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It’s About Ranges, Not Hands

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Apr 26, 2017

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“I put you on ace-king,” stated my opponent, who had just called my all-in shove with 3-3 getting only 5:4 odds. And he was right; I did have A-K, but a king came, and he lost anyway. Many players read hands in conclusive and unchangeable terms. They put an opponent on a given hand and then play their hand accordingly, like Mr. Call-All-In did, never allowing for any other alternatives.

And while Mr. Call-All-In was marginally correct in calling when I had A-K, I would have made the identical play with many other hands that included wired pairs above threes. And in those cases, Mr. Call-All-In would have been a 4:1 underdog and lost significantly greater expected value (EV) than he would gain when I had A-K. It’s about how you do against your opponents’ entire range, not their most likely hand, or the one in which you can justify making the call.

Your opponents will make differing plays with varying ranges. They’re going to have betting ranges, check-raising ranges, folding ranges, raising ranges, bluffing ranges etc. While you can’t exactly quantify those ranges, having an approximate feel of the holdings within those ranges will produce better decisions.

For example, say three players limp in a $2-$5 no-limit game, and you make a hefty raise on the button to $35 with the QHeart Suit QClub Suit. You’re $1,300 deep and one opponent about $1,100 deep calls your raise after the blinds and other limpers have folded. The flop comes the 9Spade Suit 5Diamond Suit 3Heart Suit, not a flop likely to hit a lot of hands. Mr. Limp-Caller checks, you continuation bet $50, and he calls. The turn is the 10Heart Suit. He checks again and you bet $110, and he check-raises to $380. What hands/plays are in his range?

Can he be drawing or weak and have turned his hand into a check-raise bluff on the turn? Many players are incapable intellectually or fortitude-wise of making that play. Is your opponent one of them? Would he think that a bluff might work in this situation? Are there drawing hands in his range that would land him in the current position? A heart draw turned, but would he call the flop wager with a hand like KHeart Suit JHeart Suit? He might have AHeart Suit 2Heart Suit, AHeart Suit 4Heart Suit or 6Heart Suit 4Heart Suit, 8Heart Suit 7Heart Suit or 7Heart Suit 6Heart Suit, but would he play those hands both preflop and post-flop this way? Could he have a naked straight-draw he turned into a bluff? Once again, he’d have to get there pre- and post-flop and be capable of making that play. Would he play any of those hands in that manner??? Could he have 9-9 or 10-10 and possess a big set? In order for that to be true, he’d have to have limped behind two limpers with nines or tens. Would he? What about a set of fives or threes? They’re hands he’d likely limp and call a raise with considering the deep stacks. And he’s played his hand in a method that intended to trap, indicative of a non-vulnerable holding he doesn’t mind getting stacks in with.

Of course, there is a lot of speculation and assumptions in that last paragraph. You also have to assign a degree of confidence to your analysis. With easy-to-read opponents the confidence in your read may be very high. With other, more difficult to read foes, you may need to put in more “fudge” factor into your read and make lighter calls. In this case, you might analyze your opponent’s range as 80 percent sets, 10 percent draw-bluffs and 10 percent impulsive bluffs. Of course, such analysis varies hugely based on your opponent’s tendencies.

The point I’m making is that you need to define your opponents’ range. What hands can they have in the current situation? What are the chances of each holding being in that range? Then calculate how your holding plays against that TOTAL range, rather than putting them on a hand and playing your hand as if your opponent held only that specific holding.

So, read your opponent’s range. Think about how he thinks, his emotional state, his past tendencies. With which holdings would he select the actions he has taken so far in this hand? How does your hand do against your opponents range? What plays can you make with your current holding that will maximize its EV?

Do that well, and you’re on your way to being world-class. ♠

Roy CookeRoy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas Real Estate Broker/Salesman. Should you wish any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-376-1515 or Roy’s e-mail is RealtyAce@aol.com. His website is www.RoyCooke.com. Roy’s blogs and poker tips are at www.RoyCookePokerlv.com. You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke. Please see ad below!