In poker, a player's ability to determine the hand ranges of his opponents is one of the most crucial skills for success. The biggest reason for this is that poker is a game of incomplete information, and the more precise you get to put your opponents on their likely holdings, the better chance you will have to outplay other players.
If you are just starting with poker ranges, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will explain what is a range in poker and how you can use this concept to increase your win rate.
A hand range in poker represents a group of card combinations a player can have in a specific situation.
Poker players use hand ranges instead of trying to guess the exact cards of their opponent because it is a much easier and more efficient way to make educated decisions. After all, how many poker players can guess the exact cards their opponent is holding?
Hand ranges help players make good decisions over the long run and not focus on specific situations in which other players might have some random hand.
On top of that, this concept is also used during coaching and review sessions, and there are four main formats in which poker ranges are usually presented:
The poker hand matrix is one of the universal tools that is most used for showing and working with hand ranges. It consists of 169 possible starting hand combinations displayed in the 13 x 13 format.
As you can see, the highlighted hands spread diagonally across the matrix represent all the possible pocket pairs.
The hands above the diagonal have the letter “s” added, which stands for suited hands. The hands below the diagonal have the letter “o” added, which stands for off-suited combinations.
Poker hand ranges can also be displayed in the form of a percentage. When a hand range is presented as a percentage, it tells you how many hands you are talking about from the total number of possible hands.
If you are using poker software like Holdem Manager or Poker Tracker, it will display the data in percentages all the time.
For example, it may show that a particular player has an 18 VPIP stat from the middle position. This means the player is playing 18% of hands from this position, which looks like this:
When it comes to hand ranges, combos are used to explain all the possible ways in which a player can make a specific hand. Whether we are talking about unpaired or paired hands, combos can be suited and offsuit.
A pocket pair can have only six combos. For example, if we take pocket sevens, there are six possible combinations of this hand.
In this case, to describe a range consisting of pocket sevens, we would say: the player has 6 combos of pocket sevens in his range.
Furthermore, there are 16 combos of unpaired hand, 4 suited combos, and 12 unsuited combos.
If we wanted to say that a player has all of the AK combinations in his range, we would say the player has 16 combos of AK in his range, and if we wanted to say that the player only has suited AK combinations in his range, we would say that he has 4 combos of AKs.
Poker hand ranges can also be presented in the form of range strands. A range strand presents a poker hand range in the form of a text.
An example of a hand range presented in the form of range strands would be:
The combo before the dash informs us about the lowest combination that is in the player's hand range, and the combo after the dash informs us about the highest combination in the player's range of hands.
You need to include several factors in your assessment of your opponent's hand range. These include:
Paying attention to all these factors might be overwhelming initially, but the more your play, the more intuitive these factors will come into play in these situations.
If you are using tracking software, this process should be even easier. Just remember that you need to have enough hands on your opponent to make the stats relevant.
Let’s try to determine a player's preflop range in an example.
You are playing 1/2 No Limit Holdem, and the player UTG raises, the action is folded to you, and you have 7s 7d on the button. This is the first hand you are playing against this opponent.
At this point, you should already be trying to put the UTG player on a range of hands and use that information to determine the best course of action with your hand.
Because you are playing against an unknown player, the best way to start is to put him on the same range of hands you would open from UTG.
Let’s say your UTG opening range includes all pocket pairs, top-suited broadways, and some offsuit broadway combos. It would look something like this.
Now that you have put your opponent on a preflop range of hands, you have something to work with going forward.
For the sake of the example, let’s say that you make the call, the small blind, and the big blind fold, and we go to the flop.
The flop comes Ah 6h 5c, and your opponent checks.
Because you are playing against an unknown opponent, your best bet is to consider what hand combinations you would check on this board in situations you raised from UTG preflop.
Let’s say that you would bet most of your sets (maybe check AA), all of your flushes draws, almost all of your top pairs, and all of the hands that didn’t connect to the board. This leaves pocket aces, underpairs, and weakest Ax hands in your checking range.
After his check on the flop, your opponent's range now looks something like this.
As you can see, with his check on the flop, we got enough information to narrow your opponent's range further. Again, this is not to say that he can’t have any of the combinations we discarded, but on most occasions, he probably won’t have those hands in this range after the actions he took.
Again, for the sake of the example, let’s say you make a half-pot bet, and he calls. Think about the hands you would check call in this situation as the preflop raiser.
You would probably call 77-AA, AJo, ATs, and fold underpairs 22-44.
After his check call on the flop, we assume that these are the combinations left in his hand range.
As you can see, we repeat the same process after each new information we get from our opponent and the board, which continues until the hand ends. Of course, this is a simplified example since actual strategy usually involves mixed plays with sometimes checking and sometimes betting the same hand, but you get the idea.
Now, if you go to the showdown in this case, and your opponent shows up with a hand that you didn’t put in his range, such as 6d 5h, for example, don’t let this discourage you from putting your opponent on hand ranges in the future.
We will explain the importance of hand ranges in the next section.
Click here for our blind vs blind ranges!
Poker ranges are important because they allow you to narrow down your opponent's possible holdings in a situation based on the information available to you.
In poker, it is much easier and more reasonable to try and put your opponent on a range of hands than try to guess their exact cards, and that is why all winning poker players have incorporated this approach into their game.
Learning about poker ranges as early as possible in your poker career is crucial because they are the foundation for developing good hand-reading skills that will help you become a winning poker player.
Poker hand ranges will not only help you improve your hand reading skills but also help you understand how to create your own ranges in specific situations, which is another crucial part of every poker player’s game.
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