Hand range is a poker concept that is unknown to many beginner players. Nevertheless, by understanding what ranges are and how to use them, you can drastically improve your game!
On televised poker, you often see someone facing a difficult decision, trying to guess what his opponent has. And sometimes, a poker pro with exceptional reading and analyzing skills can put his opponent on an exact hand, then call a bluff or make a hero laydown. However, in the vast majority of cases, figuring out what one has is simply unrealistic. Instead, poker pros use hand ranges to make the best possible choice based on the information they have.
So, what is a poker hand range?
Hand range is simply a set of hands that a player may have in a given situation. Poker pros use all the information that they have, like previous action or any reads, to estimate the set of possible hands their opponents have.
Did the opponent raise preflop? Is he an aggressive player? Would he have checked on the flop if he had a pair? This type of reasoning is used to transform information into possible hands an opponent may have. The hands that make sense under the given scenario form the hand range of the opponent.
Then, to reach a decision, you have to evaluate how your hand performs against his entire range, not only a specific hand. Are there enough hands you beat in his range to make the call worth it? Or, can you value bet profitably against his range?
Figuring out your opponent’s hand range
To figure out your opponent’s range, you must piece together all the information that you possess and see which hands fit into the story. Every time your opponent acts, he gives away some information about what he is holding. Putting together this information along with any reads you have on him, creates a story for which not all starting hands make sense. By selecting only the starting hands that are plausible, you can build your opponent’s hand range.
When constructing hand ranges, you do not have to name every hand explicitly. In a standard notation we also use, “A8+” means any ace with an eight or better as a kicker, and “K9s+” means any suited king with a nine or better.
Putting the pieces together like a puzzle and putting their opponents on ranges is what makes great poker players. The more you accumulate experience and get accustomed to this process, the more you will be able to beat the game and eventually master it!
Preflop open Ranges
Open ranges depend on the player’s style and on the situation on the table. However, it is important to have a baseline on what a profitable open raise range is depending on the position you are in. Using Equilab, we see the following open raise ranges:
- Open raise range from middle position on a 9 player table (marked as mp2 in Equilab), equivalent to utg in a 6 max-table. It is a range of 13.1% of hands.
- Open raise range from the cut-off. It is a range of 24.6% of hands.
- Open raise range from the button. It is a range of 37.7% of hands.
Keep in mind that, when you are trying to deduce an opponent’s range you have to factor in his playing style and any other reads you have on him, not only his position.
Let’s take a look at a specific example and see how we can use incoming information to refine our opponent’s hand range.
So, for what we know until now, his hand range is something like :
88+, A9s+, KTs+, QTs+, ATo+, KQo
You decide to call. The flop comes K♥9♠7♣, a good flop for you as you make top pair with a good kicker! Your opponent makes a continuation bet of about three-quarters of the pot. You decide to smooth call his bet. So, what information can we extract from his bet, and how does it affect his range?
Well, with many straight draw possibilities on the flop, your opponent would mostly bet his strong hands. He would also bet for protection with mediocre hands, like JJ, that you beat. Finally, he could be making a continuation bet as a bluff or semi-bluff with a straight draw. So you do not gain much information, but some of his hands that missed become less probable.
Since you beat a lot of his hands with your pair, your call is justified.
The turn is a blank, 2♦. Your opponent checks and you bet about 70% of the pot. Your opponent calls. What information can you extract now?
Well, your opponent’s check, and in particular, his call of your bet, gives you a tone of information! Could he be calling you with ace high to keep you honest? Not very likely. What about a monster hand like a set of kings or nines? A monster hand also becomes less plausible. This is because, on a draw heavy board like that, he would have probably bet or check-raised you. What about a straight draw? With one card to come, he would not be getting enough pot odds to continue. All made hands, except maybe 88, remain in his calling range.
AA, QQ-99, AKs, KTs+, AKo, KQo
The river is another deuce, the 2♥, pairing the board. Your opponent checks again, and you have the option of making a value bet. So, what should you do?
His check on the river agrees with your turn conclusions. It seems increasingly plausible that your opponent has a medium-strong made hand and does that does not want to give up but does not wish to play a massive pot with either.
The above range remains coherent: AA, QQ-99, AKs, KTs+, AKo, KQo
As you may have been playing a missed draw on position, your opponent will most likely call if you bet. You beat most of the hands in his range, so a value bet can be profitable.
When we construct hand ranges, we assign specific holdings to our opponent. However, real-life situations are more complicated. An opponent may act a given way every time with one hand, but only half of the time with another. For example, he may open-raise preflop every time with AK, but only one out of three with 98s. So, some of the hands in his hand range are less probable than others. As he could even be on a pure bluff, almost any starting hand is possible.
A more accurate representation of an opponent’s hand range could look like 95% AK, 30% 98s, 5% J2… It is practically impossible to use such a representation at the table, as it would complicate calculations enormously. You must, however, take into account that some hands are less probable and that there is a possibility that your opponent is on a bluff.
In a nutshell
Hand reading and range construction are skills that require practice to master. However, as you shift your way of thinking and start using ranges, you will find that your game progresses immensely. So, next time you are at the tables, start using hand ranges!