Balancing and Equity

Let’s quickly turn back to our A♥5♥ hand from our discussion in “Hand Categorization”. We called a raise on the button, and the flop came down 8♥6♥4♣. I previously said that we should raise the PFR’s c-bet in this situation. Why? While we could potentially get the money in against a worse draw, most of the time that we get the money all in it will be a coinflip—usually somewhere between 40 and 45% equity against a composite range. So why would we want to get all-in with a hand that’s neither a big favorite nor a big underdog?

  •   Dead money. Capitalizing on dead money more than makes up for the slight equity deficit when our opponent reraises and we’re forced to get all-in.
  •   Balancing and depolarization. Being able to raise more hands that we’re comfortable getting all- in with means we can raise more hands as a bluff. Let’s explore this now.

Only really good players and really bad players raise with top pair on the flop. Bad players raise because they see top pair and they raise just because it looks pretty, not because they’re intending to get called by worse hands. Average players don’t raise top pair because it’s too thin—they can’t raise and get called by worse hands. For example, a bad player might make a raise with KQ on a Q♥8♥7♣ flop, but an average player would always just call a bet in that scenario. An average player doesn’t raise the flop all that often, so he can’t really expect the PFR to call a raise with a hand like JJ. So why does a good player raise that flop sometimes? Balancing.

A good player is raising sets and two-pair hands on the flop—no surprise there, so is everyone. However, a good player is also raising a wide range of strong equity hands on the flop—T♥9♥, 7♥6♥, J♥T♥, 9♥6♥, A♥5♥, 7♥5♥, J♥9♥, 6♥5♥, etc. So now, when the good player raises, his range isn’t polarized to hands that either have huge equity (sets/2pair) or low equity (bluffs), but is filled in with many hands with medium equity. Since there are so many medium-equity hands, somebody betting the flop with JJ may not be able to fold to a flop raise, choosing instead to call and hope for a safe turn. Voila, suddenly raising the flop with KQ works.

To continue one step further, once our range gets wider and stronger (we include top pair and slowplayed overpairs into our flop raising range), we can add even more pure bluffs because they are balanced with our good hands. If we’re balancing our range postflop, we can literally show up with any hand at any time.

A decent player raises preflop, and I call on the button. The flop comes down J♠9♠7♣. He c- bets, I raise. I can have a straight, a set, a slowplayed overpair, two-pair, the nut flush draw, any number of combo draws, and pure bluffs. It’s nearly impossible for my opponent to read me. The only things I won’t be showing up with there are hands like 5♠4♠, because I don’t want to get blown off my hand. The beauty is simply this—whether I raise or I call, I can have a flush draw. If I call, I can have a strong hand like AJ or a weak hand like 88. Most of the time, though, I’m raising my wide, strong, balanced range, and my opponents are left guessing what to do.

This chapter bothers me slightly. A balanced range is a place of self-protection; if you’re balanced, it is difficult for your opponent to exploit you and make money against you. However, it’s also difficult for you to exploit your opponents and make money off them. If you have a huge combo draw, but given your opponent and your history, he’s unlikely to ever fold a pair, raising your combo draw is probably a mistake. It’s important to understand balance because it’s a great way to play without reads; but, we should be developing reads quickly and abandoning balance as soon as possible. We shouldn’t be bluffing more because we have enough combinations of value hands to balance it, we should be bluffing more because he’s folding a lot. The hands that we represent aren’t as important as what he does against those hands.

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