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Excerpt of Mastering Small Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha

01/10/2020 by Fernando “JNandez” Habegger
Book Excerpts
D&B MAGAZINE

Polarized Versus Merged

In the same way that your preflop strategy and ranges start to shape your strategy on the flop, your flop strategy determines how your ranges are setup on later streets. Making serious mistakes early in the hand will have severe effects on your strategy on later streets.

Let’s imagine you are on the Button versus the Big Blind in a single-raised pot. The flop is AQ5, the Big Blind checks and you check back. The turn brings (AQ5)-6 and your opponent pots into you.

An appropriate turn continuing frequency for the Button would be to continue between 50% and 60% of the time, which is why you need to have a balanced and well-constructed check back strategy on the flop. If, like most small stakes players you don’t, then you will end up folding here more like 70-80% of the time. This makes it easy for the Big Blind to exploit you, as your check back range is unprotected. However, once you have reached the turn, you can’t suddenly readjust your flop strategy; the mistake has already been made. If you choose the wrong hands with which to bet or check on the flop, you will find yourself in trouble on many turns and rivers because you haven’t set up your ranges correctly.

An appropriate turn continuing frequency for the Button would be to continue between 50% and 60% of the time, which is why you need to have a balanced and well-constructed check back strategy on the flop. If, like most small stakes players you don’t, then you will end up folding here more like 70-80% of the time. This makes it easy for the Big Blind to exploit you, as your check back range is unprotected. However, once you have reached the turn, you can’t suddenly readjust your flop strategy; the mistake has already been made. If you choose the wrong hands with which to bet or check on the flop, you will find yourself in trouble on many turns and rivers because you haven’t set up your ranges correctly.

First, you have to understand what type of c-bet strategies are available and how to use them. There are actually two main c-betting strategies; polarized and merged. After reading the following material, you will know exactly how to combine both strategies effectively.

A Polarized C-betting Strategy

Imagine that on the flop, you decide to bet all your strong hands, all your medium strength hands and check with your weak hands. Now pause and think about what this will signal to your opponents when you check.

Exactly. It means that if you check, you have a weak hand. Your opponents will have an easy time exploiting you by putting a lot of pressure on your check-back range. If you play this strategy and check, your opponent can bet and take down the pot without any risk since your checking range includes only weak hands. If your check back range on the flop is weak, it means that you often can’t continue against a bet on the turn. This will give your opponents a good opportunity to bet as a bluff whenever you check back.

To protect your check back range, you need to include hands in your checking range that can continue versus a turn bet. The balancing act here is to define which hands are good enough to check back while not giving up too much value with hands that prefer to bet. By playing a polarized c-betting strategy, you can accomplish this goal. You bet the strongest hands in your range, as checking them would sacrifice too much value, and you check-back medium strength hands to protect your check-back range. Polarized c-betting ranges are built around the highest equity made hands and draws and the hands with the best blockers and future blockers. You bet hands that are very strong and have potential to make the nuts on the turn or the river. You also bet hands that have very little equity but have some powerful blockers. This can be described as a very selective betting strategy. You are not betting just random hands, you are betting very selectively.

This means that once you do c-bet the flop, you can barrel on multiple different turns and rivers. This makes it harder for your opponents to play against you because they know that they are going to have to invest a lot of money to get to showdown.

By firing multiple barrels, you are maximizing the fold equity you have when you are bluffing, and you are also extracting as much value as possible in the cases where you are value betting. This strategy puts your opponents in very tough spots when they have bluff-catchers and medium strength hands. By using a polarized c-betting strategy, you protect your check back range. You are checking back with most medium strength hands, meaning you can call on a lot of different turn cards. Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with the concept of blockers as we will cover this concept in the next chapter. Across all possible boards, the overall c-bet frequency for a polarized strategy will be around 55% IP and 25% OOP.

A Merged C-betting Strategy

A merged c-betting strategy means you are betting many more medium strength hands instead of checking them. Merged c-betting strategies are built around equity and more medium strength made hands and draws are bet. You care more about having decent equity rather than making the nuts.

You bet hands that are not as nutted as when you use a polar betting strategy, which also means that you are not as aggressive in terms of betting with bluffs and blockers. By using a merged strategy, your check back range is weak and unprotected. All your decent hands go into your betting range and, therefore, it is much more challenging to have reasonable hands on turns when you do check back, leaving you open to exploitation on the turn.

Your flop c-betting range doesn’t include as many hands that benefit from barreling across multiple streets. Many medium strength hands that you bet on the flop don’t have enough equity to bet the turn or river. Therefore you are often going to check back on the turn and river after your c-bet on the flop gets called. This means that it will be harder for you to make effective bluffs and thin value river bets.

A further implication of c-betting with medium strength hands is that you are going to be more vulnerable against a check-raise. A lot of your medium strength hands won’t be able to continue against aggression and won’t want to play a big pot.

Conclusion

Polarization is a concept used to describe the design of a range. Sometimes it is better to play a more polarized strategy and sometimes it is better to be more merged.

When you are IP at a high SPR, you should lean more towards a polarized strategy. This will help you maximize your positional advantage because you can extract more chips with value hands and you can make more effective bluffs while keeping your checking range protected.

When the SPR is lower, playing a more merged c-betting strategy makes more sense.

In these situations, equity is more important. In some cases where you have a substantial range equity advantage, you will want to bet your entire range. Using a merged c-betting strategy in these situations makes sense because you want to push hands that have an equity advantage and you want to play as few streets as possible with those hands, especially if you are OOP.

Main Takeaways

  • In most situations you want to use a polarized c-betting range to maximize the fold equity that you have with your bluffs and to win as many chips as possible when you have a strong hand.
  • Using a polarized strategy keeps your checking range protected.
  • A merged c-betting strategy is more focused on equity. Medium strength hands are betting more often to push your equity advantage.
  • At low SPRs, when equity drives the action, you often want to use a more merged c-betting strategy.
  • You can massively exploit players who bet too many medium strength hands by attacking them aggressively if they check

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