Poker is a game of math, calculated risks, and manipulating your odds of winning each hand. Statistically, a 7-2 off-suit hand has less than a 10% chance of winning at a full poker table. But, still, you can have the worst hand at the table, but if you can predict what your opponent will do, you’ll win.
Understanding poker ranges and how to gauge your opponent’s range is key to transitioning from poker enthusiast to professional. The concept of hand ranges is relatively new in the poker world. When Texas Hold’em was taking off in the early 2000s, nobody would know what the term even meant.
Let’s take a closer look at the concept of hand ranges and how they affect your game as a poker player.
What are Poker Ranges?
At it’s most basic level, a range in poker is the number of hands you think an opponent will play in a specific situation. When starting out, you will understand what range of hands are good to have before the flop. Pairs, overcards (A-10), and suited connectors are all ideal hands.
Of course, not everybody will fold cards that don’t fall in those categories. You’ll need to spend time playing against the same players to get a feel for how tight or how lose their ranges are.
Pro poker players like Tom “Durr” Dwan and Andrew Robl are notorious for having the widest of ranges. In contrast, players like Eric Seidel and Chris Ferguson are very conservative with a narrow range of hands that they will play.
These pros know this, but they are still successful because they are great at reading their opponents ranges, too. They can exploit what their perceived range is as well as their opponents.
Hand Ranges and Poker Odds
Let’s use an example of facing an opponent with a strong hand to explain how ranges help you make smart decisions. You’re dealt two Jacks, your opponent has been playing tight all game. Their behavior before the flop, after, and remaining streets can tell you if you are ahead or behind.
Before the flop, they 3-bet you and you immediately know they have a hand. Because they’re a tight player, you know they wouldn’t raise so much UTG, under the gun, so they must be holding Aces, Kings, Queens, or an AK. You call because two Jacks are good, but you might be beaten.
The flop does nothing for you, it comes out 8, 5, 2 rainbow. Your opponent fires another 3-bet. What are the odds that you’re ahead here? What can you beat? The answer is only an AK, if your opponent’s range is AA, KK, QQ, or AK.
Know When to Fold Them
In this basic scenario, your best move is to fold because your odds of winning are really low. Even an AK has good odds to beat you, roughly 50/50. Mathematically, they have 16 chances to make their AK hand or 18 hands possible if they’re holding A-Q pairs.
This translates to really bad pot odds, with a most likely scenario of you going all-in as a 4-to-1 underdog. That’s an easy fold if you can pin your opponent on a range. Poker can be a cruel mistress, but it also gives you the best odds of winning in the casino.
Play Ranges and Not Hands for Profit
Hand ranges are more than just guessing what an opponent might be holding, it’s about exploiting situations. Exploiting what you’re advertising on your own range of hands and recognizing opponent patterns. This will require keeping track of lots of information at the table for every situation.
This is partly why amateur players who only focus on what they are holding are so easy to read. They rely mostly on preflop hands and not ranges based on position, chip stack, and past hands.
The most obvious example here is starting conservatively when UTG and playing looser all the way to the button. Eventually, you’ll get a feel for basic opponent ranges based on how often they raise first and in what position.
An opponent who raises a lot, regardless of position, is playing loose with a wide range.
Adapting Based on Range
If you’re playing based on range, then your play would be the same even if you could somehow see your opponents hands. Your bets, calls, and reraises are all designed for getting the best value for your hand win or lose. Playing based on ranges reduces the guesswork and mistakes made for bad reads.
Professional players know that no one can escape coolers or downward swings. It’s this variance that is the constant, but long-term success depends on being able to maximize your wins and minimize your losses.
Being able to read players ranges lets you get all the chips in the middle when you have the nuts and fold when you’re in trouble. Amateur players struggle because even when they do have a big hand, they can’t get their opponent to bite because they know your range.
Adapting to player ranges can allow you to bully players with narrow ranges and punish players with wider ranges.
Information is the Key to Poker
When you first sit down at a table you know nothing about your opponents. If you frequent the same tables with the same players, you may have an informational advantage. If not, you must collect information and use it to determine poker ranges in play.
Your goal isn’t to start predicting hands like poker legend Daniel Negreanu, that’s a rare talent. It’s about putting people on ranges to help make smart value bets and bait them into paying you off when you have the nuts.
This isn’t an easy skill to master in poker, it requires tons of studying, analyzing hands, and consistent play.
The pay off is worth it, as you’ll make fewer mistakes and increase your overall profits. For more poker strategies to help your game, bookmark our blog page. We update it daily with helpful tips, tricks, reviews, and guides for the best online gaming strategies.