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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.