Lately, there has been a development of strategy in NL tournaments. In short, the old dogma “tight is right” and the style of the tight-aggressive game no longer seems to be working so well. You see more and more loose-aggressive players who have great success in the tournaments.

One manifestation of this style is the so-called “light 3-betting”. This means that the aggressive player will re-raise against a raise already made with a wider range of hands. These players do this to win small pots without any showdown, either by the original raiser folding pre-flop or by a continuation bet after the flop.

I myself, as a representative of the TAG Group, had problems adapting to this development. For example, I had an interesting experience at a tournament in South America when I was sitting at a table with 3 players doing a lot of “light-3-betting”. These were Nacho Barbero, Amos Ben, and Christian de Leon – three of the best players in South America. The result was that I had to give up several hands before the flop, thus losing valuable chips and eventually being eliminated.

How do you counter this strategy?

Well, there are basically two methods that you can try. One is: you defend against them, early on, with a strong 4-bet, to show the other players that you can not be easily pushed from your hand. Oftentimes, a player has identified you as the ideal “victim” for 3-bets due to your cautious playing style and comes to the conclusion that a 3-bet against you is fundamentally profitable because you fold too often.

The principle is that the 3-Better has to succeed only to a certain percentage for this move to be profitable in the long term. The hand of the 3-bettor actually does not really matter – ideally, there will be no showdown. The aggressor tries to get the opponent out of his “comfort zone”, which often has the desired result.

The second countermeasure is that you play tighter and control the pot size even more. Basically, you have to ask yourself before each raise whether you are willing to react to a 3-bet with a 4-bet, or even go all-in with this hand if necessary. You should then play the hand accordingly, which may even mean that you min-raise or limp more often.

Alternatively, you can of course adapt this style of play yourself. But you have to be aware that this strategy is far more challenging to use than simply playing tight. It also inevitably leads to more variance in the results. I would recommend trying this out first in cash games on the lower levels. It is important that you use these moves only sporadically and in suitable situations, and choose the target of the 3-bet with caution. Calling stations and extremely bad players are the wrong opponents to light 3-bet into!

Basically, I think that this newer trend will trigger a counter-trend in the long term – in the future, it may make more players play very tight and practice “small ball”. A good recent example was the final table of the WSOP Europe 2017 in Rozvadov. Rarely have I seen such a boring and tedious final table, but strategically it was very instructive. Especially in the heads-up, Speranza and Roca stalked each other for such a long time, avoiding big pots by rarely raising preflop, placing few C-bets, and barely never bluffing. I can hardly remember a 3-bet here. Could it be that this showed that there is already a counter-trend developing?