Have you ever felt that other players could read you far too easily? Can’t seem to spot the mistake causing you to be so predictable? Always having your bluffs and value bets fail for seemingly no reason? All of these are symptoms of an improperly balanced range.
Range balancing is a critical concept that many intermediate poker players simply overlook. Oftentimes, an improperly-balanced range is the most significant leak in your gameplay, and fixing it will yield tremendous results without requiring too much commitment.
This poker guide will cover everything you need to know about range balancing. It’ll explain what it is, how to achieve it, and why mastering it is vital to your poker game.
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What is a range?
The idea behind range balancing requires you to understand what ranges are first. They’re a concept in poker representing the list of possible hands your opponent could hold.
There’s no point in trying to pin your opponent down to one hand, as that’s unrealistic. Instead, you can build a range of hands and narrow it down based on your opponent’s actions throughout the hand and their play style.
What is range balancing?
Range balancing means adjusting your range to have equal value hands, strong hands you want to bet with, and bluffs. Doing this makes it incredibly hard for your opponents to tell which hands you have, so it’s harder for them to exploit you.
An imbalanced range means a predictable player. For example, imagine a player where 80% of the hands in their range are value hands and only 20% bluffs. Knowing that they’re much more likely to have a strong hand when betting, you can simply fold more often to them to deny them value.
That gets a lot harder when they play an equal amount of value hands and bluffs, as you won to tell whether you should try to deny them value or call their bluff.
Balancing your range: Play an equal amount of value hands and bluffs
While it may look simple, playing an equal amount of the two kinds of hands could be more complex than you might think. You might not have a good idea of your play style, so figuring out which part you should tweak can be hard.
We recommend using poker tracking software if you play online poker to solve this. These programs track and record your hands, analyzing them to give you an overview of your play style1. You can see statistics that reflect how many hands you play and how aggressively you play them, greatly helping you balance your range.
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Balancing your range: Play the same hand in different ways
Another technique for balancing your range is playing the same kind of hand in multiple ways. Even if you have a balanced range, if you always try to raise and 3-bet with your bluffs and slow play your value hands, your opponents will still be able to tell which hand you’re holding because of how you play them.
Instead, look to play the same kind of hand in different ways. For example, you don’t always need to check and call with a flush draw. While that’s the standard since it lowers the risk of facing a big bet, you have many other options.
Semi-bluffing, for example, is a valuable alternative. It’s when you bluff with a drawing hand, using the chance of hitting your draw as a last resort in case the opponent calls. It’s a lot more effective than regular bluffs because of that backup plan, and it’s fantastic if your opponent notices your regular habits when playing draws. A semi-bluff can trick them into thinking you have a made hand, allowing you to see the next round easily or even win the pot outright.
Balancing your range: Hide your other tells
Finally, one crucial thing some players forget when balancing their range is minimizing their other tells when holding specific hands. Your strategy might sound perfect on paper, but when executed, you might be doing things that give the hand you’re holding away.
For live poker, the most common example of this is physical tells. Your demeanor at the table is essential; looking at cards or chips, facial expressions, and even involuntary movements can all be associated with a type of hand. If it feels like you’re being constantly read, focus on improving your poker face so it doesn’t change regardless of what’s happening.
Another example common to both live and online poker is bet sizing. Sometimes, you might only be using a large bet size for bluffs and a small one for value hands. Make sure to pay attention to your bet sizing, and use a wider variety if you realize you’re too predictable.
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When should you not balance your range?
While range balancing is a core element of poker strategy, sometimes, it’s a good idea to purposefully unbalance your range. See, range balancing protects you from being exploited by skilled players who can notice which hands you’re frequently playing.
If you’re up against newer players who don’t adapt their strategy, you don’t need to balance your range. In fact, unbalancing your range to exploit them is a better idea, like including a lot more bluffs when you’re playing against a tight player.