Monday, July 07, 2008

Balancing Your Range

The key element of hand reading is putting your opponent on a range of hands and determining the best line against that range as a whole. Once you can read ranges, programs like PokerStove can help determine how your hand performs against your opponents' likely holdings.

As difficult as hand reading is, it isn't enough. You also need to think about your opponents' perception of your hand range. An article in this month's Two Plus Two Magazine put it well: "Too many people think of playing their hand against their opponent’s range, as opposed to playing their range against their opponents range."

Therefore, the challenge is to "balance your range" to create a strategy that's difficult to exploit. By playing your strong, medium and weak hands on certain flop textures in a similar manner, you attempt to disguise your actual holding while extracting the most value overall from each hand type.

For example, if you only limp-raise with AA under the gun and no other hands, your hand range is "polarized" or "unbalanced" because you can only have one hand type in this situation. That's never a good thing because it enables your opponents to play perfectly against you.

Here's the technical definition of balancing your range: to merge your range so that you're not exploitable pursuing a certain line.

Balancing your range is a fascinating and practical topic that can be applied to any hand in any situation. Because I only have a passing familiarity with its specifics, I'll leave this post with a few thought-provoking links:

Shania, balancing, and what you really need to know: In this 2+2 thread, BobboFitos argues that it is unnecessary to balance your range against people who won't adjust to your standard betting lines.

This post resounded with me because I find myself playing to my opponent's perceived individual weaknesses, even though if he knew what I was doing he could play back at me. For example, I'll always fire a continuation bet against a player who will usually fold to a continuation bet because it doesn't matter what my range is if he'll fold to my bluff at a high frequency.

As one poster put it, "You should strive infinitely to balance your game, but heavily skew your play to each specific opponent."

I also agree with the sentiment that range balancing becomes far more important against observant opponents.

I found the 2+2 link from the Poker Log blog, which outlines some examples, such as raising junk hands preflop as semibluffs, continuation betting with air and double-barrelling scare cards. The author writes, "Your range is highly polarized when you perform action X when you only have Y. This makes your game highly exploitable and probably less profitable."

Foucalt presents a couple of other examples in this post with hands like TT and AK.

I have a lot of questions that I'll be thinking about in the coming days about how to apply range balancing:

How much of my 3-betting range should be made up of non-premium hands in order to disguise my premium hands? At what point does 3-betting non-premium hands become more expensive than it's worth?

Should I play KK on Axy flops in the same manner that I would play weak Aces on the same flop?

How should my check-raising distribution look between between monsters, pairs, draws and bluffs?

How often should I fire a second or third bullet? How strong of a "real" hand do I need to fire a second or third bullet? With what hand and flop types should I check the turn and extract value on the river?

Because my perceived hand range is based on my preflop betting actions and the flop texture, how relevant is my actual hand, knowing that I'll only reach showdown a small amount of the time?


Fuel55 said...

People always ask how I get paid off in the most ridiculous ways sometimes and how I get opponents to make huge mistakes. The answer is simply - well balanced ranges.

Justin said...

understanding shania and balanced ranges is crucial if you ever want to improve as a player. admittedly i am very new to the range vs. range aspect of it, but applying it in play it is pretty stakes and opponent dependent imo.

i'm a two month old 1/2nl hu grinder and aside from a two and three barreled steal (very, very occasionally) with air (and desperately trying to show down those hands), i don't see being able to successfully put shania to use in my games. i would say that it's even more irrelevant at stakes lower than mine.

even the most basic game selection at 1/2 and lower should prevent you from ever playing anyone with too much brainpower, partially rending shania useless.

before and during any match i'm always trying to assess what it is exactly about this particular opponent that is easiest to exploit, and 90%+ of the time that answer is that they are stationy/spewy. you almost always simply have to make a hand, but other times it comes in the form of them calling light vs. 3bets and giving up too frequently. people at my stakes and lower simply can't fold enough to make shania very useful.