Many people have asked me down the years how important balance is in poker and just how deeply you need to take your game down these avenues. Well firstly much depends on what levels you want to play. I have been discussing game strategy of late and how level 0, 1,2 and 3 play are the most common levels in poker. Level 0 is the most common and this represents players that play poker without any coherent strategy or basic knowledge of ABC. These players can often be quite experienced but are ultimately not winning poker players.
These people inhabit play money games, micro and low stakes levels and even higher levels where they ultimately get found out and lose money. So level 0 players come in all shapes and sizes. In days gone by then some players at this level made a lot of money but purely because they were a stronger level 0 than their opponents as there are sub-categories within each level. It is only when a player learns and discovers basic strategy and they can play at level 1 with a good ABC default game that they move away from level 0.
The game of poker when played against sophisticated players is almost an entirely different game. This is no different to any other sport or game in principle. But as you move up through the levels and your opponents have all moved away from level 0 then this is where multi-level thinking and balancing your strategy needs to increase in importance. For example if your opponents know or suspect that you have personal biases towards certain lines then they will exploit you. We can look at a hand here to show you what I mean. You are dealt the Jc-10c and you open raise from the cut-off and the button calls you.
You miss the flop entirely buy you c-bet into this single opponent after both blinds fold. They call you and the turn card comes and you have still missed and have no draws like with an A-9-5-9 board for example. You check and your opponent bets and you fold. The next hand and you open raise with the Ac-9c and the button calls you once again. The flop comes K-Q-2 and you c-bet and they call you again. The turn card is the 4d and you check and your opponent bets and you fold.
In this sequence then you have lost 17bb assuming a pre-flop raise to 3.5bb and a flop c-bet of 5bb. This is clearly not a good result but your opponent has likely out played you and simply floated you on the flop looking to take the pot away from you on the turn. Clearly then you have to counter that strategy because not only are you bleeding money to the button player but they are denying you position in the hand and extracting profit from the blinds.
This is a bad situation to be in and so you must move your play up a level. Your opponent was merely exploiting your level 1 straight forward ABC play and it has cost you 17bb so far. However your opponent is starting to have an unbalanced line as are you with both of you exhibiting the same betting patterns. Your problem is that the pattern that you have shown is down by 17bb while your opponent’s pattern has made them 20bb (less the rake). So to balance your play then you have to play back and on hand number three you can c-bet the flop and then check-raise the turn. The pot will be around 8.5bb on the flop but instead of betting say 5bb then you can set your opponent up by betting 6.5bb on the flop. When they call that then the pot escalates to 21.5bb. You check the turn and they bet 14bb and will almost certainly have to fold to your check-raise which effectively wins you 24bb from your opponent and makes you 7bb ahead over this three hand sequence.