What is Balance?

A lot poker content over the last several years discusses “balance”. There will often be a question about whether or not you want to be balanced in a particular setting. What seems rarer, is any attempt to guide people in understanding what balance looks like. Does it just mean 1/2 of your bets should be for value, and 1/2 for bluffs? I don’t think it does.

A bar can be balanced across a fulcrum with equal weights on either side, but unequal weights can also be balanced if the fulcrum is moved closer to the heavier weight. What is the fulcrum in poker that defines what “weight” we should have between bluffs and value in those situations where we decide we want to be “balanced”? Bet size relative to the size of the pot.

Things are simplest on the river in a heads up pot, as leverage, outs, and other factors can add a lot of complexity. It also helps simplify things to have a perfectly polarized range, consisting only of hands that you feel are the effective nuts, or hands that have no showdown value at all. I think balance is the point at which you don’t care whether or not your bets get called, and you’ll end up winning the same amount against any calling frequency (though if calling frequency moves too far from MDF, you’ll be able to win more by not being balanced). This is often also referred to as the equilibrium strategy (though only a special case of that broader term).

Here, if I bet pot, I want two value bets to every one bluff, and more generally will be the same as the pot odds I’m laying my opponent (a pot sized bet lays 2 to 1 odds, as the defender will win both the pot and the bet if they call and win, and will only lose their call if they call and lose). A half pot bet lays 3 to 1 odds, and a balanced polarized range will have 3 value bets for every bluff. As your bets get larger than the pot, the balance point gets closer and closer to bluffs becoming as frequent as value, as a bet that is infinitely larger than the pot would lay 1 to 1 odds, with the pot effectively becoming zero.

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Thanks for this Yorunoame!

Obviously keeping the discussion to balance as it refers to betting - balanced ranges, I think, are not what you intend to discuss here - I think that balance is some combination of bet size, pot odds and fold equity.

River action is, as you say, fairly simple in theory (although very often difficult to properly implement) so I’m interested in considering the opening streets.

I wonder if we can think about early betting action and balance as being similar to those very clever people who place a board on top of a ball and then move around the room without falling off?

The applied weight on each end of the lever might be thought of as bet size on one end and pot odds on the other. The ball, the fulcrum, is moving which requires different applications of weight and, I think, can be thought of as fold equity.

Balanced betting, therefore, is the application of bet size vs pot odds such that we are in a momentarily +ve EV situation regardless of what actions our opponents take. “Momentarily +ve” because we have to “rebalance” or recalculate on the next street … the position of the fulcrum, the fold equity, has changed based on the next card shown and the actions of the opponent on the previous street.

Just my thoughts :slight_smile:

Regards,
TA

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I’m not the best at this and I don’t expect to have the last word, but I think bluff-to-value bet ratios of about 2:1 are maybe a reasonable general starting point, but it’s far from the end of the story.

When I bluff effectively, it’s usually because I’ve taken into account other factors. It depends on the situation, the board texture, your opponent’s tendencies, reads, and so on. If I just said “Well, I bet the last two hands for value, and I have nothing here, so I better make this my bluff so I’ll be balanced!” I don’t think I would be playing very smart, and I wouldn’t expect it to work very well.

If you’ve won a lot of hands recently, and you tended to get called and won at showdown, you have a certain image of credibility, and you can parlay that into some profitable bluffs in subsequent action.

I also get more value out of my value bets when I’ve been running poorly and have cultivated a table image of being unlucky, not having strong hands and betting them for value anyway, etc.

I also think that most bets have some element of bluff to them. Normally hands are not won by the absolute best possible hand that could be made with the board, but are simply the best hand that happened to get to showdown. Most of these hands can be value bet, and it depends on the relative strength of the hand to the range of your opponent’s hands whether it’s a value bet or a bluff.

If I have trips and bet it for value, and get beat by a full house, I didn’t try to bluff, I just value bet and got beat. If I bet with trips at the river on a 4-flush board, lacking a flush with my hole cards, it’s more of a bluff.

Sometimes you can bet not on the strength of a made hand, but that your opponent does not have anything they can call with.

Bluffing effectively is a matter of situation and size. The bluff has to be big enough that your opponent is unlikely to call with most of their range. And it has to be a credible amount that you can convince your opponent that you are holding a hand that is strong enough to show down and win. That amount depends on many things, from the opponent’s actions, tells, and tendencies, the type of game, how deep you are in a tournament, and on and on.

Another important side of the balance equation is your inverse bluff ratio, that is the number of hands you play weakly in order to trap opponents. But again, this isn’t just a matter of raw frequency, but of developing a feel for the right situations to pull it off. Earlier position can be better to trap from, but you also need to have an aggressive opponent who is over playing their own hand strength or who always bets when they are checked to no matter what they hold.

Balancing ranges usually means much the same thing, as it is primarily about keeping a variety of hand classes in your betting ranges. When you check, in order to check raise, or to bet on a later street, your checking range needs to be well thought out also, though I thing deciding on that checking range is more “range construction” that then allows balanced betting subsequently. I don’t think I’m in a position to speak with any degree of authority, but for me at least, “balance”, “balanced ranges” and “balanced betting” are the same thing.

I’ve really only discussed a small slice of a small slice, by talking about what a balanced, polarized river betting range looks like (ideally facing a condensed range). But I think that is the first step to deciding what parts of your range you want to play what way.

This was my most recent SNG, a heads up 100k game I played against a player who only had another 350k or so in their bankroll.

In my experience playing against opponents who meet this criteria, they fall into two camps: hyper tight, and hyper aggressive. Both are annoying to play. You can play the hyper tight ones for 150 hands and win 148 of them and then still lose, and against the hyper aggressive ones, you just have to over fold and wait until you get a good hand you can call them with. Both styles are far from balanced, but the uber-nits are tough to get into a big pot, and when you finally do it turns out they have the nuts.

This player, it turned out, was one of the hyper-aggressive type. On the 3rd hand, I’m dealt KK, standard raise to 120. V raises me to 360. I 4-bet to 1080, and he calls. I flop top set, KQ8, a fairly wet board with broadway and diamond draws. I don’t want to play it slow, so I go for a half pot bet, it’s too much and V folds. I probably should have checked and let him bet into me and trap him, or flat him and let him bet all-in on the river trying to bluff me off of a very strong hand with whatever he had. Based on the fold, I’m guessing either weak Ace, possibly suited but not with the board, or a pocket rag hand, 66-JJ.

After getting most of the chips, V adopts a bizarre strategy of raising about ~70BB to open every hand in order to steal 15 or 30 chips. I soon realize I’m going to have to call very wide and stand my ground. I give him the next 5 hands, having nothing good anyway, and then stand up with Q9o, flop a gutshot draw, check-call a shove chasing my straight, figuring he’s bluffing, but sure enough, big mistake, no bluff, he’s got AK and top pair, and we’re swapping stacks. I could have just folded the next 30 hands and let him steal blinds to get back to even with me, so what am I going to do?

I come right back in the next hand, he raises to 1100 chips and desperation shove my last 1800 chips on a suited Q-rag, he calls with QJs, and I get super lucky for once and make a flush to get back over him, 3700-2200.

He still has too many chips to be neutered, and he goes right back to massive bluffy preflop raises that I fold junky hands to. Then he disconnects from the table or sits out for several hands and I take advantage, raising each hand as quickly as I can to steal back as many blinds as he stole from me. He comes back and resumes the 800-chip opens, I resume folding my 53o, 72, and J3o.

When I get a playable hand, I open to 120, and he folds, then comes back and runs 800-chip bully bluffs every time he’s in the SB, and then disconnects again for several hands. He’s in Argentina according to his profile, maybe he just has a bad connection.

I endure about 40 hands of this nonsense, and eventually, the final hand of the game, he limps. Weird, I think, and I’m holding Q2o, so I don’t want to re-open the action and let him run over me with yet another massive bluff, so I check. Flop gives me bottom pair, 22s. I check, expecting to fold when he massive overbets, and he just checks back. Hmm. The Turn is another 2, and now I bet for pot, putting 80 into 80. V calls. OK. Then on the river, I pair my Queen, full house, and I bet pot. V shoves. Ha ha ha ha ha, I call, V has J2, and I win the game. Stronger hand than I was expecting him to have, to be honest, but how typical. I had a hand there was no way I could fold, only losing to QQ, 88, 55.

This was a terrible player, really, extremely unbalanced, but his bet sizing made him a big pain to deal with. I won more due to getting a very strong hand the first time he tried to challenge me, and ended up blowing it, both by not getting more value out of that hand, but also by trying to call him wide when I lost my next big hand and let him double up. I only won the tournament because I got super lucky to overcome a dominated Queen under Queen situation with a flush, and then backed into a 2nd nuts hand in a situation V thought he could trap me with what ordinarily would have been the best hand a lot of the time.

It wasn’t exactly my skill or experience that won here, and that bothers me. I should be able to beat an unbalanced player without so much risky play, and in the end I only barely won by getting lucky in the one spot where I was truly at risk, and having the better hand in 2 of the remaining 3 big hands.

So I still think balance is probably a good thing for a well-rounded player to aspire to, but it is also somewhat overrated.

Balance is usually regarded as a bit of an advanced concept, as you really don’t need to even try to be balanced except versus very strong, very observant opponents that are capable of discerning unbalanced play, and then exploiting that effectively. So it’s a bit of a theoretical exercise, trying to discern what perfect play against perfect opponents will look like, and then that in turn can provide a baseline: bluff more than balance dictates if people over fold, bluff less if they over defend.

Most of what you’re discussing is about what good exploitative play looks like, and yes, playing expletively in general means departing from balance (and more generally, departing from equilibrium strategies).

It’s not usually a matter of counting how many times you’ve bluffed, and how many times you’ve made a value bet for a given size on a certain street (though I’ve actually tried that many times and find it works quite well if I’m still reasonably thoughtful about the hands I’m using). You want to carve up your range so that each holding knows its roll ahead of time, and so a certain part of your range will be used for large, polarizing bets, and you want the count of combinations of hands to come close to the optimal ratio for the size of the bet you are making.

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I think it’s important to be somewhat balanced, no matter what.

I think we have all seen what totally unbalanced looks like. Have you ever faced someone who mostly limps, but makes huge raises when they get pocket pairs QQ+, AK, or AQs? Such players might as well play with their cards face up.

When I think of balance, it’s all about not displaying such hand strength or betting patterns.

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I think that I’ve proved my point from a different thread: any thread that puggy participates in is guaranteed to die.

My last gasping hope of resurrection of this thread is this reply:

@Yorunoame, I’m certainly not claiming that you have discounted range selection. I’m sorry that you understood that.

My argument is that absolutely everything, preflop, is uncertain. To that extent, I understood your discussion to be one of “how do we balance our hole cards, the flop and the actions of the opponent”.

Preflop, we have two cards and, depending on our position relative to the dealer and relative to the other players and so on, we have to play what we are dealt. I can guarantee that every solver raises 92o at some frequency. I assumed that you chose to move beyond that and on to post flop play.

The question that I thought you were trying to answer is “how do we bet?”

Regards,
TA

As opposed to all other threads on the forum, which all flourish forever and asymptotically approach infinite posts as Time = t approaches forever.

Yes, you’re right.

I shall now not participate in any forum discussion. I’m over you - taken off chat

Please carry on with topic, I shall enjoy reading the rest of the discussion

TA

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Perhaps we could keep this nicely on topic now.

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Agreed. Would be great to see moderator action against personal attacks.

LMAO … is there a “smiley” for that?

Grapevine, I often disagree with you but you hit the nail perfectly this time.

I need an “emote” for “god you’re good”

Regards
(a very lacking emote things) TA

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Back on topic:

We might be saying the same thing… I’m not sure. I’m not thinking of pre-flop play at all as I discuss balance, but I am thinking of how to divide post flop ranges into value and bluffs.

So balance on the river with a pot sized bet is 2 value bets to 1 bluff, at least in the isolated context where you are close to complete certainty that your value bets are always ahead, and that your bluffs are always behind.

As we move to earlier streets, this confidence about value being ahead or bluffs being behind is fundamentally further diminished by the reality that our value will often be facing later cards that could reverse who is ahead, just as we’ll choose many of our bluffing hands on earlier streets because they have equity in the event they are called. While our bluffs have a chance of improving to the best hand, this allows us to bluff at a higher frequency than when our bluffs have no (or close to no) chance of winning when called, and you’ll often hear a rule of thumb that on the turn you should have a number of bluffs equal to your number of value bets, and that on the flop bluffs should outnumber value bets 2 to 1.

If you are in the habit of betting anything you think is probably ahead, generating 2 bluffs for every value bet isn’t even possible in some spots, as you are likely to feel you are probably ahead more than half of the time as the pre-flop raiser against 1 opponent, for example. Thus, in order to bluff at this seemingly ridiculously high frequency, you really need to reduce your value betting frequency in at least some spots. Out of position this is a bit easier, as you are already probably trying to play a bit more defensively in that context, and you’ll sometimes hear professionals talking about betting the flop OOP only with 3 streets of value type hands.

While I don’t like always doing this, the 3 streets approach creates some nice tricks for staying in balance:

  • Because you are value betting with a smaller slice of hands, it’s a little easier to find 2 bluffs for every hand you are betting
  • You’ll mostly give up (or at least revert to a check) with 1/2 of your bluffs every subsequent street, keeping you at these ratios as you move forward
  • Some of your bluffs will become value, and some of your value will see cards that degrade them drastically… this won’t usually work out at quite the right ratios, but it still leaves you moderately close