Range Balancing

Published: 20/12/2010

More than any other game, Poker is about identifying patterns of behaviour. And any Poker player who has spent time trying to read opponents and put them on a range of hands knows one thing for certain: the other players do their best to hide the truth. To mask telltale signs of hand strength, many players wear sunglasses, others joke around, and some never say a word.

Despite such outward attempts at disguise, players who always play similar hands the same way will soon be outed. That’s why an excellent masking technique is to play hands in such a way that opponents can never tell for sure what one is doing. This is a practice known as “range balancing.”

Balance vs. Imbalance

As a first step toward effective range balancing, a player should become very aware of his/her own tendencies that are giving information away. The goal thereafter becomes to play less predictably so that opponents can never accurately know the hands being held.

As a simple example, consider the player who frequently check-raises after the flop. Sometimes this player is bluffing (B). Sometimes he has a good drawing hand (D). Other times he has a made hand (M) and is trying to snare some easy prey. If these actions are imbalanced, it becomes easy for opponents to know what actions to take.

If the player exhibits bluffs (B) and made hands (M) in roughly equal amounts, then B = M, D is zero, and other players can put him on a coin flip every time he check-raises post-flop. Similarly, when D = M and B is zero, players will quickly learn to steer clear of challenging him with anything less than a monster hand. And when B = D and M is zero, they will aggressively attack his every check-raise post-flop.

On the other hand, if the occurrence of B = D = M, the player’s is “range balancing.” His hand is very difficult if not impossible to read. His post-flop check raise could be anything, which is the powerful advantage conferred when the range is balanced.

Balance and Chaos

There are two fundamental ways to achieve range balancing and effectively hide the meaning of one’s actions. The first, and easiest to put into effect, is to play a wide range of hands exactly the same way under a given set of circumstances.

For instance, when on the Small Blind and no other player has raised, wagering 3X the Big Blind no matter what cards are held will totally confuse the opponents and net more than a few pre-flop pots. Another approach might be to use continuation bets frequently, say 80% of the time or more, after raising pre-flop. Again, the other players can only guess what is held.

The other way to achieve range balancing is to play a certain type of hand differently every time. For example, when holding a weak pocket pair in an early position, take turns playing tight or loose, passive or aggressive. Mix it up, and no other player will be able to pinpoint the style of play coming next. This is more difficult to manage, of course, because it requires being consistently inconsistent, perhaps bordering on erratic.

Range balancing has much more of an effect when playing against intermediate or advanced players than it does against beginners. That’s because novices are still so focused on figuring out their own range of possibilities that they can’t begin to notice patterns in their opponent’s play.

Published on: 20/12/2010

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