Hand Ranges

Hand Ranges and Range-based Thinking

You know your poker strategy is getting sophisticated when you’re starting to think in terms of hand ranges. At first, you’re probably just trying to figure out if your hand is good or whether you should bluff. Then eventually you start to think about what hand your opponent has. And finally there’s this moment where the clouds part and the light of the heavens shines down, and you say:


That’s it! Of course.

It’s all about all about hand ranges!

Why we use hand ranges

What’s the big deal? Well we’re dealing with partial information here. Since we can’t see his two cards, we can’t know 100% what he has. The best thing we can do is figure out the likelihood of all possible types of hands he might have. For example, when a player starts dumping lots of chips in the pot it’s usually for one of two reasons: 1) he actually has a monster or 2) he’s trying to make us think he does. Let’s consider our options.

  1. We can try to guess his actual hand. Say we assume he’s bluffing. We go all-in. Well now he folds his bluffs and calls with monster, and we lose.
  2. Maybe we guess the other way: he has a monster. So we fold. And now the times that he IS bluffing, he makes a bunch of money off of us.
  3. Now if we expand our minds and say: he could have either! We’re visualizing multiple possible hands. We’re thinking in terms of hand ranges. And what should we do? Just call! This way we keep the bluffs in his hand range, and we minimize the damage from his monsters.

Characteristics of hand ranges

To develop your ability to think in terms of hand ranges, it might help to consider the following frequencies.

  • Offsuit hands = 12 combos (e.g. AKo)
  • Suited hands = 4 combos (e.g. AKs)
  • Pocket pairs = 6 combos (e.g. 55)

This is important because not all hands have the same frequency and thus do not all deserve the same weighting when mentally visualizing hand ranges.

An example using hand ranges

Let’s say for example that your opponent 4-bets you preflop. You think his hand range includes: AA, KK, QQ, AKs, and AKo. The combos for this before we see a flop are 3 x 6 = 18 combos of pocket pairs and 12 + 4 = 16 combos of non-pockets.

Then let’s say the flop comes down as Qh 8d 2c.

What does his hand range look like now? What percentage of his range is top pair or better?

Putting the Queen on the flop means there are only 3 other queens in the deck, and he can only have 3 combos of sets. So top pair or better = 6(AA) + 6(KK) + 3(QQ) = 15.

For non-pair hands he still has all the AK for a total of 16. And thus he has top pair or better:

15 / (15+16) = 48%

If he shows any weakness, you can probably win this pot!

Improving your ability to read hand ranges

The best way to practice and improve your skills is to work with software tools. There are plenty of them out there that will allow you to enter hand ranges and translate them into an overall percentage. I discuss and review many of them here.

I’ve also talked about the importance of marking hands and the feedback loop. So my advice is to incorporate the use of these tools into your feedback loop and reviews. Set a daily goal to throw at least one hand into Flopzilla for example to analyze it. The more you put these grids of hands up in front of your eyeballs, the more you are going to cultivate your intuition. You will just naturally start to visualize the ranges, similar to becoming proficient in a new language.

By the way, if you’re still not sure which ranges you should be opening in which positions then I strongly recommend you check out my preflop strategy guide.

  • brian

    Finally spending a little time to review some of the latest posts.
    One thing to help get us started to think about relative strength is to very quickly analyze a certain flop and think about what villain can or can’t have. Important: this means we start to make assumptions. (simple assumption: if we raise from the CO and villain flats on the BTN, we might assume they can’t have AA or KK)

    So here’s an example: let’s say we raise CO and BTN flats, flop comes AK4 rainbow, we could quite quickly realize our range likely has way more strong hands than they do since they almost never have AA/KK/AK in their range and we have all of those. We likely also have hands like A4s or K4s and they are also quite unlikely to have those. So: next time we have hands like QJ/QT/TJ we can consider triple barreling this board.

    Another example: Same CO vs BTN. This time the board comes:
    What’s our first thought almost always on this board, out of position? Oh Crap! Why? It’s wet, it’s connect, it’s ugly, and it’s scary. Yep! But we need to actually make sure it is in fact. What strong hands can they have here? Let’s see: all sets (TT/99/66), 9Ts, 78s… that’s a lot, this hits them hard doesn’t it. (We have all those too by the way, BUT we’re out of position and that spells trouble). On top of all these big hands, they have tons of top pair or 2nd pair type hands (AT/KT/QT/JT/A9s/J9s/89s etc) plus a bunch of meeeega nice draws: AdJd, AdQd, QdJd etc
    So, next time we bet a large chunk of our range and then get raised it shouldn’t surprise us that they can be extremely strong here, and in fact the more big hands you have to raise, the more bluffs you can throw in there, hands like 56s, 67s, KQo can easily be raised here as the BTN and there’s little we can do OOP.
    Solution: let’s check a lot of our range (we could include hands like AA, AT, JT etc) but our curve ball to them is that we want to have a strong check-raising range when we do so. We might only choose to cbet say 35% of hands here, but when we check we can throw in hands like we mentioned above as check-raises. (66, 99, 9T, 78, QdJd and a bunch of bluffs) we just want to ensure we’re still cbetting SOME very strong hands though. This will heavily exploit people who auto-bet when we check, as well as people who just bet hands like KT/JJ/88 in these spots and then poo-their-pants when they get checkraised!

    Good luck at the tables!!

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