Poker Ranges: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners in 2023
Poker is a game of skill, strategy, with some luck mixed in. One of the key skills in becoming a successful poker player is understanding poker ranges and thinking in terms of ranges rather than individual hands. This article will provide a comprehensive introduction to poker ranges - what they are, how to use them, with strategies to improve your game.
In the increasingly competitive modern poker world, understanding ranges is vital for success. With the availability of advanced poker software, players can now analyze their play in great detail and develop sophisticated strategies based on ranges.
The first step in the poker journey is to learn the basics. Fundamentals include the rules, absolute hand strengths, betting, and a few other key concepts like pot odds.
Once you are comfortable with the basics, it's time to start thinking beyond the exact hand you hold, or trying to put your opponent on an exact hand. It's time to start thinking in terms of ranges - all the possible hands you or your opponent might have in a certain situation, given the action so far.
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A poker range refers to the set of hands that a player might hold in a particular situation. Instead of just thinking about a single hand, like T♣9♦, a range contains a number of different hands that might be played in a similar manner. For example, all pocket pairs plus ATs, KTs, QTs, JTs and other hands could be part of a poker range that you raise preflop.
Ranges exist both preflop and postflop and can vary widely depending on the player's strategy and the game's context. Players consider factors such as position at the table, previous betting actions, and overall playing style when determining a poker range.
Understanding ranges is an essential skill for making educated guesses about an opponent's possible holdings in a situation and then making optimal decisions based on that information.
The Role of Position in Determining Poker Ranges
In poker, your position at the table has a significant impact on your range. The later your position, the wider your range can be. This is because being in late position provides more information about the other players' actions, allowing for more flexible decision-making. Also as there are less players left to act, there is less chance of someone remaining having a great hand and raising you.
For example, if you're the last to act in a round (also known as being on the button) and everyone has folded to you, you can open raise with a very wide range as there are only 2 players left who you can play against you.
On the other hand, if you're the first to act (also known as being under the gun), you should open raise a very narrow range because you have less information about the other players still in the hand. You will be playing out of position, which is a big disadvantage in all poker formats. As there are many more players still to act, it is much more likely that one of the remaining players will have a good hand. Therefore you can't just raise a wide range, as you will be open to being exploited by facing a 3bet, then forced to fold or put more money in the pot out of position with a weak range. A recipe for disaster!
Understanding the impact of position on poker ranges is fundamental in poker strategy. By correctly adjusting your ranges based on your position, you set yourself up with a solid foundation. This gives you a greater chance of success in the future betting rounds on the flop, turn and river. It is hard to recover from playing preflop badly.
Why are Poker Ranges Important to Improve Your Game?
Understanding poker ranges and thinking terms of ranges is one of the best ways to improve your poker game from the beginner level.
When you think in terms of ranges rather than a specific hand, you gain the ability to see the bigger picture. This perspective helps you make better decisions for your own hand and strategize effectively against your opponent's potential hands.
Poker is a game of incomplete information which means it is not possible to know exactly what two cards your opponent holds at any point in the hand. However, it is possible to use knowledge of poker ranges and logical reasoning to become very good at hand reading. This provides you with sufficient information for making more frequent and profitable decisions. Having more accurate information than your opponents and using it effectively will give you an edge. Over time this will translate into winning more.
Knowing your own range in any given spot will help you to make better decisions facing a bet or raise. For example, if you are facing a big bet, and you know that you have many stronger hands in your range than the hand you are currently holding, it makes the decision to fold easier.
Knowing both your range and your opponent's range allows you to choose the best bet sizings for the situation.
Calculating an opponent's range using hand reading techniques then adapting strategy accordingly is a key skill for achieving success in poker.
What is Hand Reading?
Hand reading in poker refers to the process of attempting to deduce the likely range of cards that an opponent may hold. It is done based on their position, actions, and betting patterns throughout a hand.
It involves analyzing all the available information. You start by making some initial assumptions about a player's preflop range, then work through the hand, narrowing the range (removing card combos) based on what happens at each stage.
Factors that will affect the range of hands that a player may hold are:
- Position at the table - are they in early position or late position? Early position generally means a tighter range, later position means ranges get wider.
- Player profile - what is their image - tight, loose, aggressive, solid? Have you seen any showdowns involving the player that confirm or deny your assumptions. The more information you have here the better.
- Betting action - did the player call or reraise? Calling preflop tends to remove the strongest hands from the range, as they will often be 3bet.
- Bet sizes - was the bet small or large? When betting postflop, large bets tend to indicate a more polarized range of very strong hands or bluffs. Smaller bets tend to indicate a wider, merged range of strong, medium and weak hands.
It is important to note that you always remove hands from the range as you progress from preflop to flop, turn and river. Each action your opponent makes will reduce the number of hands in their range, as different hands will take different actions or choose different sizings. If a hand was not in the preflop range you gave your opponent, then you cannot add it in on a later street.
How to Use Range Thinking to Adapt Your Play
Here is a basic example to convey the idea.
Let's consider an opponent who is too loose and always "likes to see a flop". They play too many hands and as a result will have a very wide range. This will mean that they will have weak holdings a lot of the time.
You can use this information to put a lot of pressure on them and increase your profitability against them.
For example, if they tend to fold a lot facing aggression, you can bet and raise more often against them and bluff more than normal, even with your very weak hands. Your betting range expands to include more bluffs.
If they are sticky or "calling stations" and don't fold so easily, their range will still contain too many weak hands. Therefore you should still bet and raise more against them. However, unlike the previous example, you should bluff less with total trash, and instead expand your value range and go for thinner value. This means betting with less strong made hands than you would normally.
The reason for both exploits is the same - the opponent's range contains too many hands and so they are too weak too often. But the execution of the exploit is different in how you should adapt your betting range. In one you expand your bluffing range, and in the other you expand your value range.
3 Tips to Improve Hand Reading Skills
1 - Learn the common preflop ranges for each position for your game. Open raises, calling raises, 3bets and 4bets. This will give you a great base strategy (for yourself) and a solid starting point for ranging opponents.
2 - Study your opponents and look for patterns in their play. If a hand goes to showdown, you will get a lot of valuable information here. Even if you are not in a hand, you should watch how your opponents play and take note of their betting actions and the hands that they show down with. Do they always raise with draws? Do they call big flop bets with overcards? Do they just call preflop with hands you'd expect them to 3bet?
3 - Practice off the table. Review hands and estimate the ranges of other players. Run through example hands to estimate how ranges change with different actions. The more you practice, the faster and more accurately you will be able to do it in game.
How to Practice Hand Reading Skills
A hand history database like Hand2note, Holdem Manager, Poker Tracker or similar will make this exercise easier.
1 - Turn off the option to show villain hole cards.
2 - Filter your database for hands that went to showdown.
3 - Select a hand, and replay it. Start with the preflop range of your opponent. As you step through each action that your opponent takes, make a note of what you think their hand range is.
4 - When you get to showdown, reveal the hole cards and evaluate your result. Was the hand they showed down in the final range you estimated? If not, why not - where did your assumption go wrong? Was the hand in a range you had assigned to an earlier street? Was your assumption of the preflop range off?
5 - Keep track of results. If the hand was in the range you assigned at showdown, give yourself a point.
6 - Review 10 hands using this process. At the end, total your score out of 10 and write it down.
7 - Repeat the exercise regularly, and track your progress each week to measure your improvement in average score.
Making a mistake is an opportunity to improve. Dive into where your assumption went wrong, think about why that might be, and try to correct it for next time. Sometimes people just play hands in strange ways! These are outliers that you shouldn't be too concerned about. You should be looking for patterns, the common plays that players make. Learning these and focusing on improving your hand reading skills is much more profitable than focusing on single crazy plays.
If you don't use a database, you can look through the hand histories of your online poker client to find hands that went to showdown and use those. Ideally you want to not see your opponent's hole cards, so if there isn't an option to turn that off, cover up the part of the screen where the hold cards are shown!
Visualizing Poker Ranges
There are a number of ways to describe poker ranges, either in text form or graphically. Visualizing them makes learning ranges easier than trying to memorize a string of text.
One of the most common ways to visualize poker ranges is in a 13x13 grid, often known as a poker range chart or poker hand chart.
The grids include all of the possible 169 hand combinations you could be dealt in No-Limit Texas Holdem.
- Pocket pairs from AA-22 are shown in the diagonal from top left to bottom right.
- Suited hands are everything above the diagonal in the top right .
- Offsuit hands are below the diagonal in the bottom left.
Poker range charts provide a quick and easy way to see the range of hands you should play in different situations. In the grid, 's' stands for suited, and 'o' stands for offsuit.
Here's an example of a poker range chart for the CO (cutoff) open raising range in a 6max game:
Highlighted squares indicate that the hand combination is part of the cutoff raising range. Fully highlighted squares means that the combo is always played that way and in the range. Hand combinations that are partially highlighted means that the combo is sometimes played that way and in the range, but sometimes played a different way. For example, 76s in the image above is raised about half the time by the cutoff and folded half the time.
It's worth noting that the number of combinations of pairs, offsuit and suited hands are not equal. Although there are 169 general combinations of hands, when you consider suits, there are 1326 distinct hand combos.
- Each pair has 6 combinations.
- Each suited hand has 4 combinations.
- Each offsuit hand has 12 combinations.
For example, there are 6 ways to have AA, 4 ways to have AKs, and 12 ways to have AKo.
What is the Difference Between Range Charts and Strategy Charts?
A poker range chart, also known as a hand range chart, is a visual representation of the range of hands that a player might have in a particular situation for a given action taken. For example, the cutoff open raising range.
A poker strategy chart is a reference tool that outlines recommended strategic plays or actions in specific situations. These charts provide guidance on how to play certain hands or make specific betting decisions.
Range charts tell you the percentage of poker hand combos you have for a given action at that part of the game tree, whilst strategy charts tell you at what frequency you should take various actions before the action is taken.
Here's an example of a poker strategy chart for the cutoff decision when the action has folded to them in a 6max game:
The hand combos in orange are played for a raise to 2.5bb, and the hand combos in blue are folded. The open raise range contains 28% of hands, i.e. the cutoff raises 28% of the time and folds 72% of the time.
Advanced Poker Range Strategies - Range Balancing
As you become more comfortable with poker ranges and hand reading, you can start to incorporate more advanced strategies into your game.
One of the main ones to consider is range balancing.
This involves having a balanced mix of hand strengths in your calling, betting and raising ranges. This means including both stronger and weaker hands in the different ranges.
The exact ratio of value bets to bluffs will vary according to factors such as bet sizing.
Here is a simplified example to illustrate a balanced ratio of value bets to bluffs.
Let's say in a hand you 3bet preflop, bet the flop, bet the turn, and are now on the river. The pot is $100 and you have $100 left in your stack . You make a pot sized bet and go all in. Your opponent needs to call $200 to win $100, so is getting 2:1 pot odds. A balanced all in betting range would include 2 value bets for every 1 bluff. The opponent needs to win 33% of the time to break even on the call, and you are bluffing 33% of the time. If they call more than they should, your value hands make more money. And if they fold more than they should, your bluffs make more money.
The topic can get quite complex, and the correct value to bluff ratio will vary according to sizing and other factors. But as a very rough rule of thumb, a balanced betting range on the various streets is as follows:
- On the flop you can have more bluffs than value bets
- On the turn, you can have around the same number of bluffs as value bets
- On the river, you should have more value bets than bluffs.
The ratio of value bets to bluffs in your betting range will also change according to bet size. The larger the bet, the more bluffs the range can include, and the smaller the bet, the more value bets the range should include.
Here are some examples showing how the ratio changes at different common bet sizes:
- 200% pot - 60% value, 40% bluff (2 bluffs for every 3 value bets)
- 150% pot - 62% value, 38% bluff (3 bluffs for every 5 value bets)
- 100% pot - 67% value, 33% bluff (1 bluff for every 2 value bets)
- 75% pot - 70% value, 30% bluff (3 bluffs for every 7 value bets)
- 67% pot - 72% value%, 28% bluff (2 bluffs for every 5 value bets)
- 50% pot - 75% value, 25% bluff (1 bluff for every 3 value bets)
- 33% pot - 80% value, 20% bluff (1 bluff for every 4 value bets)
- 25% pot - 83% value, 17% bluff (1 bluff for every 5 value bets)
It is important to balance your ranges, especially against good players, as it makes you tougher to play against and makes it harder for your opponent to exploit or counter your plays.
For example, if you only value bet and never bluff, your opponent can counter by folding all their marginal holdings and only call with a strong hands. Conversely, if you are unbalanced by bluffing too often, your opponent has an easier decision to call you down even when they have a weaker made hand.
In reality, most opponents are not balanced. However, great players are tuned in to their range and their opponent's ranges and are able to decide when their range needs to be balanced and when it doesn't matter.
Knowing a rough balanced strategy will make you a tougher player, and help you identify where others are unbalanced and make it easier to exploit them for more chips.
The Importance of Adaptability in Poker Ranges
While it's important to have a solid understanding of poker ranges and how to balance, it's equally important to be adaptable. The best poker players are those who can adjust their ranges based on the game situation.
If you are playing against solid or unknown players, you should strive to be as balanced as possible. Once you are sure of any specific areas where an opponent is unbalanced, then you can adjust your ranges to exploit their frequent mistakes in range composition.
This is particularly true at the lower stakes. The most common types of unbalanced ranges are due to:
- Calling too much with weak hands
- Bluffing too much
- Not bluffing enough
To counter these players:
- Bluff less and widen your value betting range against the player who calls too much
- Fold less and widen your calling range with thinner value
- Fold more with marginal hands
Being able to adapt ranges correctly based on the game situation is a sign of a skilled poker player. It enables you to take control, maximize your chances of winning and increase your expected value.
You have likely heard about GTO ranges. These are ranges that form a strategy that, if played perfectly, cannot be exploited or beaten in the long run, regardless of what your opponent does. They are created using poker solvers, which have transformed the way top players think about the game in the last decade.
It’s a big topic that we will not cover in this article, but here is an introduction to GTO poker that goes into more detail.
Poker ranges, and particularly GTO poker ranges, are a fundamental concept in modern poker strategy. By learning GTO poker ranges and practicing hand reading, you can make more informed decisions, protect yourself from being exploited, and ultimately win more games. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, mastering ranges and range thinking is another step towards becoming a more successful poker player.
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