What is Range Balancing?

As you move past the $0.25/$0.50 6-max cash games, one of the topics that becomes extremely important is called “range balancing”.

Range balancing means playing different cards the same – or the same cards differently, in order to confuse your opponent and balance your “hand range.”  We know that one of the key concepts of poker is being able to outwit your opponent and narrow down his hand range of different streets.  That’s why most semi-professional players use a Poker HUD for instance.  But balancing your range allows you to bluff more since it’s harder for your opponent to put you on a hand.

Example of Balancing Your Range

Range balancing can be applied to any situation or hand.  However a great example would be the group of hands or boards that you continuation bet.  As an example, if we have a TAG opponent who only cbets 20% of the flops than we pretty much know that he is only betting strong hands (i.e. his to 20% of hands on the flop).  This might be his top-pairs, sets, TPTK, suited flush draws etc…

However, if he increases his cbet% up to 50% – 60% (standard Poker HUD stats for cbet%) than it means that he is continuation betting a much broader range of hands.  He’ll be betting very strong hands half of the time, and mediocre hands another half of the time.  His opponent has no idea though – this is what range balancing is all about.

Other great ways to balance your hand range include semi-bluffing on boards, floating bets or 3betting light pre-flop from position.

Advantages of Balancing Your Range

There are multiple advantages to balancing your range which go far beyond the simple statement of just “confusing your opponent.”

The main advantages include:

  • Maximum Value from Strong Hands
  • Fold Equity from Bluffing Hands
  • Less Predictable to Play Against
  • Allows you to Play More Hands and Steal More Pots

Maximum Value from your Strong Hands: Firstly, when you have a well-balanced range you should get maximum call equity from your big hands such as TPTK.  This means that when you have a hand like a nut flush or overpairs to the board your opponent will still call your bet because he can’t read your strength.  This enables you to get maximum value from your strong hands.

Fold Equity from Bluffing Hands: Every time you bluff you want your opponent to fold right?  Thus, the better balanced your hand range is the more difficult it is for your opponent to know whether you’re bluffing or not.  If you’ve raise pre-flop with pocket Kings twice in a row and than make a raise with 72 you’re much more likely to win the dead money pre-flop and force your opponent to fold.

Less Predictable to Play Against: The trick to online poker is to develop a playing style which combats your opponent’s.  If your opponent is ultra-aggressive than you should play tight.  Likewise, if he’s very tight and nitty than you should open up your hand range, amp up the aggression and bluff him off pots like Gus Hansen.  Being unpredictable however enables you to confuse and enthral your opponent. You’ll be able to out-level him in different spots and make him lose his confidence bluffing you etc.

Allows You to Play More Hands: If you’re only playing 10% – 20% of your starting hands than you’re going to be sit out a lot in 6-max cash games.  That’s not fun.  But by balancing your range you can start playing and limping into pots (or blind steal) with a larger range of hands.  Why not steal the blinds from CO or 3bet with any suited connectors/10Js+ for example if your table is weak?

Conclusion on Range Balancing

Range balancing is a very important subject that you’ll be forced to master if you’re ever going to be successful above the micro-stakes games.  In fact, I’d argue that a lot of the mid-high stakes poker games (e.g. $5/$6) are more about outwitting opponents and out-levelling them with a balanced hand range than anything else.

Remember that in order to balance your hand range successfully you’re going to need to adapt your play to different sorts of opponents and in different situations.  If you’re playing all of your top hands by check-raising the flop than although that might win you the most chips, in the long run it will make you too readable.  Moves that I make for balancing my range including semi-bluffing, check-raising, floating, 3betting light and double barrelling the turn.