Poker Ranges Explained – How to Play Your Hands Like a Pro
Knowing your opponent’s exact hand at the poker table would give you all the advantage you need and allow you to always play perfectly against them. However, knowing the exact two cards your opponent has is almost never possible, which means we have to guess based on the information that’s available.
In most cases, there is plenty of info to go by, but this still doesn’t mean we can pinpoint a player’s exact hand beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Professional poker players have given up on the concept of trying to guess the exact hand someone had some time ago.
Instead, poker pros think about poker ranges, which are collections of hands that are possible based on all the data presented.
In this article, I am going to teach you how to think about poker in terms of poker hands ranges, how to construct your own ranges, and how to try and determine your opponents’ ranges.
Before we go into any specifics, I am going to teach you more about what a poker range is and how it’s made up, so let’s start with that.
What Is a Poker Hand Range?
As I already stated, a poker range is a collection of all hands that a player can have in a certain situation. We get to define our own poker ranges while we have to do some guessing in terms of other players' ranges.
While many recreational poker players tend to play hands when they feel like it, serious poker players try to define their range for each situation and stick to it.
There are some very good reasons to do this, as it eliminates making emotional decisions and deviating too far from optimal play.
When thinking about other players’ ranges, you will need to imagine all the possible hands they could be holding based on their play.
Before the flop, a poker range can be quite wide, such as when an opponent makes a raise from the button. In this situation, you know that they may have a lot of different hands, and there is little extra information available.
As flop, turn, and river are dealt, and players act on their hands on these streets, more information becomes available, and certain hands can be eliminated from the range.
As you continue defining a poker range by the river, you may be able to eliminate most hands and be fairly certain that a player has one of only a handful of hands.
Writing Down Poker Ranges
For the purposes of studying poker, you will need to use poker software such as Equilab or solvers, and all of these programs will include the hand grid and written hand ranges.
You will need to know how to read poker hand ranges so you can understand the different outputs and the suggestions your poker software is giving you.
Poker players have created a neat and simple way of writing down poker ranges that is easy to read and gives you an instant idea of which hands fall into a certain range.
When you see a hand range written down, here is what the different notations actually represent:
|Hand Notation||Hand Category|
|A2+||All hands containing an ace|
|A2s+||All hands containing an ace that are suited|
|64s+||All suited one gappers, starting with 64s and up to AKs|
|22+||All pocket pairs|
|65s+||All suited connectors starting with 65s|
|66+||All pocket pairs starting with 66|
|Top x%||The best x% of hands (use Equilab to define)|
Using these notations, a strong preflop opening range might look like this: 66+, ATs+, AJ+, TJs+, KJs+, KQ.
A much wider opening range may look like this: 22+, A2s+, A8+, 76s+, 97s+, ATB (any two broadways), K9+, and J8+.
Defining Your Preflop Ranges
Every poker hand starts with hole cards being dealt and players acting on them. The preflop betting street is when the ranges are the widest and the one in which you should start defining your ranges.
A good poker player knows exactly what range of poker hands they will raise from each position, which hands they will call raises with, and which hands they will 3-bet and 4-bet against actions from certain positions.
This alone leaves you with many different variables. What hands do you want to 3-bet on the button against a UTG raise? What about a cutoff raise? What if you are in the big blind? Etc.
Constructing your opening ranges should not be too difficult, and there are plenty of premade Hold’em opening charts that will give you a good idea of what's profitable and what's not.
However, your 3-betting and 4-betting hand ranges might need serious tweaking depending on the game you are playing in. You could simply go with some GTO hand charts, but you may be missing serious value if you go down this path.
The main thing to remember when thinking about constructing your poker ranges is that you want to play tighter from earlier positions and looser from the button and cutoff.
Your button opening range in a ring game may include as many as 50% of all hands, while your UTG raise should probably be closer to 12% or 15% of hands.
The same goes with re-raises, as you have more liberty to 3-bet from the button, considering you will get to over-realize equity and win more pots in position.
Yet, when constructing defending and 3-betting ranges, you will need to think long and hard about the ways certain parts of your range interact with your opponents’ opening ranges and which hands play best a certain way.
Defining Your Opponent’s Preflop Range
While you get to determine your own hand ranges and always know what they are, you won’t have as easy a job with your opponents’ ranges.
In fact, you will always have to do some guessing when trying to define another player's range, but with experience, you will be able to get better results in this.
Your baseline for determining an opponent's range will be their position and their general tendencies. Players who generally play looser will have a looser preflop opening, calling, and 3-betting ranges, as a rule.
You can start out by using a predefined preflop opening range for the position they are in, the same one you would use to open from that position, for example.
However, keep in mind that players won’t all play the same way that you do, which means you should think about adding hands into the ranges of players you deem looser and removing hands for those you deem to be tighter.
The preflop assumptions you make about a player’s range will matter a lot on later streets as they make bets and raises and further define their range.
If you make serious miscalculations before the flop, all the subsequent deductions you make will be partially wrong, as the initial range will be incorrect.
I recommend looking over your hand histories, trying to guess players' ranges in various spots, and seeing how often they turn up on the river with hands they were not supposed to have in the first place.
This kind of practice will help you with defining poker ranges in the future and understanding the game much better in general.
How Poker Ranges Change with Each Street
Once a flop is dealt, and players start acting on their hands, serious changes happen in their ranges. Depending on the board texture and the actions they take, you can start removing hands from their range one by one.
Defining a range can be somewhat easier against solid, thinking players who will make reasonable decisions and not try to throw away their chips.
Against recreational players who sometimes make plays that don't make much sense, you should be a bit more careful about deciding whether they certainly do or don't have some hand in their range.
Yet, in all cases, you should be able to remove a good chunk of hands from a player’s range after they face some aggression and continue with the hand.
Thought Process Example
Let’s assume you raised the button and got called by the big blind in a ring game. This player is likely to still have a very wide range as they got a great price on a call and were closing the action.
However, once a flop is dealt K♠8♥4♥, they check, you c-bet 70% pot, and they call, and the situation changes quite drastically.
The player is out of position and decided to call your large continuation bet despite knowing they will have to act first on the turn.
There is some chance they are floating with a random hand like QT or A♠7♠, but this is not very likely. More likely is that they have a hand like Kx, 8x, 4x, a club draw, or one of the gutshot straight draws.
This is still a lot of hands that they may have, but not as many as preflop. Furthermore, many players may decide to raise their flush draws or combo draws on this board, making those less likely.
Considering the hands that are left in your opponent’s range, this is a board that presents a great opportunity for a double-barrel bluff on blank turns.
Should the turn bring an ace, queen, jack, ten, nine, three, deuce, or basically any other non-club, a second barrel will often win you the pot.
Your opponent will have a very hard time continuing past the turn with their gutshots, their pair of eights or fours, or pocket pairs like 77, 66, or 55.
You will, of course, run into trouble the few times they have a hand like K8, 88, or 44, but these hands are such a small percentage of their overall range.
Re-Evaluating On The Turn
Let’s now assume the turn is a Q♦, you go for another 70% bet, and they call once again. At this point, hands like 8x and 4x should no longer be in their range, and neither should naked gutshots.
They are either trapping with a hand like KQ, K8, 88, or 44, or they have a combo draw or naked flush draw. Note that a naked flush draw should probably fold this turn, but many players will not fold a flush draw until the river, despite the betting action.
A hand like Kx is still possible, and some players may decide to still continue with some 8x.
While you still haven’t completely eliminated all hands but one from your opponent’s range, you now have a much better idea of what they have than you did before the flop.
Seeing someone turn over a hand like A♦9♦ after this kind of action will rarely happen, as this hand simply makes no sense considering the action. The same goes for many other hands, including gutshot straight draws like 65 or 76, etc.
As you continue getting more and more information throughout a hand, continue to remove hands from your opponent’s range until you are left with only a few, and often a fairly easy decision on the river.
Poker Hand Ranges Will Make You a Better Poker Player
New poker players almost always try to “put you on a hand,” but this is definitely not the best way to think about the game of poker.
Instead, you should always try to think about the game in terms of hand ranges and remember that players can have a variety of hands they will take the same actions with.
This is especially true when you face good poker players who try to balance out their ranges and play the same way with their value hands and their bluffs, as players will not advertise their cards, and it won't be easy to put on an exact hand.
Always remember to think about your own range as well as the way other players may perceive it based on the actions you have taken.
If you forget to think about your perceived range, you may get seriously exploited by thinking players who will be able to tell when you have too many or too few bluffs in your range on later streets.
Keep practicing your hand ranges and guessing other players' ranges, and over time it will lead to a much more fine-tuned game that's extremely hard to exploit.