In any given hand, a good player is constantly thinking about two things:
• What cards do my opponents hold?
• What cards do my opponents think I hold?
Of course, it’s quite difficult to put your opponents on a single hand, which is why you should consider what range of hands they might be holding. This takes into account a number of factors, just a few of which might be table image, position, betting style, bet amount and the player’s past actions.
Balancing your hand range means playing a wide range of hands the same way in certain situations. It’s a simple concept, but application is difficult because it requires you to constantly think.
For instance, say 75% of the time you raise pre-flop, you make a continuation bet on the flop. When you make that c-bet, sometimes you have good hands, drawing hands or even nothing (air). In the eyes of your opponent, you could have anything, so you have a well-balanced hand range. That is the essence of playing winning poker—you want to always keep your opponent guessing and unsure.
Know your opponents
Trying to balance your hand range is useless if your opponents aren’t on that level of thinking. For example, if you’re playing micro and low limit ring games online, balancing your hand range should not be a top priority. You can use the same play over and over to get your opponents to fold, and a bad player won’t even take notice. Once in a while you’ll run into an observant player who’ll catch on, so try to keep track of who is paying attention.
If you’re playing with a group of good, experienced poker players, it’s important to utilize the power of deception by varying your game. For example, say you flop an open-ended straight draw. Most of the time you’d check and hope to see another card, but let’s suppose you check-raise instead. Your opponent thought you had air a moment ago, but now he thinks that he is beat! Moves like this are good on occasion because it helps plant that seed in your opponent’s head that you’re an unpredictable player, and thus, you can be holding a wide range of hands at any time.
Why balance your range?
A balanced range makes it harder for an opponent to put you on a narrow range of hands, making it difficult to play against you with confidence. If your opponent can’t put you on a narrow range of hands, he’ll be more likely to make mistakes. Against good players, winning is all about whoever makes the fewest mistakes.
A balanced range doesn’t give your opponent information. The goal is to bet and force your opponent into a difficult decision where he thinks you could have the nuts, a drawing hand or even air. Of course, creating a well-balanced image in your opponents’ minds requires that you play the table for an extended period of time and be involved in a certain number of hands.
Aggressive players are the most difficult to put on a hand. An aggressive player typically bets at any sign of weakness. This means they are playing their opponents’ cards as well as their own. If you’re not an aggressive player by nature, that’s okay. Aggression comes with time and experience at a poker table, and with time and experience comes knowledge.
Say you are in a small pot with one other opponent. You’ve been playing rather conservatively, which is a reflection of the poor cards you’ve been dealt so far. You get another weak starting hand in the BB and check your option. Sensing weakness, your opponent bets. You have nothing on the flop—no pair and no draw. It would be easy to folder this hand, but this might also be a good time to check-raise and keep your opponent guessing. The respect that you’d receive—in this case, that you’re a deceptive player and are playing a wider range of hands than previously believed—outweighs the size of the pot.
Remember, your bets should always have purpose. Betting is used most often to win the pot, but it can also portray a certain image or allow you to gain information about your opponents.
When to balance your range
There is no one answer to this question, but generally speaking, balancing your range is important when:
• You are playing against good, experienced players
• Your table image is detrimental to your game
The first point we have already covered. As per the second point, at some point you may have developed a table image that is detrimental to your game. For example, maybe you have a loose-aggressive table image. Players aren’t respecting your bluffs and are re-raising you as a result. You need to balance your range to keep them honest. This involves either playing different strength hands in the same way, or playing the same strength hand in a different way.
In order to fully understand range balancing, it is integral that you look at yourself and your own hand history. Try to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and ask yourself, “What does my opponent think I might hold?” If you know what range of hands your opponent has you on, you will be able to optimize your play and get the most value from your hand.