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Balancing Your Range at the Micros

Posted by BlackRain79


Something that I get asked about a fair bit is if you should balance your range at the microstakes. Anyone who has read my book Crushing the Microstakes, watched my DragTheBar videos or followed this blog knows that at the very lowest stakes I don't really see the need for it much. In fact I think it is even counter productive in most cases. This is because most of your opponents will be relative beginners or recreational players who don't really understand the idea of what a range is in the first place, let alone what balancing it means. A lot of people tend to want to over think versus these types of opponents and then wonder why their results aren't where they expect them to be. The most straight forward big value lines will always be the most effective against beginner level opponents who are primarily only focused on what they think about their own hand.

What is a Range?

So before we can talk about balancing a range we need to know what a range is. A range in poker is the entire spectrum of hands that you or your opponent can have in any given situation. I think most people intuitively understand this concept at least to some extent. However newer players tend to overlook it at key times. For instance, they will convince themselves that because the turn brought the flush card and their opponent bet again that they always have the flush. The reality is that their opponent will have plenty of other holdings as well such as top pair, an overpair, middle pair, the naked ace of the flush suit, some other draw or even total air. The frequencies with which their opponent will have these particular holdings always boils down to the player type and any potential history.

The main point here however is that you should always view each move that your opponent makes based on the entire range of hands that they can have. All players have a range and you should always be thinking in terms of it. Superstition and whimsical thinking have no place in this game. Rather than saying to yourself "Healways has the flush here" you should instead be analyzing the situation in terms of the frequencies that you predict him to show up with different holdings. So instead, "Based on my opponent's HUD stats and my past history with him I think he will show up with a flush here around 40% of the time. He will have top pair or some other draw 40% of the time. I have noticed that he is on tilt so I expect random air or weak draws to make up the other 20%. Therefore, this is a very marginally profitable call/shove (depending on stacks) with my overpair."

Now I should mention that at the very lowest stakes there are many players who I like to call "super nits." You have probably seen them on the NL5 full ring tables on Pokerstars for instance playing 8% of their hands with an AF (aggression factor) of 1. These players are unique in that they generally have what they are representing an overwhelming amount of the time. But even these players are prone to random flip outs or overplaying a top pair or overpair from time to time. So yes, even these players have a range.

While it is absolutely true that there are many extremely tight regs at the lowest stakes who you should absolutely fold to in the face of aggression because their range is so nut heavy you should still consider their entire spectrum of holdings. This will be especially important as you move up the stakes and the regs become a little more imaginative and have lots of stuff that isn't the nuts in their range.

So What Does Balancing Your Range Mean?

It simply means consciously trying to populate your range with a wide variety of holdings. However, this stuff is not an exact science as is the case with nearly every other aspect of NLHE. And it can be especially difficult to do this while playing many tables at once. And harder yet is trying to give an individual opponent a different look every the time. So this is why I think the best way to go about balancing your range at the microstakes is to just focus on how you play each set of hands each time.

As a simple hypothetical example, if you wanted to check/raise and lead in equal frequencies with your sets when OOP (out of position) then just alternate your action every single time that you are in this spot. Over the long run it will balance out versus all opponents and they will get lead into or check/raised in equal proportions when you have one of these holdings.

Why Should You Balance Your Range?

Simply put, you should balance your range because it makes you harder to play against. Achieving success in poker could be summed up as finding and exploiting the patterns in your opponents play. Once you find the patterns, exploiting them is the easy part. If your opponent has folded to 3bets in 9/10 opportunities thus far that is a pattern that is pretty easy to exploit; 3bet him nonstop. Everyone is always going to leave some sort of pattern in their play to some extent because every person has their own unique style and quirks. But the best players work meticulously on removing any traces of repetitive actions from their play in order to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to get a read on them. This really is what balancing your range is all about.

Balance Your Range Versus the Drunken Monkeys at NL2?

Now as I said before, I really don't think any of this stuff matters too much if you are playing NL2, NL5 or even NL10 to a fair extent. But at NL25+ there are quite a few more regs and some decent ones at that who take the game fairly seriously. NL25 is the first limit where you can start making some decent money in poker and many of the regs will be using a HUD like Pokertracker and some may perhaps even be studying your game away from the tables.

It is very important to keep them guessing in order to maximize your success versus them. To use the same example, if you just check/raise your set when OOP 100% of the time some regs at these stakes will eventually figure this out and then be able to play perfectly against you. This will especially be the case if your check/raise percentage is really low, like 10%, on their HUD. So you should aim to check/raise, check/call and lead in fairly equal proportions in this spot in order to always keep them guessing. To take it a step further you should be capable of doing this with hands such as top pair, middle pair and draws as well.

I should mention that I don't balance my range much versus fish or relatively bad players at any limit. I just play them straight forward and take the biggest value lines possible when I have it. So all of the examples below will be versus regs. And specifically good regs who may be capable of figuring out the patterns in our play. Versus bad regs (and there are certainly lots of them) I don't vary my play that much. But I am not as transparent as I am versus fish either.


Blinds in all hands = 10c/25c

Stacks in all hands = 100bb effective

Full Ring

1) We open with A♥Q♦ from the CO. A standard 15/12/3 reg with a 5% 3bet% 3bets us from the SB. What should we do?

As I said before, our goal should always be to mix up our play at NL25+. Folding isn't ever going to be a very good option here because we are probably ahead of our opponent's range most of the time. Keep in mind that this is an LP battle so his range will be a fair bit wider than 5%. Also we have position which is huge. But this doesn't mean that we should 4bet him every single time. We want to let him know that we are capable of just flatting with a hand this strong as well and playing some poker.

Also, we have one of those hands that while strong is probably going to be in bad shape versus a 5bet. So in this spot I would tend to flat probably about 2/3 of the time. But I also want him to know that I will 4bet on occasion with non-nut hands like this also. So I will try to consciously flat most of the time when in this spot but throw in the occasional 4bet as well. Non of this is an exact science as mentioned before but hopefully this will allow me to come close to the frequencies that I want over the long run.

2) A standard 15/12/3 reg opens from MP. We decide to just flat from the BTN with A♣J♣ because there is a big fish in the BB that we want to come along. He does come along as predicted.

The flop comes 5♠T♦2♣. The fish checks and the reg cbets. What should we do?

I think there are arguments to be made for all three options in this spot but we should never do one of them every single time. I am not a huge fan of folding here with our two overs, three backdoor draws (2 straights + flush) and position but it certainly wouldn't be terrible by any means. We don't have to get involved in every single pot.

I think raising is a pretty good option here and just trying to take down the pot right now. Calling and betting the turn when checked to or raising the turn are both decent options as well. The latter might be the best option in fact if the reg is barrel happy but folds everything but the nuts when raised on the turn.

So ideally I would like to raise or call in this spot the majority of the time and fold from time to time as well. Maybe, 40%, 40% and 20%. But again, obviously this is not an exact science and we will never hit these hypothetical goals exactly. But if you simply alternate your play each time and fold on occasion then you could come close.


A standard 22/19/3 reg opens from EP. A fish flats from the CO and we just flat from the SB with 4♣4♦

The flop comes 6♦4♥J♦. We decide to check. The reg cbets and the fish folds. What should we do?

Obviously our decision here is between raising and calling. While I said before that we could do well to balance our play evenly in this spot there are some other factors that we should consider. Board texture is one. Is it a heavily coordinated board with multiple draws where plenty of turn cards could kill our action or worse yet allow our opponent to make a better hand? In this spot, not really. It is true that he could have a diamond draw but overall his range is going to be heavily populated by missed overs, middle pair type hands and a few top pair hands.

Also, we should dig a little bit deeper into our HUD and assess our opponent's tendencies. Does he fold a lot when his cbet gets raised? Does he barrel a lot? If he folds a lot when his cbet gets raised then we should be more inclined to call. If he both folds to flops raises and barrels a lot then we should definitely be more inclined to call the flop and check/raise the turn. If he doesn't fold to flop raises much then we should just go ahead and check/raise him on the flop.

Lastly we should consider any history with this opponent. Often with regs that you battle with day in and day out at NL25+ there is a lengthy history and it can in some cases make the HUD stats almost irrelevant. If we have been battling with him a lot of late and winning several of the pots then we should definitely play it more aggressively in this spot. If he tends to get the better of us or has been winning a lot of late then we should play it slower and allow him to try and barrel us off.

Now obviously when you are playing a ton of tables you won't really have the time to look at all of these different factors. So for mass multi-tablers alternating their play every single time unless it is a heavily coordinated board is probably the best strategy. But if we have time, we can really tailor our decision to the individual opponent. This doesn't mean that we should always take one particular action but sometimes all of the factors may lead to one being the best in this particular instance.

2) We open with J♥J♣ from the CO. A standard 22/19/3 reg with a 6% 3bet 3bets us from the BB. What should we do?

Folding is clearly never an option here as we are well ahead of his range. 4betting for value is probably going to be the best option here. But we should be able to flat with a hand like this from time to time as well in order to blur our ranges in these spots. We want the reg to be confused as to what our 4betting and calling ranges are in these spots. The best way to do that is to have premiums in both of them and mediocre to strong hands in both of them as well.

As we saw in example #3 though, there are plenty of other factors that may influence our decision in this specific case as well. But in the absence of any time to look over that information I would probably be 4betting about 2/3 times in this spot for value and flatting 1/3 of the time. So I will try to consciously 4bet most of the time but remember to flat from time to time as well.

Leave your questions and comments below about the discussion or the hands. What are some strategies that you use to balance your range?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Back Again!

Posted by jwheels

I can never quit this game. I first joined DTB in 2010 trying to take my game beyond NL 10, but then my focus turned to Magic: the Gathering. I had built the most recognized Canadian MTG website in the world ( and it just felt like time was better spent on something that I knew for sure I could make a dent in. After things had settled for, I came back to DTB in 2012, but shortly after, one of my best friends, Alexander Hayne won a Pro Tour, one of the biggest tournaments in the game. Magic's Pro Tour is poker's WSOP if you will. Things began to skyrocket, I gained more responsibilities, etc...

But my website was never about making money. In fact, it's possible that I have lost money in my venture. I did the website mainly to help grow the game and of course, the notoriety of being known as the person to re-popularize Magic in Canada didn't hurt (players of the game actually call me Captain Canada). I'm back again because I finally want to make poker a good source of secondary income. I don't see how I cannot move beyond NL 10. I believe I have a strong pedigree. I have an impressive chess background and I'm more than solid when it comes to Magic.

The main reason for the resurgence is probably because of the family trip I took last month. I went to Vegas and after 3 days of playing 1/2, I was up over $1100. It wasn't just the money that really made me love poker again. It was the mental challenge of the game that really attracted me. I have to mention that before this trip, I had not played poker in a long time. During this trip, I also read Ed Miller's Playing the Player, which happens to quite possibly be my favorite poker book of all-time. Granted, I have not read all that many books.

Playing the Poker was eye-opening to me because it really encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone. Ed keeps pushing the notion that the optimal way to play poker is a lot more aggressive than how I have been playing and that to grow as a player, I have to be willing to bluff my stack in. Definitely check out the book if you have not already.

I plan to update this blog fairly regularly in the next month. I easily have the bankroll to play NL 25 and I am giving myself a month to feel comfortable to move up to that level, so I hope I get some of you guys to track my progress. As well, I hope Hunter will enjoy my blogging.

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The part time pursuit: Episode 3 – Addicted

Posted by davedastardly

So if you’ve read my blog history (below) you’ll know I stepped up the pace a little in this Poker journey of mine. From squeezing Poker into my life, to actually working my life around it, I can report it has been for the better. Yes I’m still trucking 2-3 days a week, and no I’m not at mid stakes yet, but I never expected so. ‘Jeez Dave, you're such a loser!’ you might say. But I’m far better than I used to be that is for sure. How do I know? Well, it’s not bankroll or limit measurements, it’s actually thought process measures… very simply; I’ve worked on my mistakes. My best got better and my worst got better. My new B game was my A game is a few months back. My B game is now my C game. And that’s it! It’s all you can really hope for in this game. Big improvements don’t generally happen overnight, much like implementing a new strategy it happens over time.

I played NL50 for about a year. I never put my bankroll in any risk, so I moved between NL20-NL50 over that time during a 100k downswing. I learned more about myself during that time than at any other on this Poker journey. A year may seem a long time for one limit and may be disheartening for an absolute beginning player to read. But unless you wade through the limits (bankroll permitting), without going on a big downer over a decent sample, I think this is actually pretty normal.

So I now play a mixture of NL50/100. I think NL100 is a milestone in terms of Poker education. You've learnt how not to pay off (esp on tilt), get max value, and can still see the errors most of your opponents are making including the regs. You recognize what levels they are on and adjust accordingly. This is true for most levels of course, but small stakes regs are just that bit better than their micro stakes counterparts. They have travelled the same roads I have and skill sets may be fairly similar. They’ll follow similar bankroll strategies so sometimes I’ll be playing NL200+ players who also use diligent bankroll management too. Players aren't static targets any more, they're moving targets (to quote Dan Harrington).

I have found, and this may not be true for everyone, but for many I would guess is this: I really believe you’ll not get anywhere with Poker if you just ‘like’ it. You really have to love it… all of it. Its swings in both directions, its emotional rides, really embrace its nature, and to be totally well… addicted. There’s too much hurt in the game otherwise and many just give it up. It's easier to blame luck or rigged sites rather then their own shortcomings... me included. My downswing was exacerbated by my lack of skill.

If you've been around these forums or others long enough, you’ll see many fly-by-night members with big 6 month plans suddenly disappear as quickly as they arrived. They expected too much from this game too soon. I joined this site about 2 ½ years ago. I was wet behind the ears and chock full of misconceptions . But I was ready to learn, and more importantly in it for the long term. One long road, one long head ache haha.

And I’m still here. Still learning, still improving, still asking dumb questions, still …. Addicted.

The pursuit continues….

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Keeping your mind on the Grind!

Posted by triptek

Hello everyone, happy Sunday (now Tuesday due to long weekend!) to you all, I hope you have all had a great week on and off the tables, and hopefully have been getting some of the sunny weather.

This week I really got back into hard work mode with study and review, but still didn't play as much as I should have done as once again I got landed with some extra commitments that I hadn't planned for this week. Oh well, at least I'm keeping busy I supposed, on the keeping busy vibe, I have also started Krav Maga in the last couple of weeks. I'm seriously loving it and it feels great to be being more physically active again, and that in turn is making me eat better and drink and smoke less, so happy days!

I found myself doing hand history reviews at 8am one morning as I was feeling so fresh after getting good sleep and eating good food for a change, so long may that continue. It sounds a bit strange but in a way now that I'm technically busier and have less time for poker, I'm feeling more focused and am enjoying my sessions more again. I guess as Phil Galfond once titled a blog post, "It always comes back to balance, doesn't it?" a thing regular readers will know I struggle with!

So this week has been pretty good to be honest, I'm feeling refreshed and more focused, and it pretty damn great! I spent some time this week working on my HU (heads up) game a lot with my coach, doing some live sweat sessions playing HU SnGs and some review as well. I also broke my no MTT rule by playing the $11 Saturday Duel HU MTT, as I thought it would give me some much needed practice. This was probably the dullest MTT experience of my entire life, I got a by in the first round, so played no hands for over an hour until the next round started. ZzZzZZzzZzZz

Round 2 Fight! Wohoo, some hands, finally I can get into some epic HU battle lets go! Right well...6 hands is all it took to dispatch the guy that took all of 5 minutes! He was pretty loose passive and a total fish bowl, I ended up donk betting into him with some draws and other random hands which seemed to put him on tilt pretty bad. That's all it took to make him lose his mind with  a T high river bluff after I turned top pair. gg me! Sleep mode now for another hour til the next round... This next guy took marginally longer to beat, 26 hands! YYAAYY!! Next round is the bubble round, I drew a total uber mega fish (although I didn't know this until after when i scoped him) The crappy thing was that I was quite tired and bored by the time this round arrived as it was getting late and the time between rounds was ridiculous. I failed to adjust to the guy and instead of realising he never folded pre, or post flop, I just kept raising a wide range of hands and insisting on barreling multiple times with air. Not a good strategy against a really bad player who never thinks about ranges or anything other than drooling over their own cards!

Losing to a bad player always sucks, but losing to a bad player because of my own inability to adjust, sucks even more, at least if he had just been sucking out with hands and getting lucky I could live with that. So that was that, I played probably 50 hands in over 3 hours...but at least I got to watch a lot of episodes of Parks and Recreation (proper funny show!)

Oh the irony, I titled a post about keeping my mind on the grind and most of this has been talking about non grinding MTTs! I guess this is because it made a more interesting write up than writing about my SnG week would have done! It was a rather apt end to a pretty rubbish month, another break even week..

I was playing well and felt good in my sessions, there were a few lil mistakes here and there, where I re-shoved too wide into certain types of players a couple of times (this became apparent after reviewing hands post game) But overall very happy with my play throughout the week.

Games: 318

Coaching/Review: 1/3

Profit/Loss: -$7.48

screen-capture-2 screen-capture-3

So yea...overall an incredibly frustrating months poker, but it happens, and it could have been worse. It could have been a massive down swing to rebuild from, rather than just treading water. Even with the few wobbly moments I had this month, I still dealt with it better than I would have done previously, but it has also shown me that there is a lot more work to be done on my mental game. Being a professional player takes a professional attitude and dropping game volume or getting all pissy because you haven't won any $ for a few weeks is not terribly professional! But I'll get there, just gotta keep on grinding and working hard, oh yea and going to Krav Maga and getting rid of some of the stress is also great!

Thanks for stopping by guys, see you soon.

p.s I might be away this coming weekend so there may not be a blog!

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