Range balancing in poker is the act of ensuring you have a proper number of bluffs and value hands when you bet or raise. If you never bluff, your range is unbalanced and your opponents can easily fold marginal hands whenever you get aggressive. On the other hand, if you bluff too often, your opponents are more likely to call you with any pair because your range is unbalanced with too many weak holdings.
So balance is clearly important. We don’t want to do anything too often, nor too rarely, and allow our opponents to make simple profitable adjustments.
But I don’t balance regularly. In fact, most of my bets and raises are incredibly unbalanced. Push play and allow me to explain:
I talk a lot in my poker videos about how to have more balanced ranges and identifying if your opponents are balanced, but at the end of the day, I am a very unbalanced player. So, is that good or bad? And should you be unbalanced as well?
Well, balance in poker is having the correct frequencies and ratios – the proper ratio of value to bluff hands within your range.
That will shift and skew differently based upon a whole bunch of different factors. For instance, you’re going to have more value betting hands in your range as you near the turn and river. But on the flop, you’re going to have a larger density of bluffs and semi-bluffs, which inherently means you have more bluffs compared to value hands.
Let’s look at this through the most overused poker hand example:
On the river, you have a pot size left and you decide to go all-in. How do we craft a balanced range here? Well since our opponent is getting 2:1 pot odds on a call because we bet pot and there is no stack depth left, they can either call or fold. Based upon this, a perfectly balanced range would be 2 value hands for every 1 bluff.
This creates indifference to their bluffcatchers. They cannot call with more bluff catchers to beat us, nor can they fold more bluff catchers to beat us. If they adjust one way too far, they lose EV quickly.
Now how do we know when to deviate from using a perfectly balanced range? As I said, I’m not balanced, and to be honest, nobody really is. So if that’s, the case why do we take the time studying and talking about balanced strategies in the first place?
Well whether or not we should be range balancing is dependent on our opponent. If they are a strong player who will adjust properly if we bluff too much or rarely, then it makes more sense to implement a balanced approach against them.
The real question we should be asking is “when should we unbalance ourselves?” Say your opponent, in the aforementioned river scenario, is going to fold half of their bluff catchers. This means they are now folding too often. And when we find out that a player is folding too often, it makes sense for us to throw in some extra bluffs to exploit that fact.
Simply put, if your opponent is doing something too often, or too rarely, there is an opportunity to exploit them. If they fold too many strong hands, bluff them with impunity. If they hate folding and will call you any pair, bluff them far less often. As a good rule of thumb, remember that:
- Tighter players tend to fold too often to big turn bets (so bluff them more often on turns)
- Fishy players tend to call too often on turns & rivers (so bluff them less on later streets)
Don’t focus on being balanced if it means that you aren’t making the optimal decision – the one that maximizes your EV. If you find strategic shortcomings in your opponent’s game, exploit them when given the opportunity.
That being said, if you are playing against super-strong regs, then yes, balancing becomes very important. This is a byproduct of the fact that strong players are less likely to have strategic gaps so big that you could a drive truck through them. Plus, strong players are more likely to figure out if you are too value-heavy, or bluff-heavy, and will adjust quicker and more correctly than weaker opponents.
The main point is that you want to gauge how balanced you should be based upon the people you are playing against. The less often they will counter, the more often I will unbalance (either partially or massively). If/when they begin to adjust, I can always revert back to a more balanced style.
Now, if you are newer to this concept and want to see what a developed and balanced strategy looks like, I highly recommend checking out The One Percent course. This course gives you simple rules for betting & raising, simple ratios per street to ensure you have the correct number of bluffs, and in-depth examples to see how everything ties together.
Start spotting places where your opponents are leaving heaps of chips on the table – and capitalize by fighting more, folding less, and choosing more intelligent ranges with a true system for success.