Oftentimes I get asked by friends, clients, and occasionally random strangers on the street how I strive for balance. The desire – and need – to “merge your range so that you’re not exploitable pursuing a certain line” somehow got drilled into the entire community so that people often pursue sub-optimal lines in order to satisfy Shania.
For those uninformed, Shania in short is having a range of hands rather then a particular hand for an action, so that it’s possible to get further paid off and not be read easily.
I’m here to reveal something that is an old idea – it’s certainly not novel, nor can I really say I’m the creator or founder of this idea. However, it may be groundbreaking in today’s game. Shania, balancing, and merging are not important.
Yes, that’s right; I’m here saying that being exploitable is actually preferable to having a range in certain situations, and I’m here to explain why that is. First and foremost, lets throw out the idea that just because someone is exploitable actually means they get exploited.
The basic idea behind not having a merged range is that what’s more important is how your opponents perceive you; if you play in a merged manner, and your opponents are observant, well then, they will assume you follow Shania and therefore need to sit idly while you exploit them from the ground up.
The real question then, if your perception of Shania interwoven into your game is more important then the actuality of implementation, how can you get away with doing all this? Well, the answer is in short opponents are NOT that observant. Stats are plentiful but don’t tell the full story; one 22/17 is much different then another 22/17, a 28/24 is a helpful read but it doesn’t really shore up on frequencies in particular spots, etc. Further, notes only take people so far – so often I have people say “well my image is this and this,” and I pretty much ignore that. Who cares what your image is? It does matter what your opponent thinks of you, of course, but how often are you wrong? If you’re spot on, does this even yield that much more information to play a hand that much more optimally? Rarely. People often use their own idea of their image as an excuse to make a play they want to make, ie. they’ve sat and folded for 2 orbits, and are now ready to make a big bluff simply because “the whole table understands they’re playing tight”. Uhhh, no. The whole table just thinks you folded for 2 orbits and are now slinging money into the pot; certainly your bluff frequency may be reduced slightly, but it again likely doesn’t shape a decision.
Lets back this example with a few practical examples, preflop on up, and perhaps implement Shania later. Villain raises in the CO, and we 3bet aces. We feel if we ONLY 3bet aces, then our earn would be X. However, if we 3bet AA + 32s, our earn would be X+Y. (This is Shania at a glance) That said; what if we only 3bet AA, but our opponent thinks we 3bet AA+32s? Taking this another step forward, with a more generalized 3betting range of perhaps 99+, AQ+, and random hands every now and then, our earn is X (those big hands) + Y (those random hands) – removing the “X,” does the “Y” show profit? Well, if our opponent believes us to be balanced, certainly “X” will still make the same amount, therefore no, 3betting suboptimal hands (in theory) will not show greater profit, thus the implementation of Shania for Shania’s sake seems futile. If someone conjectured that “Y” is +EV w/o “X”, then clearly this is NOT Shania but a technical flaw in your opponent. (Them being exploitable in this fashion)
Moving on, many people like to play draws the same as 2pair or sets, so that opponent with a big pair or TP is generally in a “murky” pokerstove quandry where Hero is likely to get paid off w/ all his big hands and coinflip when he has that draw. We’ll call this “X” (the big hands) and “Y” (those draws); what if our opponent always mismanages a range so that our true range is really just “X” – it still wins the same, but perhaps we could play “Y” in a different – and more profitable – manner without needing to sacrifice EV for the sake of building “X”.
Lastly, on the river people like to think that river bluffing needs to be balanced with value betting, as in “I can bluff often because I value bet thin,” or the converse, “I can’t bluff much because I always have nuts or nothing, therefore I will get snapped off by ANYTHING”. This time “X” is the better hand, “Y” is the bluff; if you know “Y” is going to be called, making it in isolation is a BAD play! That said, people do it so that “X” can get paid off, which again, we feel is profitable (X+Y, our Shania of that moment). Again, if our opponent feels we are balanced, we get looked up with “X” and save the money on a bluff from “Y”. The exploitable trait here actually is if our opponent thinks we’re always “X”, thus they can continuously make bluffs, well then “Y” is swung into a profitable space in a vacuum, and the need to balance is removed; you exercise “Y” simply because it’s the right play!
In sum, the idea that people do one thing to balance for another is often skewed, under the principle the balancing is not important, people THINKING you’re balanced is what matters. Further, people are much less observant then you may think; I feel I am very perceptive, I am studious, and I’m very knowledgeable of equities and ranges; but even I generally misapply ranges and individual spots, so in theory I placate an opponents “Shania” when none is necessary.
How can we learn from this? Well, the next time someone does something that in isolation is -EV, but is considered necessary for “metagame,” perhaps make a different play, I.E. the appropriate play if you played that hand in a vacuum. If a hand played +EV also yields to any “metagame,” then perfect! You’ve accomplished something without giving up anything. On a personal note, I don’t try to balance; rather, I give off the idea I’m balanced in several spots, but internally I know I’m not. I just trust the ineptitude of people being able to misconstrue this information on their own (it’s hard, they just lack the necessary information; it just takes too much work and too much time for each person!) so that when I want to bluff, I bluff because it’s the “right” play, and when I want to valueshove, I do so because it’s “right”.
One pair, two pair, three of a kind, straights, flushes and full houses comprise over 93% of money earned. Here is the breakdown in terms of %.
One pair —- 21.9%
Two pair —- 24.7%
Three ——- 14.5%
Straight —- 12.0%
Flush ——- 11.4%
Full House — 10.7%
To tell if you are running bad, you compare the performance of these hand types with the long term quantities and/or win rates. For instance with top pair, you should win 44% of the time. If you are performing at 15%, it will be very tough for you to have a winning day. If top pair is performing at 77% you are getting lucky.
Quantities aren’t important for top pair and two pair because happen so often. The deviation isn’t as important. Here are the expected performance for top pair and two pair.
Top pair — 44%
Two pair — 57%
I came up with these numbers by looking at over 400K hands worth of Misc tab data. You can compare your own long term data to see if these numbers look right. If not, feel free to use your own.
Premiums (straights, flushes, fulls) are different from one pair and two pair because they come up so infrequently. Also you make much more per hand with premiums. Because of this if you are either not getting your share of premiums or if they are not winning at showdown the average amount, it will seriously impact your bottom line. As an example, flushes are worth about 4.7 BB in my database and each top pair is only worth 1.2 BB. Each premium occurs roughly every 200 hands. Straights happen a little more and full houses a little less. Premiums should perform at 80% at least.
I haven’t looked into three of a kind that much but since it’s worth 14% of your earn I should give it more attention. From a preliminary look at my database I’d say three of a kind should win at 75% or better.
Using this you can tell if a particular day was good or bad due to cards. It really won’t help you become a better player. But somedays, the reassurance that you don’t suck at poker can be worth quite a lot.