Putting an Opponent on a Range of Hands

Out of all the strategy concepts we hear discussed in poker, putting an opponent on a range of hands has to rank right up there and for very good reason.  After all, being able to determine a specific range of cards your opponent could have is crucial in determining what equity you have vs. your opponent’s likely holdings, so you can best decide if making a call/raise is any good.

In this article, we hope to shed some light on the importance of putting an opponent on a range, and how you should go about doing it.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say at a live poker card room, “I put you on Ace King” as they’re scooping a pot after felting an opponent having just made a bad call.  When you look at the various different poker thinking levels, these opponents are thinking at level 1.5.

Think About It – The Range of Hands on Offer

Level 1 thinking means a player is only thinking about their own hand strength.

Level 2 thinkers are thinking about what their opponents have using the critical skills of putting an opponent on a range of hands.

And as you would have probably already guessed, level 1.5 thinkers are somewhere in between the two, and players at this level are trying to think about what their opponents may have, but more specifically, an exact hand.

Instead of defining opponent hand ranges for each player at the table, they’re trying to put them on an exact hand.  There are many possible hands a player may be playing in any given situation, even when they are playing a hand aggressively, so attempting to put them on a specific hand, especially when they have shown to be playing many hands, is going to be guesswork at best, and foolish at worst, that will invariably end up costing you a lot of money.

If you’ve watched poker on TV, then you have likely witnessed Daniel Negreanu make some great lay-downs (and some donk calls too – ha ha) after putting players on an exact hand.  But even though he has been right about his opponent’s exact two cards a number of times, he will be the first person to admit it’s a difficult thing to do, sometimes you just get a good feeling someone has a certain hand, but it’s not the right way you should approach the game.  You should be trying to put an opponent on a hand range.  With that in mind, here is a look at how to put your opponents on a range and figure out how your hand stacks up.

poker hand range
How to Define a Hand “Range”

The first step in being able to put your opponents on a range is to clarify the whole meaning of range to yourself.  When you put an opponent within a specific range of cards, you’re merely identifying certain card values that they could have.  For instance, if your opponent is open raising pre-flop from early position, you can probably assume that their range is big pocket pair, A-K, possibly even A-Q.  With this being the case, you’ll need to have cards in this range to even consider calling.

Some factors that players should consider when attempting to calculate hand ranges more precisely are:

• A player’s position at the table. For example, a player is generally going to be raising a much narrower range of hands from early position.

• A player’s HUD stats (VPIP, PFR, aggression level).

• A player’s tendencies based on previous hands they’ve played which can be helpful to know when a similar situation presents itself.

• A player’s action based on previous action in the hand.

• A player’s “tilt” factor. If they just lost a big pot, you have to consider they’re starting to tilt and chase their losses.

So by paying close attention to the table we could put our opponent on a hand range with pretty good accuracy using all of the above factors, which can influence a hand range.  Generally, it’s safe to assume most players are raising more hands from late position at the table.  With a poker HUD it will gather information on each opponent while you are playing online poker, which takes out all the guesswork, because you will know exactly how many hands a player is player is playing/raising from each position at the table.

Hand Range Examples

Let’s assume that you’re holding pocket jacks on a board of A-2-J-7-5 with no flush possibilities. In this case, you’d be sitting pretty good since you are holding pocket jacks.  However, an opponent is betting heavily which indicates that they either have top pair or A-A.  Your trips jacks will no doubt hold up against top pair, but they will most certainly lose to trips aces.

In either case, you should definitely make the call.  There are 3 possible combinations of hands that could make A-A left in the deck while there are 12 possible combinations that could make A-K in the deck.  With 15 possible combinations and 12 combos that will leave you a winner, simply divide 12 by 15 to find your answer.  You are an 80% favorite in this instance after doing the math on the possible range of hands.

Let’s say you wake up with A-J on the BTN, but you have a very tight player that raises before you in the UTG position at a full ring table.  Based on the information you have on this player, you know he likely isn’t raising in early position with a hand range that Ace Jack does well against.  Even if we hit an Ace on the flop, we can’t be very confident about getting stacks in the middle, so folding is the correct play.

Using Equity vs. Hand Ranges

For the most part, the range of hands is useful for all-in scenarios to calculate whether or not a call would be profitable in the long run. In aggressive online cash games, especially when there are aggressive short stacks at the table, you will need to be stacking off wider against them than you otherwise would be, and therefore need to have a good idea of what range they’re shoving with.

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