Polarization, depolarization, and polarized ranges are terms tossed around often on the forums. However, most people either use the terms incorrectly, or have difficulty in understanding how to visualize polarization. Let's first start with the basics:
What does 'polarized' mean? When something is polarized, it means that we are dealing with the poles. So when we say a range is polarized, we mean that a range is effectively nuts or bluff. He either has one pole (the value side) or he has the other pole (the bluff side). This is a very basic concept, but it is the building block of getting into intermediate and advanced strategy.
What does depolarized mean? Depolarization is the exact opposite. So instead of a nuts/bluff type of range, we are dealing with something that is not so...dramatically opposite, for lack of better words.
What do they look like? Let's take the most common spot where polarization is spoken about, which is 3betting. On the left is a polarized range, and on the right is a depolarized range. We notice they are both the same 10% range, yet have totally different hand strengths in them.
So let's break this article into 3 different sections where polarization is the most prevalent: 3betting, CB-ing, and VB/bluffing. Our goal is to understand what polarized ranges look like, what are good v bad spots to use it, and having an idea on combating them. A quick note on polarization is that whether we pole or depole our range is based 100% on our opponent. Balancing, for all intents and purposes, is the composite of poling and depoling our ranges. But if I am playing 10NL, there isn't a chance in hell that I care about being balanced, because my opponents just don't care. Bad hand readers just don't need to be balanced against. So don't go nuts balancing and poling here, and depoling there, if it puts you on level 2 vs a level 0 opponent.
3betting is probably the most common spot where people talk about polarizing. Especially in terms of restealing from OOP, polarizing our range is usually best. This is true for a few reasons:
1.) It gives value to our non-value hands. Take this spot:
Full Tilt Poker $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked
Hero (BB): $54.25
Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is BB with 6 3
6 folds, BTN raises to $1.75, 1 fold, Hero raises to $5.45, 1 fold
Final Pot: $3.75
Hero wins $3.75
I don't think anyone can argue that 63o has no real value. Flatting is just not an option, and thus we are left with the options to 3b or fold. Well, we can 3b, giving 63o value if we think our opponent will fold enough of the time outright to show a profit. So rather than folding the hand, assuming we think that our opponent will fold 70% of the time our $EV on the outright 3bet becomes $EV = .7($2.5) - .3($4.95) = +$.26, or +1SB. This may not seem like a lot, but positive is positive, and for a hand that should be an overall loser in your DB, we can't complain.
2.) It gives more value to our strong hands. If our opponent knows that we 3bet things like 63o, then it makes picking up AA and 3betting even more profitable. Our perceived range is tainted, which means our opponent is more mistake prone. He might 4bet more as a bluff thinking the crap side of our range is big enough to get folds, or might call and float more liberally. Either way, he is putting in more money bad than if our range were just the nuts.
3.) It will be the easier range of hands to play from OOP. Many players get themselves in trouble using a depolarized 3b range in resteal spots because postflop becomes incredibly difficult (also considering the increased 4b dynamic which decreases outright profitability). For instance, a common spot is with KQ. If you 3b with KQ and get flatted, which will of course happen a very non-zero percentage of the time, their C-Range is usually going to be very strong. It will be hard to bluff, and also hard out minimax when we hit.
Now, this isn't to say that we can't use polarized hands IP, nor to say that you should never depole OOP...this is just talking outloud. Each situation is specific and individual, so adjust as the situation calls for.
The Issue + The Combat:
The issue for us, and other regs as well, is finding the happy medium in weight. What I mean by this is making sure that we don't weight one side of our polarized range too heavily. Take this situation:
Full Tilt Poker $0.10/$0.25 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked
Hero (BTN): $35.69
Pre Flop: ($0.35) Hero is BTN with 4 Q
6 folds, Hero raises to $0.75, SB raises to $3.25, 1 fold, Hero raises to $7.10, 1 fold
Final Pot: $6.75
Hero wins $6.75
The SB here is a regular in the game, and running 14/12 with a 12% resteal. I know he is polarized based on some hands I have played with him (he has shown down a few crap hands after getting his CB floated)...so lets take a peak at his range in pieces:
The “nuts” stuff. Here are 4 different “nuts” ranges that most players will use for their top side of a polarized range. Some players will put some hands that others would consider “depoled”, like KQ or AJ, into the top side of their polarized range. So here are the most normal ranges (these are ranges you should have internalized, at the very least for the percentage).
Range 1/Range 2
Range 3/Range 4
The “bluff” stuff. This is the part that makes our life awesome. If we can figure out to some extent what percentage of crap there is in their range, we can gauge the profitability of a float or 4bet very easily. For each of the top side ranges, we can figure out, roughly, how much bluff they have.
Range 1 = .9/12 = 7.5% “nuts” : 92.5% “bluff”
Range 2 = 2.6/12 = 21.66% “nuts” : 78.34% “bluff”
Range 3 = 4.2/12 = 35% “nuts” : 65% “bluff”
Range 4 = 5.7/12 = 47.5% “nuts” : 52.5% “bluff”
(These calculations simplify everything into very black and white sections. Of course, sometimes pieces of the “nut” range will fold if 4B, and sometimes pieces of the “bluff” range will 5B ship if we 4B. This is just so you can start visualizing it)
So what is this doing for us? Well, say we know that he doesn't 3b AQ, or at least doesn't always (we have seen him flat AQ v a steal before). We also know that he doesn't resteal JJ (as we have seen him flat that to a steal as well). This frames his resteal range at roughly QQ+/AK and crap. So in a purely black/white point of view, 78.34% of his range is crap. And if we knew that he would play all of his hands straight up if he got 4bet (fold the crap, stack the nuts), then we can show an outright profit by 4betting any 2 cards.
(It should be noted that blockers are lovely in this mix. This is why having an A or K blocker is fantastic, because it knocks out even more of the top left quadrant, aka, the “nut” part of range. The more of that we can discount, the more weighted a player's range would be towards the bottom assuming the pure 3b% is the same.)
In saying all of this, we need to be aware of it in our own game. If we keep a 3b % that is too high, and try 3betting a thinking player who understands, it will/should tweak their 4b/float range dramatically. Now, like I mentioned earlier, we don't need to balance against those that don't care about it. But playing against regs especially, we need to be aware of how weighted, either top or bottom side, our range tweaks.
Polarization of CB ranges is something that is becoming more and more prevalent, even in the smaller games. This is something that is relatively simple to figure out, and also something that many still manage to mess up. Let's take this spot:
Let's say my range is 22-55, 65s, JJ+/AK (it isn't, but it makes the spot easier to talk about)
A depolarized CB range = we CB all of it. We stab with things like 22 and 65s because they have no value and we want to pick the pot up. We stab with things like JJ and AK because we think worse hands will continue enough of the time and we want to make a big pot against that range.
A polarized CB range = we CB 22-55, 65s, and JJ/KK, and check QQ/AK behind. We CB things like 22 and 65s because they have no value and we want to pick the pot up. We stab with things like JJ and KK because we want to make a big pot and think enough worse hands will continue. We check behind with things like QQ and AK because they have SDV and we think a bet doesn't do much, but a check can do lots. What kind of things can a check do?:
1.) induce bluffs
2.) induce comfortability
3.) minimize loss when behind
4.) pot control (from a pot geometry POV)
5.) WAWB + minimal overcards/hell cards can hit the next card
6.) don't want to face a CR
Now obviously not all of these factors will be true every single time we check...but they are the base ideas behind the check. A big point is #5. There is a huge difference between checking A9 behind on a 973 flop and KQ behind on a Q76 board. The other major points are #1 and #2. Many players make the mistake of not letting their opponents make mistakes...and allow them to play fairly close to perfect at all times. If a CB would let your opponent play perfect, but a check would induce idiocy, then consider the check.
A quick note about this, is what happens the times that we check. Take a hand like this:
Here, say we decided to check the flop (for whatever reason). We are giving hands like 44 or AJ free chances to spike and beat us. This is part of the parlay when considering a polarized CB range and checking the SDV part of our range. We take the parlay that we will make more, and more often, the times we stay good than we will lose the times when he improves. I have to make this disclaimer because many players will get pissed when they get 2 or 3 outed after making this flop check...but remember that making the best play doesn't mean you will win 100% of the time. Every play in poker comes with risk, so why would this play be any different?
The Issue + The Combat:
There are two major issues with polarizing our CB range. The first is doing it too much and missing value (especially doing it too much against fish and station-TAGs). The second is doing it against good hand readers who will lower IO and increase RIO.
Against fish and players that make more calling mistakes than betting mistakes, we should look to bet our strong SDV value hands a little more. Of course, if a check now would encourage always getting 2 streets later in the hand, then checking can be OK. But if an outright bet should get at least 2 streets of value, then betting should be more heavily considered.
The issue against good hand readers is that doing this will turn your hand face up. It makes life easier against a good player (deletes a street and the chance to get CR'd on the flop), but with the parlay of making your range very apparent if you continue to play the same way (CB-ing the nuts/bluff, and check the SDV). I will not go into massive detail in this part, but you should do some thinking in this area and see what you come up with as far as line creation and balancing are concerned. Also, the combat against these polarized CB-ing players is very simple and effective...but again, I will leave that up to you =)
This section of the article will review a couple of hands (from various places). While hand reading is a very useful skill in all facets of our strategy, just understanding polarization will help in certain situations. There are some textures where betting ranges tend to be very polarized. They would be 4 straight and 4 flush boards. Notice these are very definitive boards, and many A and K high boards tend to play similar, although they are not as dramatic. It should be noted that players who understand SDV well tend to polarize on the turn/river more so than players who don't understand SDV. To illustrate this, let's take a spot from the last episode of HSP between Doyle and Lex:
To someone watching this hand at home, it probably makes no sense. It looks like Lex is being a donk calling with bottom pair (and I mean, NO KICKER?!?!), and that Doyle is being a donk by bluffing a donk. But, Lex's call on the river makes a lot of sense. Doyle isn't someone that does a lot of thin VB-ing, especially not for pot (he doesn't tend to have, and Lex even commented on this after the hand, the online pot/overbet dynamic). So when Doyle pots the river, he either has a 5, or he has nothing. His range is totally polarized. Couple that with Lex getting 2:1 on the river, only needing to be good 1/3 of the time to show a profit, he can call if he thinks Doyle's range is at least 1/3 crap.
Again, notice the definitiveness of the board, and also the definitiveness of the opponent. Had Lex's opponent been say, Durrrr, then the entire dynamic and river analysis would be different. (It should also be noted that in this situation Doyle may turn a hand like A3 or 44 into a bluff...which changes things in the weighting process).
Here is a hand that I ended up reviewing in a video I released earlier this year:
Poker Stars $0.25/$0.50 No Limit Hold'em - 9 players
2+2 Hand Converter Powered By DeucesCracked
Hero (CO): $72.25
Pre Flop: ($0.75) Hero is CO with T T
5 folds, Hero raises to $1.50, BTN calls $1.50, 1 fold, BB calls $1
Flop: ($4.75) 2 7 2 (3 players)
BB checks, Hero bets $2.30, BTN raises to $6, BB folds, Hero calls $3.70
Turn: ($16.75) 7 (2 players)
Hero checks, BTN bets $11, Hero calls $11
River: ($38.75) 4 (2 players)
Hero checks, BTN bets $23, Hero calls $23
Final Pot: $84.75
Hero shows T T (two pair, Tens and Sevens)
BTN shows J K (two pair, Sevens and Deuces)
Hero wins $81.75
In this hand our opponent is 14/11 over 800 hands...a very standard TAG. So getting involved in a pot this large with just TT against a TAG is a rarity. But using the concept of polarization allowed to make this play very easy. Preflop and the CB are totally standard, but when he raises the flop, a redflag has been raised.
First, as a TAG, his raising range here is usually something like set+, draws sometimes, and bluffs sometimes. And this...this is the important thing...if we consider weight...it changes things. Do I think he will ALWAYS raise 77/22 on the flop? Probably not, especially in position on an aggressive opponent (what he views me as). Would he raise a hand like 99 or 76? Probably not, because he understands SDV. So instead of his range maybe being 2:1 strong:weak...it might weight down to 2:1 weak:strong...or possibly even more bottom weighted at 3:1 or 4:1!
When the turn comes off, it pretty much solidifies that his range has to be bottom side weighted, as the combos of nut hands have dropped to effectively 2. So the rest of the hand is a pretty easy call down...but made very easy when we look at polarized weight and combos. While 160bb is hardly a pot size I would ever create with TT as a single pair, I make an exception when the situation calls for it.
Polarization is a very important part of getting out of base-level thinking. It can help us pick off bluffs, adjust well to aggression, and even create lines against players who understand (or don't) poled ranges. Remember though, to not out level yourself here.
Also remember to think about weight. Weighting polarization is one of the biggest problems that regs in current games have. They heavily bottom-side weight their 3betting ranges, they heavily bottom-side weight their CR ranges, and they top-side weight in some really absurd spots. If you find someone who is doing something like this, just adjust accordingly and take advantage as you see fit. Just remember to only attack players that understand...stay on level one against level 0 thinkers!
Hopefully this article helped you frame and visualize some new things. Let's start a discussion...