Explaining a Poker Hand Range
Putting your opponent on a range of hands is an essential skill in poker; The Tip Top Fox explains the concept of a poker hand range
Some players have an uncanny knack for being able to call out an opponent’s hand, Daniel Negreanu being a particularly good example. However, far from being psychic, experienced players like Negreanu are just well versed in putting their opponents on a range of hands and narrowing this range still further as the hand progresses.
Referred to as a poker hand range, or just ‘a range’, this is a combination of hands a player may be holding at any given time. While Negreanu likes to guess out loud the most likely hand an opponent is holding – in an attempt to glean some additional information or pick up a tell – for the most part, poker professionals are usually thinking about what an opponent may have in the form of a range of hands. This allows them to consider all the given variables.
Enter the Matrix
A good way to visualise a poker hand range is by using a poker matrix like the one below:
The poker matrix depicts all the possible hands a player can be dealt in a game of no-limit hold’em. The orange line down the middle shows the 13 different pocket pairs. The light blue squares to the right shows the 78 different suited hand combinations, denoted with the small ‘s’ such as A♥K♥ – depicted as AKs – that a player may hold. The green squares to the left of the orange pocket pairs showcase the 78 offsuit hands a player may have in their range, such as Q♦J♠ – depicted as QJo.
You can sign up as a member to view our poker hand matrix and a selection of hand range charts for both full ring and six-max cash games as well as exclusive member’s only content.
Calculating a Poker Hand Range
Using the matrix as a graphical representation of the range of hands a player may be holding, you can utilise software like the free Poker Range Calculator, PokerCruncher, PokerStove or PokerZebra for Mac. By selecting a specific range percentage, you can work out what sort of hand range a player may be holding.
A player’s range starts pre-flop when dealt one of the 78 suited or 78 offsuit combinations, or one of 13 pocket pairs. Once that player enters the pot, it is possible to start narrowing down their range. It is important to take into account which position they chose to raise or call from.
For example, a player sitting under-the-gun (UTG – the seat to the direct left of the big blind) enters a pot. From this position, they have a pre-flop raise (PFR) percentage of 15%. You want to work out what their range may look like so you can decide whether or not to call or re-raise on the button with J♠T♠.
A 15% PFR Raising Range
As you can see from the above poker matrix example; for a 15% PFR range the range calculator has picked pocket pairs 55+, suited aces A7s+, suited kings K9s+, suited queens QTs+, offsuit aces A9o+ and offsuit kings KJo+.
However, we may disagree with some of the hands that the Poker Range Calculator has chosen. We think this particular player values their hands differently. Fortunately, we are able to alter the range to fit the way we think that this particular opponent is playing:
After tweaking the opponent’s range by deselecting some hands and adding in others, their range now looks more like this:
77+, A7s+, K9s+, QTs+, JTs+, ATo+, KTo+ QJo. By plugging this data into something like PokerStove, PokerZebra for Mac or PokerCruncher (we used the latter) we can work out how J♠T♠ fairs against this range.
Crunching the Numbers
Against this specific opponent’s range we can see that our J♠T♠ has about 35% equity, so raising would be less than ideal. However, we are in position so decide to call on the button and see a flop.
Working out an opponent’s range is also invaluable post-flop and can be used to determine the value of your hand versus an opponent’s potential range.
Let’s continue with our example. So after calling with our J♠T♠, the flop comes down T♦7♠4♠ giving us top pair and a flush draw – a pretty good flop for our hand. Our opponent fires out a continuation bet (a bet made after the flop by a player who took the betting lead pre-flop), which we decide to call.
So what are good turn cards for our hand? We also need to consider what sort of hands our opponent would chose to bet the flop with.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what a player’s range is, but deductive reasoning definitely helps.
Following on from our calculations of our opponent’s perceived pre-flop range, we can see that they are likely to bet a pair of tens or better, and pocket sevens, with which they would have made a set.
We can probably discount pocket fours as we think it unlikely they raised with a pair this small from UTG. Similarly, straight draws like 56s and 56o can also be discounted.
It may be that this player would also c-bet pocket eights and nines on a board like this, so these could potentially be kept in their range, but are less likely than the other aforementioned hands.
Overcards are also likely hands our opponent may c-bet with. Even though we hold top pair – a reasonable strength NLHE hand – the player with overcards still has the chance to make a hand that can beat ours.
In this particular example, any ace, king or queen would favour the UTG player’s range. They would either make top pair or pick up a straight draw. They would, however, lose some of these outs to our spade flush draw.
Of course, hands like A♠K♠ down to A♠8♠ and K♠Q♠ are also potentially in our opponent’s range so cannot be discounted. Any card from ten down to two is favorable for our range; these are unlikely to improve our opponent’s hand but will improve ours some of the time.
Narrowing the Range
If we plug in the additional information available after the flop, we can see our hand has close to 75% equity against our opponent’s initial opening range. We also have around 72% equity on their c-bet range so this is a great spot for a re-raise.
Even if the flop was T♦7♠4♣ and we had not flopped a flush draw and merely held top pair, our equity would be between 59.5%-63.7% versus our opponent’s perceived range. Again, this makes a raise a viable play. We can narrow our opponent’s range still further should they chose to call and continue in the hand.
While time is a factor in making all these calculations and they can’t really be made on the fly during an online session, this is a concept you should be thinking about if you are serious about improving your poker game.
Using ranges to think about hands and specific situations is the best way to approach poker as a game. Rather than trying to put your opponent on a specific hand, recognise the fact there are always several different combinations of hands you could be up against. Understanding this will aid your decision-making process. It will also help you make the best decision for your hand and range versus your opponent’s.
Software like PokerTracker, Hold ‘Em Manager and PokerCopilot are invaluable tools in this respect. You should always use these as an aid to review your sessions away from the virtual tables. It helps you see whether or not you are making the correct decisions.
Take our above example. While we chose to call with J♠T♠, there are hands with better equity against a perceived 15% pre-flop UTG range. Hands like 77 or 88 have 45.9%-48.5% of equity as opposed to the 35.9% J♠T♠ has.
Taking the time to learn concepts like this can only make you a better player in the long run. What are you waiting for? Get out there and put these concepts into practice, and good luck at the tables.