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The Importance of Constructing Ranges

by Daragh Thomas |  Published: Dec 01, 2010


There was a time where I would watch any poker related show, but as time passed to the point where I didn’t spend shower time running through hands I had recently played, I became selective in my viewing. But this is one of my favorite times of the year, when the World Series of Poker is released. Nothing beats the drama, the excitement and Norman Chad’s terrible divorce jokes that come with the World Series main event.
For this month’s article, I decided to write about what is in essence, a very simple no-limit hold’em hand. But there are a few important lessons to take away from it. The hand played out as follows.
It’s day one, and the blinds are 150-300, with an ante of 25. A young poker player named Pisano raises from the cutoff to 900, with A-J offsuit. It folded to Mike Matusow who makes it 3,100 from the big blind with (we learn later) J-J.
Pisano thinks briefly, looks at Matusow’s chip stack, and then raises Mike all in for 16,950. Mike thinks for a while, complains, and then folds.
Before you ever three-bet (or take any aggressive action) you should ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish. There are really only two reasons to three-bet, either you are three-bet bluffing because you think the raise will be positive expected value (+ EV), in which case you hope he folds, or you are making a value raise because you have a good hand, that stands to be + EV even against your opponents continuing range (which is the range with which your opponent will continue in the hand — that is, not fold — and not just his initial range). In that case you are hoping your opponent calls or raises.
If you are planning on folding to a four-bet, or you think your opponent will fold any better hand to a raise, it is a very bad idea to three-bet jacks, as you are turning them into a bluff and they are worth much more than that.
You are far better off using a hand like Q-5 suited or 4-3 suited, since if your opponent four-bets you don’t lose anything by folding. When you are holding jacks, and your opponent four-bets you can lose a great deal by folding. Most of the time your opponent will have a hand like A-K or A-Q, and then you are giving up about 56 percent of the pot.
If he has a hand like T-T or 9-9 you are giving up 80 percent of the pot, which is a disaster. In this hand, against A-J you are giving up 70 percent of the pot. When your opponent holds A-A, K-K or Q-Q, by three-bet/folding you give up the opportunity to hit a set and hopefully stack your opponent.
The argument given in favour of three-bet folding is that by three-betting, you get to define your opponent’s hand, and therefore have much less chance of losing chips to a better hand. There are several things wrong with that. Firstly, it’s a bad idea to ever bet with the sole aim of extracting information. Information comes with every action a player takes, you shouldn’t be wasting precious chips with the sole purpose of gaining more. Secondly, you often can’t trust the information you get. In this particular hand, I would estimate there is a close to 100 percent chance that Pisano, or any similar player in his spot, is going to shove A-K. They are also going to shove worse hands. So what information have you gained?
This is especially bad in this instance, because Mike had previously been publicly talking about how he wanted to play “small ball” poker on the opening day. All of the other players will be very aware that he is likely to fold if he thinks it’s a flip. So you can see that three-bet folding really is extremely counterproductive, he is inducing a bluff he has no intention of calling.
This also illustrates an important concept regarding poker. To me, there are two main elements to being a poker player — your thinking during a hand, and your thinking between hands (which is mainly done away from the table). In many ways poker is like a jigsaw, to be a good player you need to make sure your game all fits together well.
It’s much easier to think this through away from the table (or between hands, when you aren’t involved). This allows you to come up with well-constructed ranges and plans. Of course, you still need to think throughout the cause of the hand, but having a predetermined plan will stop you getting yourself in the mess that Mike did.
As soon as Mike got four-bet all in, he started complaining that he never three-bets jacks. This wasn’t a good place to start!

Daragh Thomas has made a living from poker over the last three years. He also coaches other players and writes extensively on the poker forum, under the name hectorjelly.