When/Why should u balance?

Aug. 19, 2011, Posted by Alex

When/Why should u balance?

You will know when you need to balance your range. If you are reading this and play anything below 200nl you do not need to balance your range and you will still be hugely successful (assuming you are good J). Balancing your range comes about when you move up in stakes and play in smaller and smaller player circles, where having a balanced range most of the time and occasionally merging your range will be more profitable in the longterm. Balancing is a substantial part of a good metagame. When you are playing the same solid, thinking regulars all the time ( like practically daily) and you need to find out how to increase your long-term edge, THEN you should be looking at balancing to increase your bottom line at the years end. You balance your range against players that are intelligent, who attempt to think on a level higher than you and who you have true poker battles with. The rest are beatable as they are.

Why should you balance? Good opponents will look at your game. I don't mean noting that you ½ pot bet the river for value with a decent holding. I mean actively datamine hands on you, go through hands they have with you, profile you. Over time, the best players will know what you are going to do with a certain part of your range before you do. This leads to you being exploited and results in you making mistakes (such as being successfully bluffed too often). This is not good. The good thing is you can prevent your betting patterns being mapped and opponents handreading you with uncanny accuracy by playing hands in a variety of ways and having a wider range with which you make specific bets/plays.

More often than not, balancing will be obsolete. Most of the time you should make a specific choice, be it betsize, bet, raise, call, timebank shove, whatever, based on what you think the optimal play is at that specific time versus that specific opponent owing to the factors involved. More often than not, deviating from the most profitable line will not be all that useful when compared with the optimal. There are a few reasons for this, opponents are not always focusing on what you are doing when, some never get past a certain level of thinking and will never adjust/exploit you anyhow. Some opponents are dumb, others are just burning cash trying out stuff at lower stakes, yet more are part-time or new players who lack a deep understanding of the game. Some will go broke next week, some will move site, up/down in stakes, country, whatever. The point is unless you KNOW that the sub-optimal plays you make against them WILL make you more money in the longrun, don't bother. Stick to the best line.

How Should I Balance? Part 1

A balanced range preflop is a good start. When you have a wide range for opening the pot in a lot of positions, it makes it harder for your opponents to exploit you. Generally we should opt for exploitation over exploitability. That means as I said before taking the most optimal line most of the time, not concerning ourselves with the fact we MIGHT be exploited by the better players if we continue to take the same line all the time. Say that on a tough aggressive table (with 1 fish, that's why we are there right!?!) you are playing a lineup of good solid players who you play a tonne. In this type of situation, you might decide to open 56s utg (say 10% of the time at this type of table) , knowing full well it is probably going to be a losing proposition the times you open 56s utg but you are protecting the balance of your utg range. This means that when the flop comes 456 and you cbet, your opponents cannot automatically think, "that's ok, that board never hit his range hard, ill just float this nit and take it off him on the turn/river". What they are forced to think is, "does that cbet mean I have AK please go away or is he enticing me to raise?" You protect your future cbets (not that I would advocate cbetting AK on a 456s board anyhow) and become a trickier player. Opponents cannot exploit you easily because you have a (relatively (10% of 56s dealt u actually open)) balanced range.

The same goes for situations when you just flat big pocket pairs and checkraise dry boards. You protect the times that you elect to bluffraise flops. In these situations you can balance your actions, even though u know calling is probably the best play with AA on a 943 board for example, you might decide to checkraise just to balance against a particular player. When your opponent has to guess whether you have a big hand or a bluff, it makes him much more likely to make mistakes. If you only ever checkraised the flop with a set/huge hand, then your opponent would know his hand is toast right? Well obviously the reverse is also true. Similar thought goes into when you check back flops, your opponent knows he cannot just bet the turn whenever you don't cbet as you have missed, because sometimes you will have something. When you elect to float a flop you should have a reason for doing so. You can float flops as part of a balanced postflop strategy against specific opponents. If you never floated the flop, your opponent could continually fire one cbet with air then giveup if you called as he knew his hand was no good. Floating lets us have a range where we might be on a draw, we might have air (the float) or we might have a monster. Playing each of these hands identically makes us harder to play in the longterm.

How should I balance? Part 2

I am actually really excited to write this section, as I rarely seen turn and river balancing discussed. This is kind of strange to my mind, as it is definitely the part of the game that is the most fun and the most $ enters (and leaves) the pot. Balancing the range with which you play certain hands on the turn and river is to my mind, one of the neatest aspects of competing against other good thinking players in 6max. The problem many smallstakes players have (and the reason they don't cut it any higher) is that they play too straightforwardly to much of the time and hence get utterly abused.

Lets compare and contrast two players at 400nl, both are winning regulars, yet one has a far higher winrate that the other. On the turn of a A6s7s3s board a reasonable LAG checkraises your AQs. You know he checkraises all flushdraws on the flop and is incapable of big thin value bets with the middle of his range on the river, yet is capable of huge bluffs. After logically thinking through that, you should almost always call his checkraise and re-evaluate the river, usually calling (as he doesn't have a flush and wont be valueshoving light, so if he does shove it will be a bluff, with me?). Later on, you find yourself in a pot against another LAG, this one is much more unusual, most players think he is an aggressive fish, yet he still keeps winning...the problem you now have is that he is capable of checkraising a slowplayed 2 pair, a flush, air, and assorted draws here. He is then capable of value shoving a hand as weak as 36 on the river and also shoving as a bluff. Which player do you think has the bigger winrate? Having a range of hands with which you can carry out an action is a really important thing when you have decided you need to start balancing. Say a TAGFish 3bets, then checks back a A7h8h board and another good TAG has called (with 88). The good tag knows that bad tag is checking down to get to showdown cheaply (through datamined hands) and hence probably has QQ/KK/JJ (or a super unlikely AA). So on the turn the good TAG makes a substantial bet to setup a further river barrel, knowing that the TAGFishes unbalanced range means he can be exploited, which is gonna happen here to the tune of X number of dollars.

Spots I think are generally poorly balanced by the majority of players but which are enormous money winners if balanced correctly are things like checkraising turns as a bluff (looks super strong and exploits the hell out of multitabling regulars) and bluff/value-checkraising and bluffraising rivers when you have a fantastic line on your opponent and his handrange. Let's say you open AK in MP and on a board of A3s4s95 bet then check the turn, out of position postflop. Your image is that of a good lag Your opponent is a good solid thinking TAG who coldcalls the button. On the river you decide to try something unorthodox and go for a checkraise. This type of play can have huge rewards against thinking players, who will automatically polarise a river checkraise in their minds as (in this spot) being nuts or air. Given that it is unlikely that you have a two and he might assume that his range looks fundamentally weak (AJ/A10/missed spades) you could well find yourself getting hero called by worse as your line looks REALLY dodgy with a set/2 pair or better. The great thing is that you can assume he seriously never has a two and almost never has you beat, so it is effectively win/win/win (he has a busted draw and b/folds, has a weakfish ace ace and bets for thinnish value and folds wheras he otherwise would fold to another bet, has a strong ace and hero calls a LAG who took a seriously weird line).

Balancing your range for various actions on all streets (once you have decided balancing is worthwhile) makes you a tougher 6max player. Your opponents will have a tough time reading you, you will be able to get them to make more mistakes and you will be able to push them about more of the time. Just remember to think deeply before every decision, as attempting to actively balance will take your game to a completely different level.

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What Others Are Saying

1 Comment about When/Why should u balance?

Henry Griffiths says:

9th of September 2011

Brilliant article Alex sir! Most enjoyable reading

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