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Balancing at low stakes

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  • Balancing at low stakes

    Those of you in Pokercoaching will be familiar with the webinars. In the standard set up JL outlines a hand, and we take our range through several streets to see how we would play it and JL analyses our answers. It can be pretty brutal having your attempts at understanding what to do being picked apart by one of the worlds best! Actually it's brilliant, and I look forward to each one.

    I spend a lot of time on my answers- they can often take me several hours. The "goal" is to build a balanced way of playing our ranges, and generally speaking we are looking for something like this:

    Sensible preflop opening range.
    c-bet range with 2 bluffs to 1 value bet ratio
    turn bet 1:1 ratio
    river bet 1:2 ratio.

    If I hand in an answer that looks like that I am pretty happy with myself (although it often means I missed something else completely!)

    Anyway- I decided that rather than wait for another month before doing one, it actually made a lot more sense to do them more regularly. I plan to try doing one every few days or so- say 2 per week. This is because although I think in a lot of depth about the specific homework, I don't know how well the learning is then actually being translated into my game as balance. Maybe doing more will help me start to see this at the table. If not- well it never hurts and they are good fun as intellectual challenges.

    So I did this one tonight.

    I opened from middle position (whole range), then I fired up a random flop from Flopzilla (Kh, Jc, 5s). Then I tried to balance 1 value bet to 2 bluffs with junk and marginal made hands balanced. It went ok:

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    This is pretty much what I hope to achieve on the flop.
    48 value bets
    78 draws
    49 marginal made hands (check/call)
    45 Junk (check/fold)

    But I always seem to end up with a problem I dislike. C-bet frequency. On this flop, when I open from middle position (assuming a single caller), I am C-betting 48+78= 126 hands out of a possible 220. In other words my c-bet % is 57%. This seems far too low. At the stakes I play, with the players I play against, a flop c-bet is very profitable. C-betting 100% is a far smaller leak than not c-betting enough.

    The problem regularly seems to be draws (bluffs). I am already below the 2:1 ratio by 18 combos- but what else is there that can realistically be described as a "draw"? The hands with Jacks? They definitely seem to be marginal made hands to me. Maybe AJ for 16 combos- but I'm pretty certain this should also be classed as a marginal hand.

    So- 3 questions.

    At higher stakes (levels of competence) would a 57% c-bet frequency here be reasonable, or lower than optimal as a general idea?

    At low stakes is it a reasonable adjustment to simply skip this step, c-bet virtually 100% (player dependent) as an exploitative play knowing that most fold too much on the flop, and a raise is most unlikely.

    If the c-bet % should be higher, which hands are you calling "draws" to get us up to what I would assume to be in the 75% range?

    Note- I would suggest this specific flop favours the preflop caller, so I might be more reluctant to c-bet here anyway, but this was the flop I got tonight and I really just used it as an example for non poker coaching forum members.

  • #2
    At my level, I don't worry about balancing. (I would not have a problem playing 5/10 but I really don't have the bankroll for that game. I frequently play 3/5 but sometimes kick it on 2/3 if I just want to play hands.)

    I never balance as its described here on 2/3, the play is too bad, villains rarely consider my hands, and make too many exploitable errors. This is advice JL gives in many places though blithely. This is off table study so it's important to learn but taking a fully balanced game to a table where villains are making obvious errors is an error in itself. Players always have to be changing to differences in skill, play, action, card flow, etc. Knowing balanced play is a baseline, the adjustments or lack of them are just as important.

    For anyone at the low levels looking to move up, I'd advise focusing on reads and hand reading your villains on these small games. The main reason is that is so easy to do at these levels. If you can't do it here, you'll get carved up on a better 3/5 game. There is little difference between a bad 3/5 game and better 2/3 game, the money flow is just bigger.

    I do more balancing on 3/5 but only against tough action players. I consider a good table having a couple of those guys and a few regs to make the game worthy of a big investment. Some bad 3/5 games, I adjust your the same way and play off balanced.

    In the transition from low to high, I am balancing by changing my preflop range by adding in the bottom pairs, connectors and suited Aces staying off all the non suited hands on the standard table often prescribed here. The better players will have a hard time exploiting you and the average REGs and worse won't know what you're doing.

    I also open my cbet frequency based on flop textures and number of villains. When HU, I'll hit 50%, but multiway my frequency will increase in position and on flops that should favor my range. In EP I check call, in MP it's a judgement call.

    Cbetting 100% on a low stakes table is only a good idea if villains make folding errors. If villains are sticky the correct move is to just play ABC until you can assess where your villain's weaknesses are and can exploit them. Prescribing one way to play is creating an exploitable error, where others can exploit you.

    ​​​​​​This is mostly cash game strategy but it does apply to tourneys as well. Play mostly ABC ish until the blinds and Ante's apply (like a small cash game), shift into semi balanced after (like a bad 3/5 cash game) and as you run deeper, play balanced.
    Last edited by XBobLove; 11-21-2017, 09:29 PM.


    • #3
      I was reading Jonathans latest book today and this advice is consistent with what is chapters 1 and 2 of the book. I'd get that book and start there.


      • #4
        Thanks for the reply, and I think you're right Bob- and this is what's giving me a problem.

        I see so many places where I know what the right play is according to the books, yet the play I know is most profitable is different- within the games I play. This c-betting example is one such spot. I know I will pick up more profit by simply c-betting 100%. It's not optimal, but it's simple (and balanced). I should point out I don't actually c-bet 100%, but that doing so would be better than not c-betting enough.

        I guess what I am learning is the unexploitable "base" game to then deviate from- in a calculated and deliberate way- into exploitative (and therefore exploitable) play.

        Which book are you referring to Bob?


        • XBobLove
          XBobLove commented
          Editing a comment
          Paul Said it - Mastering Small Stakes

      • #5
        I think the book that Bob refer to is "Mastering small stake no limit holdem" i also just bought it and i am still studying it. Let me share what's my view in small stake game.
        There is no point in playing so call balance game or 'GTO' game in small stake game . why ? the player in small stake game all have spot that is unbalance that can give us opportunity to exploits why give up good opportunity to play a GTO or balance game.

        GTO is balance , but balance does not mean is GTO, if we play rock scissor paper, you notice villain will out scissor 2/3 of the time , the best way to win is to out rock 100% of the time do you guys agree? but the bad things is if we do it so frequent our villain also not a zombie and will adapt to us and out paper most of the time to counter us. A better strategy will be adapt your game to out more rock most of the time and still out scissor and paper , to prevent villain to notice it and adapt and make our game difficult to win.

        If villain is not defending the flop 67% of the time if hero is c betting the flop 50% pot size, we can close our eyes and , c bet any two card and make a profit . e.g if villain only defend 33% of the time pot =$100 hero bet $50 to the pot hero will win $100 x 67% + some % of the time when villain call and hero still has better hand then villain. hero will lose $50 x 33% of the time, so in short will be 67- 16.50 = $50.50, so every time you know villain is going to fold more then 67% of the time to your half bet pot will auto earn you money.


        • #6
          Hi Paul,

          Upswing sent me an email recently with a very similar rock/paper/scissors analogy. It's exactly the situation I'm describing. No rock/paper/scissors strategy advocates choosing rock 70%, but against this opponent it's the optimal strategy. But it leaves you open to being exploited in return.

          I guess what I am learning is not:

          "C-bet 100% because it's profitable."


          "In this situation I should c-bet 60% of my hands, but this opponent folds too often, so I should c-bet almost all my hands."

          Although the end result becomes the same, the thought process- and therefore the adaptability- is much better. In the first example when I play against someone who doesn't fold too much I don't understand why it's now going wrong. In the second, because I understand what I should be doing, I recognise the conditions for deviation are no longer present- and so don't make the mistake of playing the same way.

          I got a signed copy of mastering, as a treat to myself. It's very different to previous books, and much harder to follow in many ways. I think of it more as "the next stage" to earlier books. The exploitative plays are in there, but harder to find and get an overall feel for. I will have to work harder with it.