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Balancing Your Play

We’ve covered how to exploit our opponents' frequencies, but what do we do when other people try to do this against us? How do we protect ourselves from exploitation?

While the truth is that everyone, even the world’s greatest, has leaks in their game, we can take preventative measures to minimize our opponents’ capacity to exploit us. After all, even if we can exploit the fact that a fish calls every single one of our value bets, that play is useless if we lose all our chips to a better player who can exploit us in turn.

The answer to our concerns is balance. We can summarize the principle of balance with one simple maxim:

Don’t make the same decision each time you are presented with the same situation.

Finding Balance

While this may sound like something a Zen master would say, it’s really not as hard as it seems. Let’s take an easy example.

You find yourself on the river with a busted straight draw. You figure that, based on your psychological player profiling, your opponent folds a reasonable amount of time but is also willing to call a big bet with a decent chunk of their range. Do you fire the bluff, or do you check?

The balanced answer to this question is both. But what’s that supposed to mean? How can we possibly do both?

Well, in this one instance, we can only do one or the other. However, since we’re playing poker in the long run, we need to do both sometimes to balance our range.

If you determine that the “correct” answer to this question is “bet,” then, after seeing this happen a few times, an attentive opponent will be able to figure this out, call your bet, and watch you weep.

We need to mix up our play to disguise our hand and to maintain a frequency that isn’t easily exploited. To do this, instead of determining whether to bet or check, we should instead determine how often we should bet and how often we should check.

Let’s say that, based on all our previous considerations, we want to bet around 33% of the time and check the other 66%.

To actually go about implementing these frequencies, try this easy trick. Once you assign your percentages, take glance down at your watch and look at the location of the seconds hand. If it’s within the first 1/3, between 12 and 4, then bet. If not, then check.

When to Balance

In tough games we should always work on balancing our play, but, against weaker opponents, it’s actually +EV to focus on exploitation rather than balance. Chances are they won’t adjust to exploit us, and we miss out on equity if we don’t adjust to exploit them.

For instance, against a calling station who will always call that river bet, we should always bet value and always check our bluffs. Let’s continue to exploit weaker players while also balancing to deny stronger players the opportunity to exploit us.

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