Balancing Your Play

You may have heard players speak of the need to balance their play, and in a lot of cases this can be a pretty important element of poker indeed. One of the fundamental things that we look to accomplish with balancing our play so to speak is to make it more difficult for our opponents to put a read on us and figure out too easily what we are up to.

Balancing though in fact always involves our not wanting to give our opponents too much information. Often, but not always, it involves doing some things that are less than ideal in of themselves, but the benefits of muddying the waters so to speak outweigh the costs, at least when we do this properly.

What can happen when we don’t balance our ranges or other aspects of our play is that opponents may be able to figure out too easily what we may have. They don’t even have to know what we may have, just knowing that we’re doing something with a good hand or with nothing is often more than enough, and more than we should be telling them.

So if I bet into you in one situation, let’s say I lead into you with a donk bet and only do this with my best hands, then you will know to fold all but the hands you expect to be ahead of the range I’m representing. Or, if I just fire off a lot of bets in the same situation, you will know that I’m probably bluffing and will loosen up and also look to push me off of these bluffs, and you know that I don’t have the goods generally to fight back too often and in particular often enough.

We Also Need To Be Aware Of Things When We Don’t Act

One of the real benefits of mixing things up and balancing our ranges is to take advantage of perceptions that may exist when we don’t do something. So if I’m not balancing, and I’m a rock who only bets with a good hand, not only do you know that I have a good hand when I bet, when I don’t bet you also know that I don’t have a good hand.

So both ends of this can be used against us pretty easily if we don’t balance our ranges properly, as needed, and I’ll talk about that part shortly. There’s more to balancing things than just ranges though, and we also need to be aware that we should look to strike a balance between types of actions as well, in this case betting versus checking, or calling versus raising, or whatever the case may be.

In our example for instance, I am betting too infrequently, and should look to not only balance what I am betting with, but also do it more often. Playing tight passive is a terrible way to play of course, and one of its faults is being far too easy to play against, so we need to look to correct that, among other things.

Getting back to our opponent’s perceptions when we don’t do a certain thing, by balancing things we can and need to throw them off on both counts. So in this case I will throw in some bluffs when I bet and check back some good hands, and the degree that I should be doing this will correspond to how perceptive my opponent is. The more perceptive they are, the more I need to balance things.

It's All About How Much They Are Paying Attention

If you are at a table of fish who do nothing but pay attention to their own cards, there may not be a need at all to balance anything, and in fact you would be wasting your time doing so and even reducing your advantage. Ideally, you don’t want to balance unless you have to, as its best just to beat the crap out of them and not even have them know what happened.

Against sharp players, you are going to have to be sharp as well with the amount of balancing you put into your ranges. Against more modestly attentive players, you will need a modest amount. As important as all this is, you don’t want to overdo things either.

Balancing can be used as an exploitative tool though and it doesn’t always cost you a little to buy some stealth. In the example I spoke about earlier, if my opponent thinks that I bet with the goods and check with less, then I can bluff a lot more while maintaining a similar frequency of betting, and check back a lot of good hands, which my opponents will be willing to put more money in the pot against, to my benefit.

Balancing things is really all about keeping them guessing though, and the more they are paying attention, the greater the need to keep them guessing and not give away valuable information. This way we can look to minimize their opportunities to exploit us, as the more predictable we are, the easier time they will have with us. So our primary goal here is not to give them such an easy time.