When we talk about a range in poker, we mean the different possible hands of an opponent at a particular time in a hand. This deduction will be made using the information obtained earlier in the hand. Some may also speak of "combos" instead of ranges. A combo is simply a combination of 2 cards (a Texas Hold'em hand consists of 2 randomly dealt face-down cards).
If you are dealt 2 random cards from the 52-card deck, you will receive one of the following 1176 combos
Even if you only receive one combo (a specific hand), we will say that your range is 100% since we don't have enough information to narrow down your possible hands
One of the interesting aspects of Texas Hold'em is that you can fold the hand you receive to narrow your range. A range is therefore a set of probable hands according to a given situation
For example, if a player raises in UTG position, he will not raise with 100% of his hands. He will have a specific range to do so which will vary according to several factors. A likely range would look like this:
The usefulness of knowing and understanding ranges is twofold; on the one hand, we have a better idea of which hands are profitable to play in which situations, and on the other hand, we can narrow down our opponent's possible hands in different situations, so that we can better read him (by reading, we mean accurately estimating his possible hands)
So if our player opens UTG and is a standard player, he no longer has 100% of the starting hands, but 15.4% of them. And if he gets 3beted by a player in UTG+1 position and then 4beted, his range will go from 15.4% to something like 4.25%
The more comfortable you are in determining your opponent's range, the better your decisions will be against him
Knowing the ranges of our opponents at specific times in the hand allows us to know our approximate equity in the hand. Equity is the percentage of time that a hand will be won if the hands go to the showdown. For example, if I am all in with JJ against my opponent's 4.25% range, my equity will be
So we've just said a few words about preflop opening ranges. Now, here's some pertinent information on other types of ranges that you'll hear about in abundance on poker forums or in poker theory books.
A range is said to be polarized when it contains very strong hands and weaker hands (mostly used in bluff or semi-bluff). A polarized 3bet range will look like this:
You find the very strong part consisting of QQ, KK, AA, AKs and AK and a semi-bluff part consisting of assorted connectors and some assorted aces like A5s.
This range could be used from the small blind for example to 3bet against an open-raise from the cutoff or the button.
The advantage of a polarized range is that it is balanced. In other words, when your opponent sees you 3-bet, he cannot simply assume that you are always at the top of your range with only strong hands or always bluffing. It is important to polarize your ranges in certain situations so that you are not an easy player to read. A player who only 3-bets when he has KK and AA quickly becomes identified and it won't be long before he loses his action every time he 3-bets
The other advantage of the polarized range is that it is easy to play. For example, the button opens (open-raise), you make a 3bet with KK and your opponent 4bet. You can then 5bet or push all in, depending on the size of the mats. Now imagine you have 56s instead of KK. With this hand, you would just fold and move on to the next hand. You will never have to make difficult decisions with a polarized range
What does a linear range look like?
Here are 78 combos, but this time, presented in a linear way. Linear simply means that you take the strongest hands (the top of the range). In our polarized range, we had a very strong game and a semi-bluff game, but in the polarized range, we have the same number of hand combos, but chosen from the stronger hands.
This range could also be a 3bet range from a player in SB position against a player who would open in cutoff or button position. For example, if you decide to 3bet your small blind with a linear approach rather than a polarized one, be aware that you will sometimes find yourself in difficult situations. For example, if you make a 3bet with a hand like TT, what will you do against a 4bet? The hand is probably too strong to fold, but not strong enough to push all in and calling a 4bet out of position will put you in a very uncomfortable position after the flop. It won't be easy to play your pair of tens when you only have an overpair on the flop 25% of the time.
The merged ranges
You'll probably hear about merged ranges from time to time. The English word "merge" means "to merge". A merged range is therefore a merged range. A polarized range is by definition a merged range since it includes two types of ranges; a "value with the nuts" game and a "bluff" game
Sometimes the term can be broader and will not always apply to preflop play. Imagine the following picture:
A player who would push all in on this board with a so-called merge range could do so with nuts (77), with very strong hands (AA, JJ, A7), with bluffs (any hand that includes the heart blocker K is an excellent hand to bluff), and perhaps even with strong, but not very strong hands (a hand like AK for example). A range merge is therefore more diffuse
In summary, if a player is not 100% of the time in value or 100% of the time in bluff, we can say that he has a merged range
We'll say a range is captured when we can reduce that range to a few specific combos that won't give the nuts on a given board. For example, you open a hand in UTG position and a very tight player 3-bets you from the small blind. We can agree that his range will look like this:
Now imagine calling this player's 3bet. The flop goes like this:
We'll say that villain has a capped range since he can't have the nuts or even a very strong hand like 66, 77 or 88. Here we used the information from the previous street flop (preflop) to draw this conclusion about his flop range.
Note here that the preflop uncapped range becomes a flop-capped range
It is important to know how to determine the caped ranges in order to be able to identify bluffing situations. A good player will want to bluff on boards where his opponent will be capped, i.e. where he cannot get the nuts
Clarification on capped ranges
A captive range is not the same as a weak range. This is an important clarification. A range can be strong, but, in relation to the board, be captured, since it will not be able to make the nuts. As we have seen above, a tight player who 4bets very little will never have the nuts on a 4-5-6-7-T type board. His range remains strong, but capped in that his maximum hand (cap) will be an overpair. If your plan is to bluff in this hand under the pretext that the villain is capped, your bluff may not work. You will need a good "read" on your opponent to know that he is capable of overpairing. Conversely, always be aware that a good player will regularly bluff you in situations where he feels your range is captured.
Understand ranges to play better
In a poker hand, always keep in mind your range and the range of your opponents. The ultimate goal in poker would be to know the exact two cards of your opponent. As this is obviously not possible, the best thing to do will be to restrict as much as possible the range of your opponent to have the most precise idea of it. Understanding ranges will also help you know when to bluff and when an opponent is likely to bluff you. Remember that your opponents will also be constantly questioning your range
Understand ranges to better bluff
Imagine the following scenario: You open UTG and the flop falls A-K-Q.
Let's say your starting hand is 7-8 in hearts. You missed the flop completely, but your perceived range (your opponents' idea of your range) will have hit that flop very hard.
Only 9.68% of the time you will not have hit this flop (no made hand). For this reason, you will want to cbet your 78s knowing that your opponents will have to give you a lot of credit since the majority of the time you will have a hand on this flop. To put it another way, you will bluff the flop given your perceived range.
The tool introduced above is called Flopzilla, a tool that shows how often a particular range hits a particular board. If you are interested in the study of ranges, this tool will be as useful to you as a hammer to a carpenter.
The elements to determine a range accurately
Each action of a player will give you information to determine his range. If he raises in small blind position, you know his range will be wider than if he raises in UTG position. The range also changes depending on the type of player, which is why it is important to take notes on each of them. Some players will open 10% of their hands in UTG position while others will open 15% or even 20%. If a player opens preflop, his range will go from 100% to say 15% depending on the position. If that player 4-bets, his range goes from 15% to 4%-5%. If he bets the flop, his range will become even more precise. If he bets the flop and turn, his range is even more accurate. So use every available piece of information to accurately assess the range of your villains.
Feel free to categorize your villains as well. Some players have larger bluff ranges than others. Knowing the range of your opponents will also allow you to know if a hand is profitable to play or not
For example, you are in a tournament and a player pushes all in on the button with 15 big blinds. You know he can make that play with 15% of his range. You have A8s and you want to know if the call is profitable. As you have a fairly detailed idea of its range, you can know mathematically whether the call with A8s is profitable or not
Intuitively, many players might think the call is good, but on closer inspection, we notice that our equity (43.233%) is lower than the equity of the range that pushes all in. Remember that equity is the percentage of time you will win the hand at the showdown.
Improve your knowledge of ranges
To play winning poker, you'll need to be able to identify the different ranges quickly:
UTG open-raise range
BTN open-raise range
SB's 3bet range vs BTN
Range of 4bet BTN vs 3bet SB
Cbet range on an A high board
Cbet range on a coordinated board (e.g., 7-8-9)
If you're intimidated by learning about ranges, the first thing to do is to memorize the preflop open-raise ranges by position, not only to know which hands to play from all positions, but also to get a general idea of your opponent's possible hands when you play a hand against him. Take it one step at a time. After only a few months, the ranges will no longer hold any secrets for you