Poker Range relates to a set of hands that either you or an opponent might hold in a particular situation.
So, instead of thinking of one holding like J♣10♦, you would include several hands in a range. For example – K9s, Q9s, J9s, etc. – is part of a poker range of hands.
This concept is what we call a range in poker.
Thinking in ranges will allow you to relate your hand to what a Villain might have.
It’s crucial to consider all your opponents’ possible holdings.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I put him on Ace-King!” Or they put an opponent on some precise high card/weak holding and make a hero call?
Many times, inexperienced players assume their opponents can’t have a particular hand. They need to consider all their opponents’ hand range as the basis for their decisions.
In this article, we’re going to elaborate on poker ranges to include the following:
Table of Contents
- What Is a Poker Range?
- Ranging Your Opponents Street-by-Street
- How To Counter Your Opponents Based on Their Range
- How To Balance Your Own Poker Hand Ranges
- Other Things to Consider: Poker Hand Ranges
- Improving Hand Range and Hand Reading Abilities
What Is a Poker Range?
A Poker Range is a compilation of hands that a player could have at a particular point in a hand.
As the hand progresses, you can narrow down a poker range based on the following:
- Betting action
- Betting patterns
- Betting Size
- Player type
Pre-flop, you should note the following actions to refine an opponent’s starting hand:
- Pay attention to your opponent’ pre-flop action (limp/raise/3bet etc.)
- Guess the frequency of that action
- Delete any hands that shouldn’t be in the mix
- Consider if any factors would skew their play
How To Visualize a Poker Range
The best way to understand poker range is by visualising it in a hand grid (table). The grid represents all the possible hands you could be dealt in No-Limit Hold’em.
The “o” indicates it is an off-suit hand while the “s” stands for a suited hand. For instance, T♠8♦ (ten of spades & eight of diamonds) is a non-suited hand – T8o
A♥K♥ (ace of hearts & king of hearts) is a suited hand - AKs
The following table (grid) is commonly found in poker training and analytics software:
- Pocket Pairs are the middle diagonal of hands (white).
- Suited Hands are in the top-right half of the diagram (light-blue).
- Unsuited Hands are in the lower-left half of the diagram (dark-blue).
A Brief Word on Combinatorics
The diagram above makes it look like there is an even number of suited and unsuited hands. You must remember that this is not the case.
The diagram is simply designed to help players visualise poker ranges.
Remember the following points regarding the possible combinations of the various poker hands:
- Pocket Pairs have 6 combinations each.
- Non-Paired Hands have 16 combinations each.
- Unsuited Hands have 12 combinations each.
- Suited Hands have 4 combinations each.
An Example of a Poker Range
A commonly agreed-upon number of poker hands to open from the Lojack position (UTG in a 6max game) is around 15% of possible starting hands.
How might a range like that look?
However, found below is another possible starting hand range chart that satisfies the ~15%. This chart also includes a different range of hands, albeit slight.
Upon analysis, you’ll discover that it excludes some hands from the chart above (ATo, 65s). But it adds in others (K9s, Q9s, J9s, and some higher suited connectors).
Still, the chart contains approximately the same number of combinations:
Ultimately, range software programs and pre-sets will give you different, and that’s okay! As you become more familiar with using ranges, your abilities to accurately range your opponents will improve.
You’ll also feel free to discover which starting hand ranges will work best for you. You should account for the varying situations and positions (always customisable to an extent).
Why is a Poker Range Crucial?
This process takes more than merely applying some sort of range to your opponents – especially post-flop.
Making maths-based poker decisions will give a lot more clarity, precision, and profitability to your poker playing.
This situation, of course, is contrary to the amateur “cut-and-dry” approach:
“If he has AK, I lose. And I think he has that, so I fold.”
These less-experienced players don’t account for all possibilities of various poker hand holdings.
Ranging Your Opponents Street-by-Street
Throughout a hand, a player’s range by no means stays the same. It starts out widest pre-flop.
During post-flop play, it will narrow immensely –
Based on how the player will choose to bet. his various pre-flop holdings in his range as the hand develops.
Relating these betting patterns to a player’s normal betting tendencies will help you deduce a close approximation of a Villain’s range.
Preflop Poker Range
Poker training content has become more prevalent in recent years.
As a result, many players’ understanding of the starting hands they should play from the various positions has improved.
In general, your staring hand range should be –
- A very tight, narrow range when opening from early position. (To compensate for probably having to play from out-of-position later in the hand.)
- A wider range when opening in later positions - the widest of which would come on the button.
Remember, position is everything in poker!
Your most significant win rates will come from the button and those hands you play in position.
Position is power, and this equals profit!
As such, starting hand guides will generally stay constant. (At least, when it comes to the percentage of hands and which ones to open from each position.)
Some wiggle room always exists as to exactly how you want to solidify your pre-flop range.
Remember, 15% of starting hands doesn’t necessarily mean the same exact starting hands in every case!
Here are some recommendations for the percentage of total hands you should open from various positions at a 9-handed table.
% of Starting Hands When Open-Raising
n/a (cannot open-raise)
NOTE: While every player’s exact starting range will vary, we recommend studying our free “Raise First In” (RFI) charts.
Using these as your “base” charts (both for and your opponent’s ranges). Then you can add to or subtract from them depending on the tendencies of your opponents
This process will help substantially with range analysis in-game!
How HUD’s Can Help You With Preflop Range Analysis
Now comes something very cool! With a heads-up display, such as PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager, you can see the % of hands your opponents’ open-raise.
You can see those numbers from each position and compare this with the “standard” data in the table.
If they’re opening up 15% of hands from UTG in a full-ring game, you know that they’ll be opening wider than optimal. You can exploit this and counter it as a result (i.e. by 3betting more often).
If you are trying to put them on a “range” during a hand, you’ll have a better idea of what hands to include in their pre-flop range.
You will need a massive data sample on your opponents - thousands of thousands of hands. If you play on smaller sites with the same players, perhaps these numbers may be more accurate.
It may take an extended period as the data sample increases.
However, in other cases, you’re going to have to refer to more general numbers to help you out.
- For example, VPIP (voluntarily put money in pot), PFR (pre-flop raise), and 3B% (3bet percentage) are helpful stats. They will help you initially judge a player’s looseness/tightness/pre-flop aggression.
- It will also tell you exactly how you should adjust your “base” range to include or exclude specific starting hand ranges. This process will give you a more accurate post-flop range analysis.
- Typical VPIP/PFR stats for a full-ring game may be somewhere around 19/17. For 6-max, it’s likely more around 24/21. If your opponents’ stats are smaller or larger than these base numbers, you can adjust.
You should also notice whether these stats are within about 4 percentage points of each other. The wider they are apart, the fishier the player may be.
Post-Flop Poker Range: Flop/Turn/River
Post-flop analysis regarding poker ranges is where the real fun begins! Bear in mind that no two players will play a hand the exact same way.
Also, an insanely high number of board runouts can occur that will dramatically change how a hand is played. It can depend on what suits come down and what values the cards are.
By reason of deduction, you will be able to take that pre-flop range of your opponent(s)’s and narrow it down further. You’ll also be able to counter most opponents using an exploitative-style approach.
For example, some general questions you can ask yourself during a hand are:
- Is my opponent a passive player who checks his medium-strength and bad hands and only bets his good hands?
- Does my opponent ever bluff? Does he bluff too often or not enough?
- Does my opponent use certain board textures to play accordingly in favour of his hand range?
- Is my opponent straightforward or tricky?
- Is my opponent a solid reg who combines the appropriate number of value hands to bluffs in his range?
Depending on how your opponent bets on all 3 streets combined, you can use logical reasoning to assume their strength.
Relating to this, also consider –
- the strength of your hand, relative to your opponent’s range
- the strength of your hand against all the hands in your entire range
- the bet sizing your opponent used
By doing so, you can work out a strategy to successfully counteract many of the scenarios in a poker hand.
You will find yourself profiting on average more than you’ll lose!
Types of Betting:
It’s essential to recognise the different approaches to betting your opponents might have. With weaker players, you’ll usually be able to deduce quickly what betting pattern means strength.
Often, they will be the most straightforward type of opponent.
Other times, you’ll have to recognise betting patterns that good players utilise. Then you’ll have to decide what they mean and how to counteract it.
Against good players, the most common differential in betting patterns is bet sizing. (Decent players have more meaning and purpose in their bets – as elaborated upon below).
- Larger bets tend to err on the side of polarisation: either having a super-strong hand or nothing. (As you’ll later find out, using larger bet sizings can often warrant including more bluffs in your range. But few players follow this point, as more often than not, they’re merely going for max value.)
- Bets that are on the smaller side tend to be more weighted toward value. That “value” range consists of many more hands that are more than premiums.
- For example, say someone bets half-pot on the river as the value part of their range. It might be anything from the nuts to having second pair with a good kicker (thinking they can get called by worse). As a result, it can be tough to fold more of the middle-of-your-range hands. On average, your range will beat enough of the hands in your opponent’s range to justify a call.
If you ever get to see your opponent’s cards at the end of a hand, use this to identifying their leaks and exploitable tendencies. You can also figure out how to counteract their play in the future.
Often, you’ll get reliable answers to the questions posed above (and more!). You’ll be able to profile your opponents and see how you should play against them.
Post-hand analysis can also refer to study session material.
For example, to improve at poker, you must review your own play and analyse that of your opponents. By doing so, you can better deduce which hands you should call (or bet), improving your in-game play even more.
River situations are often the most crucial street of a hand. By the river, pots are often well-bloated in size. The difference between correctly calling/betting and folding/checking back can make a huge difference.
Thus, reviewing river situations and your decisions on the final street of play can have HUGE profitability implications!
For example, your opponent bets ½ pot. This bets would give you 3:1 odds on a call - meaning you have to win 25% of the time or more to make a profitable call.
Now compare whatever hand you have to a narrowed-down range of your opponent.
You’d be able to deduce whether or not you had the right odds to call.
Each hand is very precise in its outcome. So, it can always be tough to assign an appropriate range to an opponent. In other words, it’ll be tough to know the exact range of hands an opponent will bet the same way.
Try to determine how your hand does in terms of equity relative to that of your opponent.
This strategy will help you to rise to the level of a top player.
How accurately you calculate your opponent’s range will correspond to how profitable you will be.
What Equity Do You Need to Call Vs. X-Size Bet?
As you review hands and equities, it’ll also be essential to determine a “tipping point”. For example, give an opponent an optimistic range. (Mathematically, it is correct and profitable to call against a presumptuously looser range). Now give them a pessimistic range (something on the tighter, more value-heavy side.
You will also have to consider which hands must be included in Villain’s ranges in each situation to make your calls profitable.
Use these “pot odds” to determine whether you should call. Bear in mind that you are relating the equity of your hand to the opponent’s range that you’ve created.
This “pot odds” concept is relevant. But it doesn’t include the strength of your hand relative to all the possible hands in your range. (We’ll expand on this in a later section.)
How To Counter Your Opponents Based on Their Range
While in-game, you must address specific concepts to be able to correctly counter your opponents’ bets and raises. This standpoint is from a GTO (game theory optimal) perspective.
1. Minimum defence frequency
This concept refers to the minimum amount you must call or raise your opponent’s bet. By overfolding, you could be exploitatively bluffed out of the pot.
Take your range of possible hands and the size of your opponent’s bet. The Minimum Defence Frequency (MDF) will show how often/much of your range to defend without over-folding.
The formula for this calculation is:
Pot size / (Pot size + bet size)
Opponent’s Bet Size
Minimum Defence Frequency (MDF)
NOTE: The majority of players will not use an optimised, balanced strategy. They won’t mix in an appropriate amount of bluffs with value combinations in their range.
Using an exploitative and simplified “pot odds” approach can be better in deciding which hands you should call.
MDF concepts should be used versus tough or unknown players.
Working with MDF’s is something that you’ll rarely be able to think of in-game. You should be primarily focusing on it in your off-table hand reviews.
It’s the study work you do off the felt that will help you think in a clearer, simplified way at the table.
WHEN TO USE MDF:
- When you have zero or little info on your opponent(s) and/or are playing against strong, well-balanced players.
WHEN NOT TO USE MDF:
- Defending against flop/turn cbets out of position. You’re not going to be able to realise your full equity from out of position. You will have a range disadvantage most of the time against the pre-flop raiser by having just flatted pre-flop.
- When your opponent doesn’t have any bluffs in his range or logical hands that you can beat.
- When you’re playing against weaker players. The player types that can give you the most profit by using an exploitative style of play.
2. Big blind defence
In the big blind, when acting pre-flop in a heads-up pot, you should be defending a large part of your range.
This strategy is so as not to be exploited by folding more than you should be.
- Against a 2x open raise, you’re getting odds of 3.5:1 (2bb + 0.5bb + 1.0bb:1bb you need to call). This fact means that you only need about 22% equity to defend against an open.
- Against a 3x open raise, you’re getting odds of 2.25:1, meaning you need about 31% equity against your opponent’s range to call profitably.
- If you play live where raises may be a bit larger than those found online, against a 5x raise, you’d be getting odds of 1.625:1. In this scenario, you’d need 38% equity to call.
That said, note that it will be challenging to play profitably out of position and with a range disadvantage. These points combine to mean that the equities should be adjusted by about 7% points to not over-defend.
This change would put you in more – EV situations than are necessary. (I.e. versus a 2x raise, defend hands with 29% equity instead of the pot odds recommended 22%).
Playing a wide defending range from the blinds is only recommended for players who have more developed post-flop abilities.
If you’re more of a beginner player, it’s okay to tighten up your range from the blinds. This move will help you avoid tricky post-flop spots that will likely create –EV situations for yourself.
3. Playing Various Opponents Differently
There are many various tips and recommended strategies on how to play poker profitably in the long-term. The biggest tip is going to be identifying who the weak players are.
By figuring out what weaker tendencies they have, you can exploit these to gain maximum profit.
For example, Ace-Queen suited would typically be a fine hand to 3-bet from the button. However, say you are against an opponent who limps with most of his starting range and only raises pre-flop with AA, KK, QQ and AK.
It seems pretty foolish to raise here. You’d be lighting money on fire (especially if you then get 4bet).
NOTE: You can ultimately colour-code and categorise players better and with the use of a HUD. But the online poker in-client simplified colour-coding system (using just two colours) to differentiate fish from good/competent players work well.
You can always refer to your HUD stats and notes for specifics on how to play optimally against each opponent. But for things like table/seat selecting, a general approach, the simplified notes are beneficial.
Better players may strive for a more balanced approach. They use unexploitable strategy to play their ranges to include strong and weaker hands in various betting patterns.
Exploitable tendencies you can consider for many opponents are:
- How passive or aggressive are your opponents, usually?
- How loose their pre-flop range is, by each position, and how you should adjust your post-flop range analysis to account for this?
- Do they always have it on the river if they triple barrel?
- What is their win rate? (In many HUD’s, you can see the bb/100 and all-in adjusted EV of your opponents for the hands you’ve played with them.) How does that relate to their stats? (Are they super fish or bad regs, and how can you counter this?) Can you find their most exploitable tendencies so that you can profit from them the most?
- What are their frequencies for cbetting?
- Do they over-fold or under-fold against cbets?
- Do they play poorly out of position?
- Do they call too often or fold too much?
- How straightforward are they? Do they ever bluff?
- Do they have any sure-fire tells?
- How often do they call overbets?
“GTO” is a continuously developing part and strategy of poker.
Such sophisticated methods aren’t needed against most players. (You can best counter most opponents using an exploitative approach.)
How To Balance Your Own Poker Hand Ranges
Thinking about your opponent’s hand range is the tip of the iceberg to becoming a good player. The top players also think about their own hand ranges.
They figure out how to progress with all the hands in their range on post-flop betting rounds to maintain a balanced approach and/or play ideally.
People often misplay drawing hands. Not all draws are created equal. If you always semi-bluff all draws, you’re including too many bluffs in your range.
This strategy can set you up to being exploited with check-raises and counter-aggression. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to bet or raise with your weakest draws. You should check or call with your strongest, or ones that contain showdown value (or large amounts of equity).
Of course, there will be exceptions. But fold equity should be the focus most by draws, which have little-to-no showdown value (SDV).
Concerning how many bluffs you should include in your range (versus the number of value hands), generally speaking –
- On the flop, you want to be betting with more bluffs/semi-bluffs than value hands, by a ratio of about 2:1.
- On the turn, it should be roughly equal. Then, on the river, bluff to value hands should be a ratio of about 1:2.
This calculation should affect your bet size!
In the chart below, the number of bluffs included in your river betting range will be individually based on the bet size.
It doesn’t matter if your opponent calls or folds. You’re going to be breaking even (or profiting) from such bets/plays in the long-run.
RATIO OF BLUFFS TO VALUE HANDS:
Other Things to Consider: Poker Hand Ranges
Weighted Hand Ranges: Weighted hand ranges happen when an opponent only makes particular plays with specific hands - not 100% of the time. For example, you raise/4bet QQ, and your opponent 5bet shoves.
Perhaps he’s 5betting AA and KK 100% of the time, but only flatting AK 50% of the time. It’s essential to account for this possibility where applicable in your range analyses.
Calculating Weighted Hand Ranges: Usually, using poker software, you can accurately choose the combos in your range. The software can make the subsequent calculations automatically.
In the previous example, the Villain 5bets AK 50% of the time. In your equity/range calculations, you should only be including 8 combinations of AK, as opposed to the full 16 combos.
Manipulating Hand Ranges: This concept refers to how you can manipulate your hand range to look either strong or weak. Subsequently, you can elicit the desired outcome from your opponent.
For example, against less aware players, you’ll use larger bluff bet sizings to scare/intimidate them into folding. On the flip side, say you have a read that your opponent has more of a medium-strength hand. In those instances, you may use a sizing of around ¼- or 1/3rd-pot with your value hands to induce a crying call.
Manipulating your own ranges this way comes down to knowing your opponents. You must correctly assume how you think they’ll react to particular courses of action.
Keeping Your Opponents Range Wide (Intentionally): In many situations, you’ll want your opponent to call with the majority of his hands.
It could either be when you’re making a thin value bet (and want to be called by as many worse hands as possible).
Or you’re are holding the nuts and want him to continue enough of the time to try and make second-best.
For example, imagine using two pot-sized bets on the flop and turn when you have second pair, top kicker. Using this betting strategy, you’re likely only going to keep Villain in the hand with better.
Instead, checking one of these streets or using smaller bet sizes can entice Villain to continue with some worse hands and/or draws.
This concept goes for all hands in your range (not only second pair).
In a sense, this idea manipulates the Villain’s range, too. Do keep this point in mind for how you will bet on future streets as well as Villain’s range.
- Optimistic vs Pessimistic Ranges: It’s critical to think optimistically and pessimistically about your opponent(s) possible range(s). This concept is crucial on later streets of a hand.
In your study time away from the table, get to know what the tipping point will be in particular situations on borderline calls. (I.e. review which other hands your opponent would have to be value betting or bluffing for it to be +EV to call).
That way, your in-game decisions will become more profitable.
It’s About Winning in the Long Run: Through range analysis, simulations, etc., you may deduce in a hand that you have about 70% equity vs your opponent’s range. It will ALWAYS be a winning play here to get the money in. But, it’s also essential to realise that you’ll still lose 30% of the time (which is almost 1 in 3).
Do your best not to let the bad beats affect you. Roll with the river calls when your opponent beats you that rare percentage of the time. You don’t want this to put you on tilt and cause you to make bad calls or emotionally charged plays/decisions.
Just remember: the variance in poker goes both ways. In the long-term, things will even out. And in the short term, it’s essential to continue making +EV decisions whenever you can.
The Importance of Post-Game Analysis: Putting in study and review time away from the table will boost your win rate at the table. This process includes refreshing yourself on strategic concepts and learning new ones. It also should involve reviewing past “trouble” hands that you’ve played.
If you play online, with the use of a HUD, it’s quite easy to tag/mark your hands for later review. Study these hands, take notes on what you discover about your opponents. Then implement the knowledge you gain into future sessions to boost your profits.
Improving Hand Range and Hand Reading Abilities
Understanding the concepts behind hand ranges is one thing, but actually, experimenting with them and practising with their use is another.
Thanks to various software that have been developed, the process of playing and practising with poker hand ranges has become much easier over the years.
For Windows users, Equilab (equities vs ranges) and Flopzilla have simple, yet comprehensive post-flop programs.
Also, poker solvers can run many simulations and calculations within the software. They can help illuminate what ideal play strategies would be in various situations. The most notable and well-reputed solvers are PokerSnowie and PioSolver.
For Mac users, the software options, unfortunately, aren’t that comprehensive. Luckily, one developer created PokerCruncher for MacOS/iOS users. It works like the Windows version of Flopzilla.
PokerSnowie has added a MacOS software platform to their mobile app, as well.
The ability to assess opponents’ ranges accurately is a significant winning factor in poker. It separates the biggest winners from the rest.
With more precise range analyses, they can make better +EV decisions and reap more profits. Such players have also done enough studying away from the table with ranges.
They can see how ranges fair on different board textures to know when they should bet, call, raise, or fold.
Remember, the work you put in away from the tables will infinitely help your gameplay at the table!
Learn to Turn Your Pocket Aces into Consistent Winners!