There comes a time for all poker fans when they must broaden their analytical horizons and see beyond their own cards, incorporating in their thought process what their opponents might be holding. 

Or, opening out this concept a little further, we need to have an idea about what range of hands our opponents tend to play within. Some players might be happy to invest in any two cards, while those at the other end of the spectrum stubbornly wait for premium hands.

But somewhere in between lies a happy medium that consists of a variety – a range – of hands, from 45 suited, for example, to aces, and the vast majority of players will have a reasonably definable pre-determined selection. Note that even if someone hasn’t bothered to put together a specific starting hand range, they’ll still be carrying out some kind of selection that (even subconsciously) determines which hands do or don’t justify continuing with. Essentially, everyone eventually has a range of some sort, regardless of how skilled or experienced they are.

Consequently, it would be very useful indeed, when deciding on how to proceed in a hand, if we had an idea of the ranges around which the opposition’s game is based. Of course, such information is never going to be exact but, if we can identify some kind of pattern, it’s going to make a difference.

For a good poker player it should be the norm to base – to some extent – their strategic thinking on the perceived hand ranges of their opponents. If you’re not doing this, and you feel that thus far in your poker quest your approach has been limited by not incorporating this concept into your thought processes, then doing so will inevitably lead to a noticeable improvement in results.

Note that hand ranges are not necessarily fixed or finite. We might talk often of the more definable pre-flop hand range which helps us determine what we are prepared to get involved with when first dealt our cards, but there are ranges for all sorts of situations and, consequently, are ever evolving and require some flexibility. For example, a range to help decide whether we should be raising pre-flop under-the-gun is going to be quite different to when we’re on the Button. The former needs us to be more circumspect, and our holding needs to be strong(er), whereas our range can be considerably wider on the Button. Positional considerations, then, significantly influence the parameters of hand ranges from one position to another. And ranges continue to change as a hand progresses, and as the situation changes. So, while we can’t put our opponents on specific hands, it’s nevertheless going to be a massive help if we can narrow it down to a workable range in order to make more informed decisions.

Remember, too, that our opponents will be trying to make the same assessments about us! Of course, the lower the stakes at which we play, the fewer of our opponents will be going this far, but it helps to think along these lines. Assuming we play in gradually higher stakes games as we progress, then we can expect to face more knowledgeable opposition along the way. With this in mind, it’s necessary to counter such analysis and assessments by making sure our own range is not too restrictive and predictable. Ironically, despite ranges having an obvious purpose, only by being able to expand on the parameters of our range will we be able to better camouflage what we have.

On the other hand, it’s sometimes necessary to narrow our range if it becomes evident that our play is being exploited. If we continue to be too loose when open raising from early position, for example, observant players will notice that our range is too wide, and start to 3-bet us to make us pay over the odds to see the Flop.

These are the kind of conditions we need to be thinking about and trying to use to our advantage when contemplating the opposition’s ranges. Meanwhile, it’s imperative that we get used to thinking how our own play is being perceived in terms of what hands others ‘deduce’ that we are playing.

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About the Author

AngusD

AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

Latest changes

The last changes of the page “Ranges in Poker” was made by AngusD on April 28, 2021