There are often situations in no-limit Texas hold 'em where a player polarizes his range, and it's usually a mistake. A range is polarized when the pool of possible hands a player could be holding becomes skewed toward one extreme or another. Avoiding this by keeping your range balanced is fundamental to any winning poker strategy.
It was early in a $100-buy-in tournament, with blinds at 25-50. Everybody folded to my right-hand opponent in the cutoff seat, who made it 150. He had a stack of 6,000.
It was my turn on the button. I had 7,000 in chips and 6h 6s -- a pretty easy call. Both blinds folded, and we saw a flop of Js 8h 5h.
My opponent bet 175, and I called. I didn't think raising or folding after or before the flop was optimal. Folding would have been too weak. I had a pair, and pairs are hard to make. Raising would have had some merit, but usually it would just mean turning my hand into a bluff, and I certainly didn't want to get reraised.
The turn was a good one for me, the 2c. The villain checked. I bet 375 and was called. I wasn't bluffing here. I wanted to get value from ace-high hands and various draws, and if I could get two overcards to fold, that would be OK, too. I would have happily folded if he check-raised, and I expected him to call with any pair that he might have had.
The river was the 8c, and my opponent bet 575 into a pot of 1,475. I know -- it made no sense to me either.
I've been seeing this line of play more and more lately: Players weakly get to the river out of position and then lead into the aggressor. This range was super-polarized. My opponent either had an eight or better, or he was bluffing. Very rarely would my opponent turn over a hand containing a single pair, and this was really good for me. If my opponent had checked, I would have quickly checked behind, since most hands that call me would beat my sixes. Now, I needed to decide if my opponent was bluffing.
It's important to note that since my opponent's range was polarized, my hand was identical to A-Q. Since he wouldn't be betting a better two pair than mine, his bet meant that he either had three of a kind or better, or he had nothing. Two pair would beat nothing -- it doesn't matter which two pair. Two pair gets crushed by a range of three of a kind or better, so therefore it didn't matter that I had sixes in this spot; it matters that I had a pair. My pair couldn't ever be worse than my opponent's pair, because my opponent wouldn't take this line of play with a pair. Therefore, since his range was polarized to trips-plus or air, sixes were the same as deuces or aces from my perspective.
It was nice of my opponent to bet so small, only 575 into 1,475. I only have to be right 28 percent of the time to break even on this call, and going into the river, there were far more unmade hands in his range than there were eights or sets.
I called, and my opponent turned over 9c 7c. At least he executed his plan of bluffing me off the pot on the turn, and while an eight was indeed in his range, his bet size didn't make me seriously consider folding.
Don't polarize your range, and don't overestimate or underestimate the strength of your pair when it's polarized.
Bryan Devonshire is a professional poker player from Las Vegas. Known as "Devo" on the tournament circuit, he has amassed more than $2 million in career earnings.