Poker Strategy: Balancing Your Range, Explained

One of poker‘s foremost qualities is its strategic depth. There are near-infinite ways to play, with many different options available in every scenario. Poker strategy has undoubtedly evolved throughout its 50-year lifespan, making the game incredibly engaging for players of all skill levels.

No matter how much you already know, you can always learn something new. While most poker formats have straightforward, uncomplicated rules, the amount of strategy concepts and advanced techniques is truly something else. In this poker guide, we’ll tackle one way to greatly improve your game: Balancing your range.

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Prerequisites: What are bluffs?

When you play a hand, it is generally one of two options. The first is a bluff, a weak hand that you pretend is strong. By bluffing, you attempt to get others to fold, winning you the pot without actually getting to the showdown. Bluffs are an integral part of every poker player’s game plan, as you can’t sit back and rely on getting a good hand to win.

Prerequisites: What are value hands?

Value hands are the opposite of bluffs. They are strong hands that will likely beat other players at the showdown. Instead of getting people to fold before the showdown, you want to keep them in the pot for as long as possible. When players are involved in a pot, they will naturally either call your bets or make their own. Either option adds money to the pot, giving you a bigger potential reward once you make it to the showdown. Value hands require you to create a huge pot which you can then win, extracting as much value as you can from the hand. They are also an integral part of every poker player’s game plan, as premium hands occur very infrequently.

Prerequisites: What is a range?

Ranges are a concept in poker used to describe the set of all hands a player can have in a certain scenario. Ranges are never exact; they are valuable estimations that can vary wildly from player to player. Some factors that can affect ranges include the player’s playstyle, position at the table, and current betting actions. Range-reading is decently complex, requiring you to think about the implications of every one of your opponents’ actions. For example, someone calling a raise pre-flop “caps” their range. It’s unlikely they have the absolute best hands pre-flop like AA, otherwise, they would have re-raised.

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What is balancing your range?

Balancing your range is a strategic concept in poker that players use to remain unpredictable. It involves playing an equal number of both bluffs and value hands. This way, it’s exceedingly hard for your opponents to tell what you’re holding. By remaining unpredictable through range balancing, you increase your chances of success with your bluffs and value bets since your opponents won’t be able to tell which is which.

Range balancing tips: Remove all other signs of what you’re holding

You must make sure your actions with a value hand and a drawing hand are absolutely indistinguishable from each other. For live poker, this also means you should pay more attention to your physical tells. Subconscious actions like looking at the pot too often with a value hand or nervous fidgeting when you have a bluff could give away what you’re holding to your opponents. Remember to maintain a poker face with the same expression regardless of what you have.

Range balancing tips: Play the same hand differently

Another approach to range balancing involves playing the same kind of hand in different ways. This is also a great way to confuse your opponents, with a good example being a drawing hand. These hands don’t have guaranteed value but have the potential to improve in later rounds. Many players stick to checking with drawing hands, which isn’t a bad idea in a vacuum since you want to see the turn and river without committing too much money.

However, this could lead to your opponents knowing whenever you have a drawing hand because you only play them one way. Another way to play a drawing hand is by utilizing it as a semi-bluff. By betting aggressively to try and make your opponents fold, you can fall back on the chance of completing your hand if the bluff doesn’t work. Having multiple ways to play a hand is essential to remain unpredictable.

When NOT to balance your range

Balancing your range is effective, but only when you’re up against an experienced player who will try to adapt their playstyle to yours. Against newer players, you can deliberately unbalance your range to take advantage of their mistakes for maximum profit. Against a “nit”, which is a conservative player that only plays the strongest hands, you can play far more bluffs than value bets. This takes advantage of the nit’s tendency to fold, which will let you win far more often than playing a balanced range.

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Practice this new technique in your own games!

Ultimately, learning to balance your range in poker is essential for success and mastering the game. A predictable player is a weak one, so you must do what you can to stay ahead of your opponents. Remember, though, that practice makes perfect. Balancing your range requires quite a few poker games to get the hang of, especially if you’re not used to playing an equal amount of value hands and bluffs.