Put Your Opponents on a Range of Hands Not Specific Hands

Always try to put your opponent on a range of hands instead of an exact holding

Let There Be Range is an extremely popular poker strategy book. It comes in e-book format and exchanges hands for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars. Why is it so popular and important? Because it got players accurately thinking about range of hands instead of a specific hand.

Most poker strategy books use hand histories to explain a concept or highlight a specific play. These hand histories come from the authors own sessions or are taken from real-world examples. That is cool, but they ultimately show you how to play against an exact hand.

Putting an opponent on an exact hand is extremely difficult. We’ve all managed to do it, but it is a rarity. Playing against an opponent you’ve put on an exact hand is dangerous and costs you money. Failing to extract value because you think an opponent has, aces, for example, is costly in the long run.

A range of hands instead of a specific holding is the best way to think about poker.

What Is a Range of Hands?

A range of hands is exactly what they sound like, a number of possible holdings for your opponent. Gone are the days when a player three-bet you and they had to have aces. Players raise and three-bet with a wider range of hands in today’s game.

A typical tight-aggressive player opens from middle position with approximately 20% of their hands. What does a 20% opening raise look like? The range of hands may surprise you.

A 20% opening range consists of: 22+, T9s+, JTo+, QTs+, QTo+, Q9s+, K9s+, KTo+, A7s+, ATo+. That’s a lot of hands to consider when someone opens for a raise.

Some of the hands can be discounted depending on the player. For example, a typical TAG may not open Q9s but will open J9s as they’re slightly more connect. The above range gives you an idea of what you can expect your opponent to hold.

A 26.5% opening range consists of 22+, 65s+, T9s+, T9o+, J9s+, J9o+, Q9s+, Q9o+, K9s+, K9o+, A4s+, A9o+. Now you see why you shouldn’t try put an opponent on an exact hand, especially against a loose player.

How Often Does a Villain’s Range Hit The Flop?

Let’s go through an example using a 20% opening range. We’re using the analysis tool Flopzilla to show you how to narrow an opponent’s range. It’s a paid tool, but one worth investing in for after session analysis of your play. It also pays to take notes on your opponents to reference while playing.

In our example, a typical TAG player opening 20% of their hand raises and we call in position with 7h-7c. Our hand has 51.25% equity against this range, which means we’re essentially flipping a coin.

The flop falls Jc-5c-4s. How does our hand look now against the same range? We now have almost exactly 50.% equity, so our hand isn’t much weaker on that flop despite an overcard in play.

Flopzilla informs us of the possible holdings our opponent can have. In order of likeliness, they are:

  • Ace High: 26.2%
  • No made hand: 25.3%
  • Overcards: 20.3%
  • Top pair: 20.3%
  • Pocket pair below top pair: 10.5%
  • Overpair: 7.59%
  • Weak pair: 5.06%
  • Set: 3.8%
  • Middle pair: 1.27%

Our opponent’s current range of hands makes our sevens look quite strong. Villain doesn’t have a strong hand a lot of the time. They have us crushed with top pair 20.3% of the time and flop a set 3.8% of the time, however. They have ace-high or no made hand 51.5% of the time though.

Narrowing Our Opponent’s Possible Holdings

Villain fires a continuation bet at this flop, what should we do? Narrow their range is the first thing you need to do. Ask yourself what hands will our opponent make a bet here with.

He’s always betting with top pair or a set, obviously. He may even bet an ace-high flush draw. But will he test the waters with say pocket deuces or threes? What about KTo or ATo? Let’s discount some possible holdings to narrow his range. His possible holdings now read: 44-55, 88+, T9s+ JTo+, A6s, A8s+, AJo+

Our opponent has 62.015% equity to our 37.985% but it’s not all bad because villain’s hand probability is:

  • Ace High: 29.8%
  • No made hand: 12.4%
  • Overcards: 29.8%
  • Top pair: 29.8%
  • Pocket pair below top pair: 11.2%
  • Overpair: 11.2%
  • Set: 5.59%

We are typically crushed when our opponent has a hand, but he has ace-high or now made hand 42.2% of the time! It’s worth calling a continuation bet on this exact flop.

The king of spades on the turn would be terrible and reduces our equity to 21.57%. Folding is best when facing a bet on this board. If the turn was the six of spades, we still have 47.09% equity. Amazingly, on this second board, our opponent doesn’t have a flush draw 88.1% of the time!

Conclusion

It isn’t advised to go around calling every single continuation bet you face. You can see, however, that not all boards are scary, even when holding a vulnerable hand and a draw heavy board.

Go through our session and put some hands into a tool like Flopzilla. You’ll soon find you can call bets and steal pots with a higher frequency.

Matthew Pitt

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.

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