Depending which circles you talk poker with, it’s a term you’re fairly likely to have heard thrown around. “I’d RNG this spot”, or the classic “I got ****ed by the RNG”. But what exactly do people mean when they use this term, and how does this mysterious device help anyone to play better poker?
RNG = Random Number Generator
Da-duuuuum! Theres really not too much else to say here- an RNG is simply an abbreviation for ‘Random Number Generator’. RNGs do exactly what they say on the tin- they display a random number for the user, usually within some user-defined parameters (I.e. integers (whole numbers) only, ranging from 0-100).
Why Would I Want to Use an RNG for Playing Poker?
If you’ve ever looked at a pio sim, you’ll have noticed that very often, the correct play with a hand is to split between two options. For example, check out this hand I played recently.
If I were to check every time with this combo and the others like it, I’d be playing far too weak. A good opponent would pick up on this and be incentivised to float my flop bets wider, make more marginal turn folds vs cbet, and stab way more vs my turn check.
If I were to bet always, my turn range would be too bluff heavy, and I’d invite observant opponents to call wider, or shove over my turn bets and fold out lots of my equity. So, clearly vs a decent player, what I want to do is to bet sometimes, check sometimes.
Which is great, except that it doesnt help me to make my decision at all- ‘bet sometimes’ isn’t an option, I need to either bet or check.
So how can I decide on and implement my strategy here? This is where the RNG comes into it’s own.
I decide on a frequency- a number between 0 and 100, which will be my bet frequency with this combo in this situation. Lets say I decide I want to bet 40% of the time. I look at my RNG, if its displaying any number between 0 and 40, I bet, if its 41 or higher I check. Simple!
Deciding on a Frequency- GTO and Exploitative Considerations
The main factor in this betting frequency decision when I’m playing against strong opponents is my memory of pio sims I’ve run in this spot before. Generally the frequencies pio recommends follow patterns which can be extracted and simplified for use in game. But obviously I want to use all the information available to me to make the best possible decision. Therefore, if I’m playing someone who I feel is a little stationy in this situation (I.e. has a lower than optimal fold vs barrel in this spot) then I might reduce my bet frequency a little. And conversely, if I feel my specific villain is a little weak or tight, I might up the bet frequency, perhaps quite drastically.
A Balanced, Exploitative Approach
One of the most common problems I see with the approach of smaller stakes students is that they completely throw balance out of the window when they’re trying to exploit a perceived leak in an opponent. For example, in the hand I posted above, a student will say something like “well, this villain is a fish, therefore i thought he might make a lot of stupid call downs, so i checked”. Or “this guy has 50% fold to turn cbet here, so i bet. But now i dont know whether to bluff the river because i have so many bluffs here” etc etc.
Using our knowledge of optimal play and an RNG, we can soft exploit our opponents without throwing all our ranges completely out of whack. We can adjust our frequencies on the margin, rather than wholesale, and capture a lot of the upside without opening ourselves up to huge counter adjustments.
“we can soft exploit our opponents without throwing all our ranges completely out of whack..”
Another common situation where I make use of my RNG is when I’m in a bluff catching situation. Very often, I’m able to correctly identify when I’m indifferent with a bluffcatcher- i.e. i think that call and fold are roughly equal EV. Again from looking at sims we know these situations are relatively common. But what exactly are we to do- if we call every time, we give our opponent the option of adjusting to us by dropping bluffs and adding thinner value bets. Similarly, if we fold every time our opponent can start bluffing everything and winning the pot way more than his fair share of the time. Again, we want to take an action ‘sometimes’.
For me, low numbers on my RNG correspond to aggressive actions. So if I guess/decide i want to bluffcatch my combo at 20% frequency and fold the rest of the time, 0-20 on my RNG means call, anything else means fold. I think this is an intuitive way to use an RNG in practise, but obviously there are other ways that are also valid, what matters is that you apply your chosen approach consistently.
Simplifying Your Decisions
I cant tell you how many hands my students mark for review where they’re unsure of what to do with a hand, and we run the simulation only to find that their hand is a ‘sometimes’ hand. Students will grasp at any half-logical sounding justification for taking one action over another, and can be quite resistant to the option of randomising between both options. This simplifies the decision greatly, as very often the number on your RNG will make your decision clear cut. For example I might have a hand where I think I want to 3bet preflop something g like 35-45% of the time. If I see a 44 or my RNG, I’m going to have to think a little deeper and decide exactly what I’m doing, bit if I see a 10 or an 85 I’m in no doubt whatsoever and can snap act.
Or let’s say I defend the big blind and flop a gutshot. I know that check-raising always is too much, and I know that check-raising never is too little. So, based on what I’ve seen from pio sims I’ll pick some frequency to check-raise, which I’ll then further refine to exploit any tendencies or weaknesses I perceive in my opponents.
The Alternative – “I have better hands..”
Often, I’ll be looking at a situation and a new student will justify a weak/passive decision by saying “I have better hands for this [betting, raising, bluffcatching] in my range, so this hand I just call/fold”. Usually this means that with every good hand in their range they’re betting/raising, and every medium/bad hand they are calling/folding respectively. This is an extremely transparent way to play, and an approach which just wont cut it even at small stakes.
The classic setup for this strategic weakness to show itself is turn double barreling, such as this hand I played a while ago.
What most micro stakes players want to do on this turn is to bet every draw that has 8 outs or more, and never bet anything worse than that (like a KJo combo). Let’s think for a second about what that means for their range.
On brick rivers, they are going to have far, far too many weak hands, while on flushing rivers they’re going to lack any favourable bluffs (i.e. hands that don’t block the bricked flushdraw). Meanwhile, when they check back they are going to have no strong hands on any spade or club river, meaning they can’t rep any value hands when they raise vs river probe (while BB can overbet into them with impunity). Hopefully you can see that by randomising properly here we simultaneously improve our EV when we bet AND our EV when we check. This is obviously an example where finding the infrequent check back with a decent draw paid off handsomely, but it’s just one of many thousands of decisions I’ve made in my poker career which have incorporated the informed use of an RNG. Just as important to my turn strategy here is the numerous two overcard 1 block hands that I’ll include in my turn bet range at low (but non-0) frequency.
How to Find and Set Up an RNG
Hopefully by this stage you’re sold on the efficacy of using an RNG to help you construct your range with a little more sophistication. You might be asking yourself how you can start using one in game. Fortunately these days RNGs come included with all manner of table management/multitabling software such as TableOptimizer, StarsHelper and even PokerTracker 4. Failing that, the low budget option is to simply google it and use any one of the free options you’ll find there. If you’re a live player you’ll have to get a bit more creative, but I’ve heard of people using clocks and even dice to introduce some smart randomness into their play.
That’s about all I have to say on this subject, hopefully you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it! If you’d like to keep reading check out this discussion on GTO vs exploitative play, and reflect on how using an RNG might help you adapt to your villains without throwing all semblance of balance into the toilet…
GL out there!