Balancing Your Range

Balancing your range is an important aspect of poker that we often overlook. You know you’re supposed to balance your range, but how do you do it? Against bad players who can’t hand-read well, there’s little incentive to balance your range. They either don’t know what you are representing or don’t care. But against good hand readers, having a well balanced range will earn you more money and make you difficult to play against.

Let’s go over a situation where it’s rare that you are bluffing.

After you check-call on the flop, you will have a made hand (Ax, 6x, pocket pairs) the majority of the time. For this reason, you rarely, if ever, get to the river with air. So when you bet, you rarely have a bluff in your range. For this reason, you should check the river the majority of the time.

This has three purposes:
1) It induces him to bluff with air so that you can call him down.
2) It induces him to make a thin value bet with worse hands (Qx, KK).

3) It balances your range so that he will be less likely to value-bet light or bluff you in the future, thus allowing you to see a cheap showdown with your medium/small pairs.

Here’s another example:

This is a pretty thin spot to value bet because you’re only expecting to get a hero call from QQ or a rivered Jx. Your range is very polarized when you bet here (Ax, air and maybe a

lower pair that you decide to turn into a bluff), with Ax making up the majority of your range. Betting out here will cause him to fold air and weaker pairs. If he somehow ends up calling, it’ll be with A2 that checked the turn for pot control much more often than a hand like Jx. The best play here is to check and induce a bluff from random junk hands (QTo, T8s, 98s, 75s, etc.). He may be tempted to value-bet you light if has QQ or Jx because he’ll put you on 6x or 77-TT.

It’s easy to multi-table, play your standard game and still make a profit. However, you will miss many unique opportunities like these to exploit your opponents. The standard play is not always the best play.

Monotone board – villain has a weak range

Here’s an example of how we can exploit a player if we can accurately estimate his range.

Let’s look at Villain’s range. Unless he’s capable of checking behind the flop with a flush, QQ or QT, his range is very narrow here. And if he is capable of that, he won’t do it often. He will be much more likely to value-bet the flop with a flush or bet to protect QQ or QT.

Villain will usually have one of a variety of hands including a heart, such as Kx, Jx, 98 or 87. The idea is that he can’t have a strong hand at all. You, on the other hand, can very well be check-raising with a flush.

There is one downside to your play: it’s hard to balance since it’s a spot where you either have the nuts or air. However, considering that your opponent’s range is likely weak in this spot, you rarely have to play the river. If Villain calls the check-raise, barring any specific read that he folds rivers way too often, I would give up and check-fold. I would value-bet my nut hands at the river.

The Exception

There will be situations where you can’t really do much to balance your range. No matter what you do, your hand will appear too strong.

Most of you know that when you shove here, you can never have a bluff. The flop is very dry. There is a bet and a raise in a multi-way pot, and you raise all-in. Your hand will appear to be very strong. You would never do this with even AQ here unless the game has been unusually aggressive (where everyone is getting it in with top pair, weak kicker). In this example, your range is very skewed toward strong made hands and no bluffs. If the CO is at least decent, he will fold a hand as strong as AQ here. If you cold-call the flop raise, both players are likely check-folding on the turn since your hand looks so strong.

Balancing Your Range

Follow the guidelines below to help you balance your game.

  •   Any time you find yourself in a situation where your perceived range is strong (good top pair or better), then value-bet less and bluff more.
  •   Any time you find yourself in a situation where your perceived range is weak (mid-pair or worse), then value-bet more and bluff less.

Strong Perceived Range

You should value-bet less because your perceived range is too strong. When your betting range on the river is almost exclusively for value and never a bluff, Villain will fold worse hands and call or raise with better hands. If you check instead, it may induce a good, thinking player to value-bet light with top pair, weak kicker or mid-pair. He could also try to bluff you. With a strong perceived range, you also want to bluff more if you have a hand that can’t win at showdown.

Let’s look at a quick example.

You can easily have a flush, and you can also have QQ, KQ, JT. Villain usually has Ax in this spot and will fold much of the time. Most importantly, your hand is almost never good on the river if it goes check-check.

Weak Perceived Range

If your perceived range is weak, then you need to value-bet more often because Villain is less likely to believe you. You also want to bluff less because you can’t credibly represent a strong hand most of the time. Villain will call you down lighter and possibly bluff-raise you.

Observe the following the hand.

His check on the river implies that he has a lot of weak made hands because a busted draw would have just bet out. So a small bet here can induce some of those hands to call us. Our decent Villain would have value-bet most of his Qx hands on the river. He knows that your turn check indicates a lot of weakness because you would bet with Qx or better. Since your range is so weak by the river, you can’t really rep anything strong. He knows that and will be tempted to call you down with a hand like JT or T9.

Against a tricky, aggressive opponent, I would check back the river because I’m going to get check-raised a decent amount of the time and it’d be hard to call him down. However, against weaker players, I would value-bet the river all day.

Another line I would take is to bet-fold the turn. It makes the hand easier to play, and you can charge draws such as J9 or KJ. There’s a chance Villain is calling with weak tens such as JT or J9. He can have backdoor clubs as well.

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