Balancing act

Balancing act

Monday, 25 January 2010

Dear Tom,
What does “balancing your range” mean? Is it the same as mixing up your play or is there something more complex involved?
Luke, Plymouth

Dear Luke,

Imagine writing down roughly which hands you play, from which position and in what way: how you react to a c-bet when you’re holding various hands, what might tempt you to call a small river bet, and so on. This then gets typed into a poker playing bot to create a very simplified version of your play. You’re allowed to specify things like “Call it 60% and raise it 40%” – bots can handle that.

Now, I do the same rough approximation with my game and we get the bots to play each other for a week and come back and find out who’s winning. What the bots are doing is playing two ranges against each other and the winning bot is exploiting the other’s range. Say your bot is winning. It might well lose against a third bot and that bot might lose against me, so no range is inherently better; its expectation results from what range it’s put up against.

If my bot is losing to yours, its range is unbalanced. It’s calling too much somewhere or betting too much somewhere and yours has the correct response. It can definitely be improved since your bot isn’t luckier. But why talk about bots? Well, you’re not so different from the bot-version of yourself – there are just a lot more modifying clauses in your program but you are still playing a range, as is your opponent. You may have moments of genius but mostly it’s “your game” rather than “you” that’s the winner.

Yes, mixing it up is the essence of range-balancing, because if an action you make is associated with a small number of hands you hold, it’s easy for an opponent to find the correct response. However, you want to mix it up in a particular way – by creating a range of cards which, taken together, mean that, whatever opponent does, he is wrong as often as he’s right. Now you’re balanced and un-exploitable.

That’s versus good opponents. Against bad ones the hands that make you money should be pretty obvious and the extent of your balancing is to sprinkle in a few other hands to stop your opponent finally mending his ways (e.g. learning how to fold).


Tags: Tom Sambrook, Strategy,