Poker strategy: Thinking in ranges


I’m assuming that anyone reading this has watched a poker movie or a movie that contained a poker scene like the one I’m about to describe.

So basically the hero sits there, looks his opponent in the eye and just »reads« his hand, knowing exactly what he has, because his eyelash twitched in the right direction, he shook his pinky exactly twice or some other bullshit like that. Then he obviously proceeds to make a monster call and shows his hand(which is something like the third pair on the board or whatever).

A real-life alternative to that scene would be(for all of you that played in live poker game before) when someone makes a dumbass call on the river, wins, and then runs three laps around the table screaming »that’s exactly what I’ve put him on! I’m so awesome, bla bla bla…«

Well, this is all a load of crap. The first example is obviously just a movie, so it has to be dramatic, but think about the second example… how many times have you seen that guy make the call and muck his (losing) hand?

What I’m trying to get at here is, when you are trying to put your opponent on a hand, don’t think about a specific hand, instead think of a range of hands he could be holding in this situation and play accordingly.

Since this is not an advance article, but rather what I hope could be a bit of an eye opener for beginners, I won’t get in to too much detail. Instead I’ll give you a couple of examples that, I hope, will give you an Idea of what I’m talking about.

Example 1:

A game of Texas holdem, no limit, 7 players:

So let’s say you raise preflop from the first position and the Big Blind(BB) re-raises you. He’s a tight player.

At this point you shouldn’t think »oh he has AA« or »he has KK«, you should think »since he’s tight and he’s 3-betting me out of position, when I raised from first position, he probably has AA, KK, QQ or AK« and play your hand accordingly.

Example 2:

A game of Texas holdem, no limit, 7 players:

You raise from the button and the big blind calls.

Flop came Ac7s2d, he checks, you bet, he calls.

The turn is an 8s, he checks, you bet, he shoves all in.

At this point you shouldn’t think stuff like »he has a flush draw«, »he has a straight draw«, »he has a set«. You should actually be thinking all these things at once. He could have a straight, flush or a straight flush draw, he could have a set, two pair or strong top pair. Use all these thoughts to formulate a range of hand that he could have:

77, 22, A7, A2, As3s-As9s

This is the range that I come up with, you can read the explanation below*. So you see, you can’t put him on a specific hand, but you can put him on a range of hands and play correctly.

So even, if you have AK in this spot and you are getting less than 3 to 1 odds on the call(let’s say there’s 250 in the pot and you have to call 150 more) and you fold and he shows you As3s, you shouldn’t be angry at your self, because you made the right fold, you had only 25% chance to win against his range of hands.

What I’m trying to say is, that next time in the same spot there’s still a much better chance he’ll have a better hand than you. The only important thing is that you accurately construct the range of hands he could have… actually, you can be angry at your self if he shows you something like KsQs, because that means you put him on a wrong range of hands and made a mistake.

*How did I come up with this range? Well, the flop is not draw heavy and he’s playing out of position, so he’s probably not calling with nothing(so all possible straight draws on the turn are actually not possible(T9, 56) and all flush draws except the once with a solid pair are also not possible(hence only A-high flush draws).

He also doesn’t have AA or AT+, because he would probably reraise these preflop. On the other hand it’s very possible for him to slowplay a strong hand like a set or two pair, since the flop was so dry.

OK, I hope you learned something, have fun playing!