When you look to balance your hand range, there are two primary concepts you’re using in order to fool your opponents into making the worst possible decision. You’re playing a range of different strength hands in the same way, and that consequently means you’ll have to play the same strength hand in various different ways in order to properly add that balance. That means if you flop a set, you’re not always check / calling. Some percentage of the time you’re leading at the flop (donking into the pre-flop raiser). Another percent of the time you’ll be check-raising. When you’re first learning to balance your range, you’re going to be focusing on board texture, and your opponent’s likely equity versus your hand in order to take the highest initial EV line. It’s something you assume you’d always want to do of course, but what the highest EV line is begins to change the more sophisticated your opponents become.
There will be a variety of board textures where it will make more sense to have a slightly narrower, but balanced, range for that situation. Against fairly competent opponents, this is the approach you’ll want to employ a majority of the time. However, like I alluded to, the more sophisticated your opponents become, the more hand ranges for each situation you’ll want to add to your range distribution. It’s easy on a really dry board to play a number of hands in the same manner. As the board texture gets more draw heavy, and paired, it’s not quite as simple.
Balancing on Dry Boards
Balancing your hand range on a dry board is the easiest to do. You won’t have a lot of threats of bad cards on future streets, and with your stronger range hands you’ll have tons of equity that often can’t be out run by your opponent’s hand. This allows for a bit more freedom and creativity with the lines you can take.
There are two types of dry boards in general. Low to mid dry boards, and broadway dry boards. If you take an opponent who is opening 23.4% of his range and compare it against a common calling range for you where you whiff the board and don’t have a pocket pair in your hand, you’ll see how much your equity rises as you add more hands to your range. We’ll say your opponent continuation bets the board almost 100% of the time, and we’ll use a flop of: 2c5d9s as an example.
Dry Low Board
- Check/Call with Gutshot: ~39% equity versus your opponent’s range. (76s, 76o, 87o, 87s, 86s, A3o–A4o, A3s–A4s)
- Check/Call with Air: ~40% equity versus your opponent’s range. (ATs–AJs, ATo–AQo, KTs+, KJo+, QJo, QJs, JTs)
- Check/Call with small pair: ~54% equity versus your opponent’s range. (33–44, 66–88)
- Check/Call with Top Pair: ~68% equity versus your opponent’s range. (A9o, A9s, T9o, T9s, J9s, 97s+, 98o, J9o)
- Check/Call with a Set: ~94% equity versus your opponent’s range. (22, 55, 99)
- Combined equity of all ranges: ~42% equity versus your opponent’s range.
- Combined equity of made hands: ~73% equity versus your opponent’s range.
Check/calling with your made hands in this spot is fairly easy. You’ll have high equity versus your opponent’s continuation bet range, and you won’t have a ton of bad board run outs. You’ll have a decent chance of some broadways hitting on later streets, but not much beyond that. The question will become, can you add another range or two of hands in this situation so that your opponent isn’t giving up when he misses against you, and only continuing when he has a big hand. If you were out of position with a set in this spot, you’d want your opponent to continue firing on the turn. So the question becomes, what will be the highest EV line for you to take with a range of hands in a dry board situation against most opponents. Keep in mind, the line you take with each range should also change based on your opponent, mainly how good and aggressive they are versus how average or bad they are.
Most opponents will expect you to check/call with your sets, top pair, and small pairs in this spot. They know that you’ll expect them to continuation bet with almost their entire range, so you’ll want to give them that opportunity knowing that they won’t have a strong range often enough to handle much more pressure than a call.
What you’ll want to answer for yourself is, in a situation where you’re out of position to a pre-flop raiser, how do you ideally want to play each of these range of hands? Your pre-flop hand distribution is going to be comprised mostly of unpaired hands that will whiff the flop 68% of the time. You’ll flop some gut-shots with suited and unsuited connectors about 16% of the time. The bulk of your range, as you know, will be with air. Your opponent will know this as well, so the line you take will need to take that into heavy consideration.
If your opponent doesn’t react well to aggression, then donking into them with your air range that has over cards, gutshots, and sets can be a good line. You’re not going to flop a set often, and when you do, they usually won’t expect you to lead into them until they’ve seen you do it. If they have a hand, they’re going to call or even raise. You just have to make sure that if you’re consistently donking into them, that when you do have a set you lead into them as well. Mix in doing it with top pair occasionally as well.
If your opponent is aggressive and tricky, then check/calling and leading the turn, or check-raising with gutshots and sets can be effective. Note that, again, because of hand distribution it wouldn’t be very balanced to check-raise with over cards and sets since most of the time you’ll have over cards. Your opponent still will be able to weight your range well enough to make good decisions. It’s still more effective to have a hand in your range versus not having it at all, but the frequency of distribution of the hands you do something with is nearly as important as the range itself.
Let’s take a similar situation to the above scenario except now we’re looking at a flop of: Qd7c3s with the same opponent opening range of 23.4%.
Dry Broadway Board
- Check/Call with Gutshot: ~30% equity versus your opponent’s range. (54s, 54o, 65o, 65s)
- Check/Call with Air: ~36% equity versus your opponent’s range. (A9s–AJs, ATo–AJo, KJs, KTo–KJo, JTs)
- Check/Call with small pair: ~47% equity versus your opponent’s range. (22, 44–66, 88)
- Check/Call with Top Pair: ~78% equity versus your opponent’s range. (AQo, KQo, KQs, QTs+, QTo+)
- Check/Call with a Set: ~94% equity versus your opponent’s range. (77, 33)
Combined equity of all ranges: ~49% equity versus your opponent’s range.
Combined equity of made hands: ~67% equity versus your opponent’s range.
On a single broadway dry board your equity is going to drop a bit with your air range, small pairs, and combined made hands. It’s not significant, but it’s a drop, so when you’re playing these boards check/calling with gutshots and air isn’t going to be as profitable as it will be on lower dry boards. You’re going to have to turn those hands into bluffs a higher percentage of the time to make them profitable.
Check-raising on these kinds of board textures with your air, gutshots, strong top pair, and sets can be a profitable line since most of the time you’re going to have air or top pair. Check-raising on a dry board like this is going to look suspect for a lot of decent opponents, but it’s still going to put them in a tough spot on later streets with a lot of their hands. Typically against regulars you can try making this play with your gutshots and air and see how they react. If they are calling you down or re-floating you, then it’s not going to be a good strategy out of position. A lot of mediocre regulars will just fold if they don’t have a strong hand here, and against those opponents it’s a highly profitable play. When you can get your opponent to fold some better hands and when they have the better equity, it’s a very big +EV play for you.
Let’s take a look at an example where your opponent is opening 23.4% of their hands. In a 6-max cash game, your opponent in middle position open raises to 3 BBs and the action folds to you in the big blind and you call the raise with AsTs. The flop comes Qs7c3s. You check to your opponent who bets 5 BBs into a 6.5 BB pot. You check-raise to 13 BBs.
First off, we know most good opponents will continue in this situation with a wider range than mediocre regulars or weak players in general. Still, they’d have to re-float with a significantly wide range for this play not to be +EV for you. If you’re balancing your range properly in these spots, your better opponents will begin to know that you can do this with top pair, sets, and so on. Even before your opponents have a better idea of what your range will be here, they’d have to continue with such a large portion of their range and call 48% of the time or more for it not to be a profitable play. As it stands, if we say that roughly 8% of the time they’ll re- bluff you with their air range and you’ll have to fold, the math would look like this:
(-13(.43) + (11.5(.57) = -5.6 + 6.6 = +1 EV
This isn’t taking into consideration when you are called, and the equity you still have in your hand with the two backdoor draws and possibly at least one over card. Compare this line to when you’d check/call where you’re a 42/58 equity dog against your opponent’s continuation betting range, and it’s a reasonable line to take in situations like this.