommended, and it’s advisable to exit the pot in such situations. However, if you find yourself against a group of less experienced players, enticing them to call and augmenting the pot in your favor can be a strategic move. Nevertheless, it’s essential to acknowledge the unpredictability of poker, where even less skilled players can emerge victorious through sheer luck. That’s the nature of the game—everyone has the opportunity to succeed at some point.