Monday, May 27, 2013

Balancing Your Range at the Micros

Balancing your range at the micros
Something that I get asked about a fair bit is if you should balance your range at the microstakes. If we are talking about the super micros like NL2, NL5 and NL10 then my answer is pretty easy.


In fact I think it is even counter productive in most cases. This is because most of your opponents will be relative beginners or recreational players who don't really understand the idea of what a range is in the first place, let alone what balancing it means. 

A lot of people tend to want to over think versus these types of opponents and then wonder why their results aren't where they expect them to be. The most straight forward big value lines will always be the most effective against beginner level opponents who are primarily only focused on what they think about their own hand.

What is a Poker Range?

But let's back up for a sec first and remind ourselves of what a range actually is.

A range in poker is: 

The entire spectrum of hands that you or your opponent can have in any given situation. 

I think most people intuitively understand this concept at least to some extent. However newer players tend to overlook it at key times. For instance, they will convince themselves that because the turn brought the flush card and their opponent bet again that they always have the flush

The reality is that their opponent will have plenty of other holdings as well such as top pair, an overpair, middle pair, the naked ace of the flush suit, some other draw or even total air. The frequencies with which their opponent will have these particular holdings always boils down to the player type and any potential history.

The main point here however is that you should always view each move that your opponent makes based on the entire range of hands that they can have. All players have a range and you should always be thinking in terms of it. 

Superstition and whimsical thinking have no place in this game. 

Rather than saying to yourself: "He always has the flush here" 

You should instead be analyzing the situation in terms of the frequencies that you predict him to show up with different holdings. 

So this is a much better way of thinking about it: "Based on my opponent's HUD stats and my past history with him I think he will show up with a flush here around 40% of the time. He will have top pair or some other draw 40% of the time. I have noticed that he is on tilt so I expect random air or weak draws to make up the other 20%. Therefore, this is a very marginally profitable call/shove (depending on stacks) with my overpair."

Now I should mention that at the very lowest stakes there are many players who I like to call "Super nits." You have probably seen them on the NL5 full ring tables on Pokerstars for instance playing 8% of their hands with an AF (aggression factor) of 1. 

These players are unique in that they generally have exactly what they are representing an overwhelming amount of the time. But even these players are prone to random flip outs or overplaying a top pair or overpair from time to time. So yes, even these players have a range.

While it is absolutely true that there are many extremely tight regs at the lowest stakes who you should absolutely fold to in the face of aggression because their range is so nut heavy, you should still consider their entire spectrum of holdings. 

This will be especially important as you move up the stakes and the regs become a little more imaginative and have lots of stuff that isn't the nuts in their range.

So What Does Balancing Your Range Mean?

It simply means this: 

Consciously trying to populate your range with a wide variety of holdings. 

However, much like every other aspect of poker, this stuff is not an exact science. And it can be especially difficult to do this while playing many tables at once. And harder yet is trying to give an individual opponent a different look every the time.
So this is why I think the best way to go about balancing your range at the microstakes is to just focus on how you play each set of hands each time.

As a simple hypothetical example: 

If you wanted to check/raise and lead in equal frequencies with your sets when OOP (out of position) then just alternate your action every single time that you are in this spot. Over the long run it will balance out versus all opponents and they will get lead into or check/raised in equal proportions when you have one of these holdings.

Why Should You Balance Your Range?

Simply put, you should balance your range because it makes you harder to play against. 

Achieving success in poker could be summed up as finding and exploiting the patterns in your opponents play. Once you find the patterns, exploiting them is the easy part. If your opponent has folded to 3bets in 9/10 opportunities thus far that is a pattern that is pretty easy to exploit: 3bet him nonstop. 

Everyone is always going to leave some sort of pattern in their play to some extent because every person has their own unique style and quirks. But the best players work meticulously on removing any traces of repetitive actions from their play in order to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to get a read on them. This really is what balancing your range is all about.

Balance Your Range Versus the Drunken Monkeys at NL2?

Now as I said before, I really don't think any of this stuff matters too much if you are playing NL2, NL5 or even NL10 to a fair extent. But at NL25+ there are quite a few more regs and some decent ones at that who take the game fairly seriously. 

NL25 is the first limit where you can start making some decent money in poker and many of the regs will be using a HUD like Pokertracker and some may perhaps even be studying your game away from the tables.

It is very important to keep them guessing in order to maximize your success versus them. To use the same example, if you just check/raise your set when OOP 100% of the time some regs at these stakes will eventually figure this out and then be able to play perfectly against you. 

This will especially be the case if your check/raise percentage is really low, like 10%, on their HUD. So you should aim to check/raise, check/call and lead in fairly equal proportions in this spot in order to always keep them guessing. 

And to take it a step further you should be capable of doing this with hands such as top pair, middle pair and draws as well. This is something that I discuss in much more detail in Modern Small Stakes.

I should mention that I don't balance my range much versus fish or relatively bad players at any limit. I just play them straight forward and take the biggest value lines possible when I have it. So all of the examples below will be versus regs. 

And specifically good regs who may be capable of figuring out the patterns in our play. Versus bad regs (and there are certainly lots of them) I don't vary my play that much. But I am not as transparent as I am versus fish either.


Blinds in all hands = 10c/25c

Stacks in all hands = 100bb effective

Full Ring

Example #1 

We open with A♥Q♦ from the CO. A standard 15/12/3 reg with a 5% 3bet% 3bets us from the SB. What should we do?

As I said before, our goal should always be to mix up our play at NL25+. Folding isn't ever going to be a very good option here because we are probably ahead of our opponent's range most of the time. Keep in mind that this is an LP battle so his range will be a fair bit wider than 5%. 

Also we have position which is huge. But this doesn't mean that we should 4bet him every single time. We want to let him know that we are capable of just flatting with a hand this strong as well and playing some poker. 

Also, we have one of those hands that while strong is probably going to be in bad shape versus a 5bet. So in this spot I would tend to flat probably about 2/3 of the time. But I also want him to know that I will 4bet on occasion with non-nut hands like this also. 

So I will try to consciously flat most of the time when in this spot but throw in the occasional 4bet as well. Non of this is an exact science as mentioned before but hopefully this will allow me to come close to the frequencies that I want over the long run. 

Example #2 

A standard 15/12/3 reg opens from MP. We decide to just flat from the BTN with A♣J♣ because there is a big fish in the BB that we want to come along. He does come along as predicted. 

The flop comes 5♠T♦2♣. The fish checks and the reg cbets. What should we do?

I think there are arguments to be made for all three options in this spot but we should never do one of them every single time. I am not a huge fan of folding here with our two overs, three backdoor draws (2 straights + flush) and position but it certainly wouldn't be terrible by any means. We don't have to get involved in every single pot. 

I think raising is a pretty good option here and just trying to take down the pot right now. Calling and betting the turn when checked to or raising the turn are both decent options as well. The latter might be the best option in fact if the reg is barrel happy but folds everything but the nuts when raised on the turn. 

So ideally I would like to raise or call in this spot the majority of the time and fold from time to time as well. Maybe, 40%, 40% and 20%. But again, obviously this is not an exact science and we will never hit these hypothetical goals exactly. But if you simply alternate your play each time and fold on occasion then you could come close. 


Example #1 

A standard 22/19/3 reg opens from EP. A fish flats from the CO and we just flat from the SB with 4♣4

The flop comes 6♦4♥J♦. We decide to check. The reg cbets and the fish folds. What should we do?

Obviously our decision here is between raising and calling. While I said before that we could do well to balance our play evenly in this spot there are some other factors that we should consider. Board texture is one. 

Is it a heavily coordinated board with multiple draws where plenty of turn cards could kill our action or worse yet allow our opponent to make a better hand? In this spot, not really. It is true that he could have a diamond draw but overall his range is going to be heavily populated by missed overs, middle pair type hands and a few top pair hands.

Also, we should dig a little bit deeper into our HUD and assess our opponent's tendencies. Does he fold a lot when his cbet gets raised? Does he barrel a lot? If he folds a lot when his cbet gets raised then we should be more inclined to call. 

If he both folds to flops raises and barrels a lot then we should definitely be more inclined to call the flop and check/raise the turn. If he doesn't fold to flop raises much then we should just go ahead and check/raise him on the flop.

Lastly we should consider any history with this opponent. Often with regs that you battle with day in and day out at NL25+ there is a lengthy history and it can in some cases make the HUD stats almost irrelevant. 

If we have been battling with him a lot of late and winning several of the pots then we should definitely play it more aggressively in this spot. If he tends to get the better of us or has been winning a lot of late then we should play it slower and allow him to try and barrel us off. 

Now obviously when you are playing a ton of tables you won't really have the time to look at all of these different factors. So for mass multi-tablers alternating their play every single time unless it is a heavily coordinated board is probably the best strategy. 

But if we have time, we can really tailor our decision to the individual opponent. This doesn't mean that we should always take one particular action but sometimes all of the factors may lead to one being the best in this particular instance. 

Example #2 

We open with J♥J♣ from the CO. A standard 22/19/3 reg with a 6% 3bet 3bets us from the BB. What should we do?

Folding is clearly never an option here as we are well ahead of his range. 4betting for value is probably going to be the best option here. But we should be able to flat with a hand like this from time to time as well in order to blur our ranges in these spots. 

We want the reg to be confused as to what our 4betting and calling ranges are in these spots. The best way to do that is to have premiums in both of them and mediocre to strong hands in both of them as well. 

As we saw in example #3 though, there are plenty of other factors that may influence our decision in this specific case as well. But in the absence of any time to look over that information I would probably be 4betting about 2/3 times in this spot for value and flatting 1/3 of the time. 

So I will try to consciously 4bet most of the time but remember to flat from time to time as well. 

Leave your questions and comments below about the discussion or the hands. What are some strategies that you use to balance your range?

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Balancing your range at the micros


  1. Great article Rain!

  2. Great article.. Thanks for amazing tips.. I have a question..

    We open with J♥J♣ from the CO. A standard 22/19/3 reg with a 6% 3bet 3bets us from the BB. And we do 4bet and he calls.. flop : Overpair (Q-K or A) xx what should we do ? cbet ? if we do cbet.. %50 - 60 - 70 ? how much ? thank you.. My english not very good.. sorry for this.. regards..

    1. Hi Riza,

      Not an easy spot. I am more likely to bet and get it in on Qxx but on Axx or Kxx I might just give up because I expect AK to be a big part of his range. It really depends on the player though. I would be betting 50% of the pot at most. Maybe more like 40% in a 4Bet pot.

    2. And if he calls to my %50 cbet.. and villian's ffcb : %80 what should we do ? check / fold on the turn and river ?

    3. Probably just give up assuming there were overcards on the flop.