A Beginner’s Guide to Balance (Part 1)

5 months ago - written by Sean Belton
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There is a raise from early position, before the player in middle position (let’s call him villain) puts in a 3-bet. The player in the small blind put in a 4-bet, with the early position raiser folding. The villain then 5-bet shoves. The small blind folds before the villain shows king-seven off-suit.

“It’s balanced versus my overall range,” says the villain as he drags in the chips.

 

Perhaps the above hand, which really did play out, was a gutsy play. Maybe the villain had a read on the small blind. In all likelihood, though, it was just a horrible all-in and an equally horrible justification. It seems the words balance and range are just thrown around now, without any real understanding of what those concepts are.

What is Balance?

When poker players refer to the concept of balance, what they mean is that they make the same action whether they are bluffing or value-betting, and do one just as frequently as the other, in an effort to remain unexploitable.

Imagine if a player always bet full pot when they had the nuts, and half-pot when they were bluffing. Once you realised this pattern, you would be able to play perfectly versus them. Or, what if they only value-bet with the nuts and always bluffed when they missed? You would be able to profitably call every time, because they would be bluffing way more frequently than they would be value-betting.

But if they were to bet full-pot with both nutted hands and bluffs and do so just as frequently with one as the other, then you would have a much harder time playing against them.  

How Do I Balance My Range?

This depends on a few things, which we will go into more in the next instalment of this article when we discuss a concept referred to as frequency. Roughly-speaking, though, for every hand you can bet for value, you should also have a hand you can bet as a bluff. If you have too many value-bets versus bluffs, or vice-versa, then you become unbalanced.

However, in order to introduce balance as a concept, let’s focus solely on pre-flop action for now.

It’s quite easy to pick your value hands pre-flop: start with aces and work your way down the top few percent of hands until you find something you’re not comfortable raising with. Things that affect this range of hands include position and pre-flop action. For example, maybe you would happily raise AQ off-suit when you're first-in, but if you’re facing a raise and a 3-bet, then the same hand is suddenly not a value hand.

Picking which hands should fall into your bluff rang pre-flop varies from person to person, but in general you want to include some hands that “block” your opponent’s good hands, and hands that have decent equity when called.

For example, if you decided to 4-bet shove the above AQ off-suit, you’d be doing it as a bluff because you’re highly unlikely to be called with a worse hand. However, it blocks aces and queens, which reduces the likelihood your opponent has those hands, and we would have equity when called by most hands (three outs versus KK, QQ and AK, flipping versus JJ and TT.) That’s why so many people choose to include AQ off-suit in their 4-bet bluff range.

When stacks are much deeper, other good hands to bluff with start to include suited connectors and one-gappers. This is because our opponent is unlikely to dominate those sorts of hands, and we also have good visibility down the streets. For example, we’re not going to go broke with on in a 4-bet pot, but we can continue our aggression when we flop combo draws, and it gives us a way to make some hidden two-pairs.

 

Conclusion

We will discuss the concept of balancing your post-flop range in the next instalment of this article. For now, take a look at your pre-flop game. Do you perhaps raise too many good hands while not including enough bluff hands? Are you too often passive with pretty hands instead of taking a more aggressive approach?

And most importantly, do you understand how wide your value range would have to be in order to correctly include the above king-seven offsuit in your 5-bet bluff range?

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