Making Moves … The $20,000 Four-Betting Lesson

Stop handing out money

Lance Bradley

The first thing I want to talk about for calling four-bets is the $20,000 lesson, which is the name I came up with to help you remember that four-betting ranges are heavily weighted toward Aces, particularly at the lower stakes. I call it the $20,000 lesson, because that’s how much I’ve probably lost in the past couple of years from calling four-bets when I should have folded instead. For the longest time, I had this huge leak where I always got my money in terrible in four-bet pots, because I wrongly assumed that players four-betting ranges were wider than Aces. Unfortunately for my wallet, I had to lose many big pots to kick the habit, so it would’ve been great if someone showed me the stuff I’m about to go over with you a couple of years ago.

In previous articles, I mentioned that a good overall approach in three-bet pots is to assume any given unknown player has a tight three-betting range, until proven otherwise. This is exaggerated further with four-betting, so I want to bring it up again. Assume that players’ four-betting ranges are very tight and heavily weighted toward Aces, until they prove capable of four-betting lighter. After all, it takes more courage to four-bet lightly instead of peel and see the flop, so generally assume that players are more likely to take the passive route instead of the aggressive one.

Something else I want to point out is that stack-off ranges in four-bet pots when effective stacks are 100bb are very wide. Recall that we only need 33 percent equity to break even when the SPR is 1, which means that if you flop practically any pair or draw, you’re committed to stacking off.

The Proximity Effect

The proximity effect is a term coined by Tom Chambers to explain why hands that are typically strong do poorly against four-betting ranges that are heavily weighted toward Aces. For example, a hand that’s worth opening from any position such as KQJT has a much tougher time making straights if an opponent holds two Aces out of the deck. Additionally, every time KQJT makes two pair, there’s a good chance our opponent with Aces has a draw to the straight. It’s also worth pointing out that wheel cards suffer from the proximity effect as well. The proximity effect is strong enough that K♥Q♠J♣T♦ and Q♥J♠T♣9♦ are each losing calls at 100bb.

When to Fold ’Em

Besides hands that suffer from the proximity effect, there are mainly four hand characteristics that make it -EV to call a four-bet.

Characteristic 1: Unpaired Ace-high (A***)

When most people hear the word dangler used to describe hands in PLO, they typically picture the role a deuce plays in a hand like T982. When facing a four-bet against an opponent who’s likely to have Aces, holding an Ace is like having a dangler because it adds little value to the hand, and usually we’d prefer to have no Ace in our hand at all. Making Aces up is worthless, and many times you’ll be sharing outs if you have a straight draw. In fact, the only unpaired hands with an Ace in them that are profitable to call a four-bet with at 100bb are the very connected double-suited hands like A♠Q♦J♠T♦ and A♥J♣T♥9♣, and the low proximity three-straight hands like A♣8♦7♣6♦ and A♠J♥T♠7♥.

Characteristic 2: Low Connectedness

Lacking connectedness reduces the profitably of calling a four-bet as well. As you may already know, the more connected a hand is, the smoother its equity distribution tends to be. In other words, the more connected a hand is, the more likely it will flop straight draws with a pair, and the more likely it flops a straight draw to go with two pair as well.

This is noteworthy because a common misconception I’ve seen talked about in the forums involves the players who think it’s profitable to call a four-bet with any four unpaired non-Ace cards; this is simply not true. For example, if you do the math on a hand like K♣T♥4♠2♣, you’ll see that the low degree of connectedness destroys its profitability.

Moreover, most of the hands which don’t fall directly into one of these categories, and that can’t profitably call a four-bet, probably shouldn’t have been three-bet in the first place. For example, let’s use a hand like K♣T♥4♠2♣. That hand can’t profitably call a four-bet, but it shouldn’t even be in your three-betting range.

Characteristic 3: Rainbow

Since having low connectedness makes many hands unprofitable to call a four-bet with, it’s no surprise that being unsuited drags profit down as well. Having a rainbow hand hurts a lot, and it’s enough to make hands that generally play well in three-bet and four-bet pots unprofitable calls. For example, TT44 turns a decent profit if it’s double-suited, but change it to rainbow and it transforms into a bona fide loser.

Characteristic 4: Paired

Last, having a pair causes you to lose money facing a four-bet for the same reasons they struggle to profitably call three-bets with. As I’ve said many times before, holding a pair generally results in a more polarized equity distribution, and remember that as the SPR decreases, the hands which do the best are those with a smooth equity distribution.

Although the majority of paired hands can’t profitably call a four-bet from Aces, there are a few that can still do so profitably, the best of which are single-suited or double-suited pairs that have three to a straight with low or medium proximity like 9♣9♦8♠7♦ and J♥J♠T♥9♠. Again, even though being double-suited significantly adds to the smoothness of your hand, not all double-suited hands are profitable to call a four-bet with. For example, both K♥K♦T♥2♦ and T♠T♣6♠2♣ are losers facing a four-bet from Aces at 100bb stacks.

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November 2014