Let’s say we sit down at a table and immediately notice a bad-aggressive player going crazy. He’s not hard to spot—he’s shoving 100bb all-in every hand regardless of his holding. We’ve seen him do it five straight hands now. How lightly should we call? Well, we should call anything that wins more than 50% of the time against a random hand. So, a hand like AT becomes an instant-speed snap-call. Now, let’s say we make our fist-pump, couldn’t-be-happier call with AT and he shows us AA and stacks us. We feel sad. However, we know it was still the right play—because the ratio of nut hands to air hands in our opponents range is unbalanced. We’ll call this the nuts-to-air ratio, or NAR.
More common than the bad-aggressive player with the wildly air-heavy NAR is the passive player with an extremely nuts-heavy NAR. If you have AA against a passive player on a JT75 board, you’re comfortable betting for value; but, when you’re raised, you need to assess your opponent’s NAR. Passive players have virtually no bluffs in that spot, and so your choice becomes easy.
A lot of spots, though, are far less obvious. Understanding NARs can help us in some very tricky spots against good aggressive players. Sometimes, using HUD stats can really help us estimate a NAR.
If our opponent opens 70% of buttons, for example, we might decide to flat in the big blind with KT. The flop comes down 773. We check and he fires a c-bet. If we don’t stop and consider his NAR, we might be inclined to fold KT in this spot. However, if think about how many hands 70% really is and how often they miss a 773 flop, we might realize a few things:
KTo is usually the best hand on most boards even when we miss the flop
Many opponents will take lines that help us further define their NAR. For example, many opponents will not c-bet with Ace high or a pair of threes in this spot (believing that no worse will call them or fearing a check-raise). So, when he c-bets, we can evaluate his range as being even more air-heavy than before.
Even when we are behind, KT has six overcards and decent equity against his value range.
If his NAR is air-heavy, he’s likely to continue bluffing on cards that are good for us (in this case, tens and kings). This gives us improved implied odds.
With all that considered, let’s say that we end up deciding not to fold. Now it’s a choice between check-raising and check-calling. This choice depends on whether or not he’ll fold things like pairs or Ace-high at some point in the hand (this will be covered in greater detail in the Advanced Street Projection chapter). For the purpose of this example, let’s say that we decide that the combination of retaining his bluffs and seeing a cheaper turn card makes check-calling better than check-raising. The turn card is an Ace. We check, and he bets again. Many villains here will fire their whole range, which again, is 70% of hands. Now we can be certain he’s not firing a pair of threes (probably not even a hand like pocket nines). If he was unlikely to c-bet an Ace on the flop, he’s not likely to have that either. This limits his value range tremendously and keeps his NAR extremely air-heavy. So, we see the formation of a hero-call situation. If we ignore NARs we can be tempted into folding our hand due solely to its absolute value (i.e. king high isn’t very good in a vacuum so we should fold it) as opposed to calling with a hand that’s ahead of our opponent’s range.
In practice, you may notice that a lot of these situations with good aggressive regulars play out as though they were actually bad-aggressive instead. This is an important distinction to make—when good- aggressive players don’t manage their NARs and start getting overly bluff-heavy they often act indistinguishably from bad-aggressive players. This always gives me confidence at the table—a bad- aggressive player who wants to gamble with me usually means I’m going to win a lot of money. If a good-aggressive player turns into a bad-aggressive player, well… that can’t be a bad thing.
Upper echelon players will be careful to manage their NARs so that they are difficult to read. This may mean c-betting Ace high in some of those spots or value-betting thinly with a pair of threes on the turn. To some, this would be described as balancing. I prefer to think of balance as a consequence of trying to make the correct choice in each specific instance. So, if you c-bet bluff on a 773 board (with JT, let’s say) and the turn is an Ace, reevaluate your fold equity. Against some people, the Ace isn’t a scare- card at all—they’ll expect you to bluff it because of your air-heavy flop NAR and they won’t fold anything. So, in those spots I usually just give up. When you play more loosely than your opponent, giving up a lot postflop is okay—it helps keep your NAR from going too far in either direction. Keeping an eye on how often you bluff versus how often you value-bet is vital, especially when you’re preparing to take on tougher opponents in more challenging games.