Thinking About Ranges

As your no limit hold ‘em experience grows, you realize that almost everything boils down to hand ranges. You must have heard that you need to know how to put other players on a range of possible hands. Although it might seem pretty simple, you’ll discover that it takes a sound knowledge and some advanced skills.

Surelye, it’s not rocket science, but it’s also not as easy as pie. You cannot make up a clear algorithm for any game situation. Thus, you cannot simply decide that if you beat your opponent’s range, you should call or if you lack the right equity verus your opponent’s range, you’d better fold. Your educated guess as to your opponents’ likely holdings should influence your play, from bluffing to the way you size your value bets.

Let’s move through the fundamentals of calculating your equity against a range of hands and then describe some of the more intricate ways in which your idea of other players’ ranges should influence your play.

Guessing a Range and Working out Equityi<
Let’s assume you are to act last holding a set of Jacks. A player under the gun raises, and nobody calls but you. The flop is AJ2, and your opponent stacks off. You know he wouldn’t stack off if he doesn’t hold anything less than a set. Since you have Jacks, you decide that your opponent’s range must make up 50% sets of Aces and 50% sets of deuces, which means that you should call with 2:1 pot odds, right?

Nothing of the sort. Each street should give you a more acurate idea of your opponent’s range as you obtain more information based on your opponent actions. A super tight player is much less likely to raise deuces than to raise aces if he is to act first. In fact, he tends to make this raise with deuces only 10 percent of the time and with aces 90 percent of the time. Before the flop, deuces and aces are only a few of the hands that can be put in his range, but since he goes all in, they are the only two we should take into account.

Two vital things can be inferred from this example. First, you need to take into account all of your opponent’s moves in the hand, not just the current street, in your attempt to guess his range. Second, a range isn’t simply a pair of possible hands but also the odds that your opponent has each of these hands. This is also known as a weighted range.

In our case, your range for a tight player is 10% deuces and 90% aces. In this instance, if 90% of the time your opponent has aces, you have 4% equity. The other 10% of the time, he has deuces and you have 96% equity. Thus, your total equity is 0.9*0.04 + 0.1*0.96 = 0.132, or about 13%. Even if pot odds are 2:1, we should fold without hesitation.

Note that if you had not taken into account the action before the flop and calculated the range of your opponent accordingly, you would have calculated 50% equity and called his all-in.

Value Betting
Just like bluffing, value betting should aim at specific hands in your opponent’s range. Let’s assume he is cognizant about basic hand reading, then your train of thought when betting for value in position on the river should be: “If he calls with X, I’ll bet $Y, expecting him to put me on Z.”

Let’s assume that you make a raise with A5 to $30 on the Buttoni in a $5/$10 NLH game. At this point, your opponent’s range is still too wide, though you might already be counting certain hands off. He is unlikely to hold T2o (he would fold this hand) or KK (he would re-raise that). Your opponent calls, and you see a KTT flop with different suits. When he checks, you make a bet and he calls.

Now you’re gaining some valuable information. Even though your opponent is good at bluff-raising, he has never been seen calling with the only aim of bluffing a later street, and you have never seen him calling out of position. Hence, his range is probably made up of Ax (he knows you tend to make a lot of c-bets and guesses that Ace-high is behind your betting range), Kx, QJ, Q9, T8-AT (you think he would fold worse Tx before the flop), pocket pairs 22-88, and may be higher pocket pairs, though you think he would probably re-raise them prior to the flop.

The turn brings another King, which is advantageous for you since it counterfeits virtually all pocket pairs of your opponent and reduces the odds that he holds a King. He checks, which doesn’t tell you much, and you check as well.

The river is 2, and your opponent decides to check, which tells you a lot about his range. If he had any full house or quads, he would bet and if he had a counterfeited pair, he would bluff. Thus, his range includes only Ace-X, Queen-Jack, Queen-9, and the rare AA/QQ/JJ.

It seems to be a favorable situation for value betting. The optimal size of the bet should be calculated on the basis of your target hands. In our example, you are planning to get value from Queen-Jack and Queen-9. In what case would your opponent decide to call a river bet with Q high? If he thinks it’s just a bluff on your side. Hence, you need to make a bet that would be taken as a bluff.

This is the point to keep in mind because many players erroneously think that they should bet an amount proportional to the strength of their hand. Still, the decision to make a big value bet here should depend on the calling range of your opponent, but not on the strength of your hand.

Although many players know that they should keep tabs on their opponent’s ranges, it’s not clear for most of them how to use that information. We hope this article will help you spot the situations where these reads should be used in your decision-making.