What does it mean to have a balanced range? It means that no matter what the flop is, you remain dangerous because you could have hit that flop. When your opponents see that you will open with, say, 7-5 suited, they have to include everything in between 7-5 suited and pocket aces in your range, and that makes you hard to play against.
I benefit from deception by association. And I’d like to thank you for that. I get credit for opening with suited aces and suited connectors from the early seats, even though I don’t. My opening range in the early seats at no-limit hold’em when the stacks are 100BB+ is all pocket pairs and AK. But my opponents correctly include suited connectors AQ and lower in my range because:
- Those hands are in their range.
- And all their friends’ ranges.
- And everyone on TV.
- And you’d have to be a freak and a loony to fold J-T suited in the early seats every time for life.
It’s just not believable, that my range is what it is, even if you’re watching it. The standard tight range for opening in the early seats at NLHE is the top 10%. This range is based on equity calculations and online-hand-history databases. It contains AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, 88, 77, AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, and some other high-card combos if they are suited. My opponents observe my folding rate, and it’s correct for them to peg me as a tight player in the early seats − a ten-percent-er.
And they’d be wrong in every way.
My range is 7.1%. And my 7.1% range is not a subset of the 10% range. My range includes 66, 55, 44, 33, 22, and I almost never fold those hands when first in the pot. The result is that even though my opponents know that my range is small, they are mostly wrong as to what it actually is. That has to bode well for me.
And just because a range is tiny doesn’t mean that it’s easy to play against. Even when my opponent has a laser read on my range before the flop, it doesn’t help him figure out if I’m bluffing or not after the flop. Let’s say I’m in a pot against a sharp, studious opponent who has been watching me play long enough to know that I always have the goods when I 3-bet him.
We play a pot. He opens, I 3-bet, and he calls. He has 99. My range, in his mind, is AA, KK, QQ, and AK. The board ends up with scattered low cards and a pair. In other words, chances are good that whoever had the best hand before the flop will have the best on every street. In this common confrontation, my range is nearly perfectly balanced in my opponent’s mind, even though it’s only four hands. There are 16 combinations of AK, and 18 combinations of AA+KK+QQ. So if my opponent has any hand that loses to QQ but beats AK, knowing my narrow range doesn’t help him figure out how to optimally play the flop, turn, and river.
And his correct play on every street will be to fold or bluff. Anytime he does something other than that, I’m making money. Lots of it. That’s because he’s wrong about my range. With deep stacks, I don’t 3-bet with AK. If I 3-bet, I always have a pair in the hole, and it’s usually a big pair. And when I have a big pair, opponents sometimes call my postflop bets with medium and small pairs because they believe there is a greater-than-zero chance that I have AK and I missed. And they are always wrong.
It costs me nothing to acquire this permanent, large mathematical advantage. I don’t have to pay my dues by living through the unpleasantness of 3-betting with AK, missing the flop, and losing to a small or medium pair. I don’t have to, because everyone else does, so they think I do too. But I don’t.
Let’s talk about small pocket pairs. They always have the potential to flop a set. So if a smart opponent knows that pairs make up the bulk of my range, and if I get stubborn or aggressive after the flop, they will fear a set every time, as they should. Which makes them more likely to be bluffable. And it makes them less likely to bluff me. Which is why I see and win lots of showdowns with unimproved pocket pairs and ace-kings when the river goes check-check.
Here’s why my secret is safe − besides the incredulity of it all. It’s the scarcity of revealed information. Because I play so few hands, and because I am last to act 80% of the time and I only have to show 20% of my losers at the showdown, and because I am rarely all-in, and because I bluff a fair amount, it’s rare that I am required to show my cards. How many hours would you need to play against someone like that before you could be certain that their 3-bet range includes 22 and excludes AK?
Here’s a curious thing: The cards you play do not determine your range. Thoughts do. During a hand, your range is merely a perception. If your opponent thinks your range is balanced, then your range is balanced. If your range is perceived as unbalanced, then your range is unbalanced. Your strategies should not be based on what your range actually is. Your strategies should be based only on what you think your opponent thinks your range is.
The ideal condition is when your actual range is different than your perceived range, and you know what that difference is. That’s a fun place to be. When you successfully ambush a foe, or sell a convincing lie, the joy of deception is your reward for doing the work of maintaining balance in your ranges.
Somehow my game evolved to where I get to enjoy the fun part without having to do the work. I don’t have to balance my early-seat ranges because you do it for me. I am untrusted, because you are. Thanks again.
2018 Coaching Update: I’m doing video coaching now on whatever ails you — from betting problems and tilt issues to bad quitting and no patience. For more details and to schedule a call, click here.