The Dean's Winning Poker Tips: How to balance your play

I have often said that playing successful poker at bigger limits involves far more than simply having a bigger bankroll and needing more money. You are simply required to play poker in a completely different way in order to be successful at the middle limits and beyond. There are many reasons as to why that is, but one such reason has to do with correctly balancing your ranges. What exactly do we mean by that? Well firstly it may help us to look at an example.

Let us say that you open raise after it gets folded to you on the button and the big blind calls. At this stage your hand is unimportant and the flop misses you totally. The big blind checks and you c-bet and take the pot…… what’s the problem? Well jump forward now to the next situation and you raise from position and then get called again by the big blind. They check-call the flop after you miss once again and when the turn card comes, then they check again! You figure that another bet will probably provide enough leverage to get them away from the hand and so you bet again.

However, this time they call and the river still leaves you with fresh air and the big blind checks again. You stack off on the river, but here is where you have a potential problem even if your opponent folds. If this was your intention to use this line before the flop, then what is your goal on future hands? If you think about this for a minute then what hand types would you bet with on all three betting rounds after the flop?

To escalate the pot in this way until you stack off would indicate that you either have a very powerful hand or you are simply firing multiple barrels on a bluff. So your range is unbalanced between fresh air and powerful hands. If you triple barrel like this every time that you have fresh air but go into pot control when you have a mediocre hand then your superior opponents will easily counter this strategy. This is why you often see players making what seem to be crazy calls with hands like pocket fives on the river. You may ask how these players can possibly call with hands as weak as that.

But the answer is in the fact that they have spotted a playing pattern where their opponent simply raised pre-flop and then bet all three streets when heads up. This obvious betting line is massively exploitable and really only works against weak-tight players or players on short bankrolls who are scared to escalate pots without the goods. When you see a good player call you down with 8-8 on a board of A-10-9-7-5 on all three streets then you need to realise very quickly that they have noticed a pattern in your game.

While weak calling stations may make these plays at low stakes, strong players make the play because they have spotted an unbalanced range. The adjustment is straight forward of course and it involves value betting thinner than you otherwise would have done. You deter this sort of play and exploit it by simply betting all three streets with hands like top pair without going into pot control mode at some stage. This then extracts maximum value from your opponent that you otherwise would have missed had you checked one or two of the betting rounds. So remember that when you move up in levels that your opponents are putting your game under the microscope and balance is one of the keys to success.