Range Balancing in Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs)

The Tip Top Fox explains how to tackle the complexities of range balancing in multi-table tournaments in order to increase your edge

Balancing hand ranges, or ‘range balancing’ in poker refers to the act of playing both strong and weak hands in the same way in a given situation. This is to avoid being predictable. If an opponent knows you never bluff in certain situations – meaning your range is unbalanced – they can easily fold marginal hands when you show strength by betting.

By balancing your range and showing up with both good and bad hands in certain situations, you make it tough for opponents to work out the relative strength of your hand, making it difficult to play against you.

When Should You Range Balance?

It’s important to remember, however, that at certain stakes range balancing is unnecessary. If, for example, you are playing in micro-stakes cash games NL$10 and below, sit and go’s (SNGs) $5 and below, and multi-table tournaments (MTTs) under $10 then the majority of your opponents are probably beginners or recreational players. Most of them likely do not understand concepts such as hand ranges and have no idea what range balancing is, meaning that it is usually better to take the most +EV (positive expected value) line against them to maximise your profits.

However, the higher the stakes, the better the class of opponent you will face. Even at some of the lower stake tournaments you will find yourself against opponents you play against regularly (regulars or ‘regs’) and it is against players like these, who you have some history with, that you need to start thinking about the concept of range balancing.

There’s no doubt that the world of online multi-table tournaments (MTTs) is getting tougher and tougher, especially at the higher stakes – $100 Freeze-outs and $50 Re-buys and above. One of the most widely discussed aspects of the game is range balancing against other regulars, which these days is as important to your bottom line as winning flips in the late stages of the tournament. While you obviously can’t practice winning flips, you can work on your range balancing.

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One common mistake good regulars often make is trying too hard to balance their range; so much so that they are balancing against randoms, who think balancing is something you do on a tightrope and don’t care how balanced your range is. One thing about range balancing is the fact you are only trying to balance your range against thinking regulars, not against randoms, since in order to balance your range you may not be able to make the most +EV move in some spots. Against randoms, however, you want to make the most +EV move at all times. Here’s an example of what we’re talking about, which will help explain the idea better:

Range Balancing Example

With blinds at 150/300/25 you find yourself on the button with a stack of 5,000, holding pocket aces. An aggressive, thinking regular with a huge stack opens to 650 from the cut off (one seat to the right of the button). With such a perfect stack size to re-steal, a three-bet shove with pocket aces is good for balancing reasons. Since your three-bet re-steal range here is often so wide against the villain’s open, you want to include some monster hands in your range so that they won’t be able to call you too light. If they know that your range can include hands like pocket deuces or seven-eight suited as well as premium hands like pocket kings or pocket aces, then this can pose them a tricky decision.

In this specific spot, you are not playing aces the most +EV way, because the villain’s opening range in the cut off is so wide that he will fold to your shove most of the time. But in the long run against all the thinking regulars (because they will take notes on you once you make this move and show aces), you will gain chips back by the increased percentage of hands they fold to your three-bet re-steal, due to the fact that they know aces and kings are in your range. 

When Not to Balance

On the other hand, if the cutoff opener is a random who you know nothing about (which often means he doesn’t know anything about you either), a flat call with aces because the stack to pot ratio (SPR) is low enough even without a three-bet, or a small three-bet of 1,450 is a good way to induce a shove. Because of the reasons stated above, you certainly don’t want to lose your customer when holding aces and a three-bet shove will to some extent maximize your pre-flop fold equity, which is obviously not what you want in this spot.

Hopefully, the above example helps explain when and when not to balance your range. Range balancing is such a complicated and important issue in the high stakes MTT battles between regulars, especially if one knows the other is not balanced well enough in some situations.

For example, if one regular knows the other regular’s check-raise range on a 2-7-K rainbow board for 60 Big Blind effective stacks only consists of sets and air, and doesn’t include king–X and pocket aces then it will be more profitable for them to shove air hands because they know the hand combinations that can call are greatly reduced.

Normally you won’t get such detailed information, but poker is an information game; the more information you can get from villains whilst revealing as little as possible about yourself, the greater advantage you will gain in the game.

Balancing your own range is a great way to prevent giving away too much information about the way you play so that you can gain more of an edge in the game. 

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