As defined in our poker terms dictionary, playing a balanced range means having a similar number of bluffs and value hands and bluffs in each specific situation at the poker table.
Imagine a situation where you 3-bet from the Small Blind against a Button raise. If you only ever make this play with your strong hands, a thinking-opponent can raise nearly any two cards and fold when you reraise or, if the price is right, call your raise with the intention of out-flopping your premium hand and getting paid off. Therefore, in order to balance your range in this scenario you need to include a sufficient number of bluffs to balance-out your value hands and keep yourself from getting exploited at the table.
This example is just one of an almost infinite amount of situations you would need to balance when playing a thinking opponent…
Do I have an equal number of value hands and bluffs when I don’t c-bet the flop?
Am I balanced when I check-raise the turn?
Do I bet full pot with both strong and weak hands?
As you can see, balancing in poker will be an intricate aspect of nearly every hand you play. And while it may seem like an overwhelming task at first, with a bit of hard work through programs such as ICMizer or the help of the world’s best GTO coach, balancing will soon becoming a natural part of the way you think about each hand.
The Argument Against Balance
For all its benefits, it’s important to note that adhering to a perfectly balanced game-plan (otherwise known as Game Theory Optimal, or GTO) can sometimes be costly, particularly at the lower stakes where its application is often unnecessary.
For example, even though it’s important to have a balanced turn probe bet against strong players, meaning to bet both value hands and bluffs when our opponent fails to continuation bet, most lower-stake and recreational players will not notice such a small aspect of the overall match, especially not over the likely insignificant sample size you’ll be sharing a table with them, and you should therefore often take the action with the highest immediate expectation. As anti-GTOers sometimes say:
Just because it’s +EV doesn’t always make it Max EV.
Returning to the turn probe bet, although it makes sense to balance against strong players, when recreational players do not c-bet they are often either trying to induce action in very obvious spots (such as on a KKx flop when they hold a king) or will be folding to a double-barrel (a bet on both the turn and river) at an extremely high frequency.
Therefore, once you’ve accurately identified your opponent as a fun-player, double-barreling the turn and river at a high frequency whenever your opponent misses a cbet on a board they are unlikely to be trapping on can add some solid edge to your game, regardless of the fact that you simply can not have enough value hands in that situation to justify betting at such a high rate, and thus are unbalanced and definitely not GTO.
The Low-Down On GTO
Although the value of a GTO balanced approach to poker strategy is inarguable against strong opponents or in large sample-size situations (like playing thousands of Spin & Go SNGs against the same opponents), the key for the average poker player is to work on understanding how to balance common poker scenarios, but only make it a primary focus when sure of the accuracy of the following statement:
My opponent can exploit my imbalance at a greater winrate than I can exploit his tendencies with that same imbalance in place.
Do that and you’ll be well on your way to profiting at the tables, whether playing GTO, or no.
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