Much like in the sport of boxing, where the best fighters vary their form of attacks to bamboozle their opponents, poker is a game where you need to keep your opponent guessing as much as possible. If you become too predictable, for example, if you c-bet the flop too much after raising on the button, then you will naturally become easier to play against. If you always bet all your good hands on the flop and check your bad ones then thinking opponents will be able to exploit your weaknesses fairly quickly!
Similarly to everyday life, it’s all about balance
Balance and the ‘GTO’ approach
If you’re reading this kind of blog it’s likely you’ve heard this term thrown around quite a lot (especially when playing live poker). But what does actually it mean?
Well, of course, there will be different interpretations given by different players. The term is related to the idea of taking a ’game theory optimal’ or ‘GTO’ approach to games. Which when it comes to poker basically means playing a ‘perfect’ mathematical approach that cannot be exploited or guessed at by your opponents.
Unless you’re essentially a robot this style of play cannot be executed to perfection yet many excellent players aim to play as close to as ‘GTO’ as they can. Which does make them much tougher to play against even if they are only bringing a limited version of this GTO approach to the tables?
How to think about ‘balance’ in real life poker situations
Whether you prescribe this purely mathematical approach to the game or not, it’s still important to bring some balance to your poker game. When trying to do this you need to think about both your range and your opponents and how they interact. And also if you are ‘in position or out of position’ this also should affect how you approach the hand in general!
Mixing your strategy when ‘out of position’
Let’s think of a tough out-of-position situation where we should look to mix up your strategies!
For example, if you both have a strong range going to the flop. Let’s say you have 100bb and have raised a 17% range of hands in early position and they have called in middle position also with 100bb with a condensed range of around 8-12% with hands like 66-TT (66, 77, 88, 99 and 1010), lots of hands like KJss ATss 98ss, etc. Here is how this range looks:
On a variety of flops, you will simply have to ‘mix’ your flop strategy with certain parts of our range.
Let’s say in the above situation the flop is:
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this kind of coordinated board hits our opponent’s range very well. They will be JJ and 88 in their range a lot versus a UTG open and perhaps even some QQ at this stack depth. They have QJss and depending on their 3 bet bluff strategy most combos of 9Tss too. And that’s just the two-pair plus combos! Our opponent will also have plenty of top pairs, strong flush draws and straights draws!
So even if we have a hand like AA with no club or a hand like KQhh, we will sometimes need to check. If this seems like a strange decision then you need to think about how hands like these will play if we get raised on a flop like this or how our hand might look by the river on tricky runouts. Unless we are playing versus a weak player with many leaks who will not play this situation as they should, then betting a hand like AA with no club every time will prove problematic.
Essentially in a situation like this where the equities will be quite close, we will need to have a check heavy strategy. This means that because a good portion of our range doesn’t quite have enough equity to bet on this board to sizing we would like so we need to check a lot in a situation like this, even with some very good hands! This is a key part of mixing our strategy to keep our opponents guessing!
Mixing your strategy when ‘in position’
Let’s think of a different type of situation where this kind of thinking could also apply, this time we are in a position.
We open J8hh the button at 75bb and our opponent calls from the BB with a similar stack size. Here is what our button opening range looks like:
And the flop is:
The first thing we need to take into account is that we have opened around 45-55% of hands from the button, so a lot! This immediately makes our range weaker going to the flop. Now, our opponent will also have a very wide range of hands (around 60% in fact) and is likely to have 3bet AA-TT, AKo, AQo, AQss, AJss, KQss a lot of the time preflop.
However, they will also have a lot of 6x combos in their range and capable opponents will be aware of this and look to check-raise paired board quite a bit. So checking back of one the weaker suited Jx our range actually makes some sense here. We can keep the pot small and look to ‘bluff catch’ on later streets if our opponents decide to bluff the turn which they may do after we check the flop and show some weakness.
However, it isn’t a weakness that is showing, it is balance!
So in poker, we need to balance our range as much as we can in a variety of situations. It’s easy to be lazy and say ‘ oh this guy in the big blind is a fish, I will just bet my weak middle pair ’ that kind of mentality will only take you so far in the game in 2019. As players and even to a certain extent ‘fish’ continue to soak in educational content like this, it’s imperative to keep improving your game and a large part of that will be knowing when to mix up your strategies appropriately to crush your opponents.