Range merging or “merging your range” is a term that you will run into regularly if you’re a forum reader or someone who talks a lot of poker.
- By definition, range merging is when you make a bet on the river with a medium strength hand in a situation where your opponent believes you can only have very strong hands or bluffs. Therefore you are inducing your opponent to call the bet with his bluffcatchers. The logic behind this is that your medium strength hand is ahead of your opponent’s bluffcatchers, meaning it allows you to extract thin value on a lot of occasions.
What is a bluffcatcher?
- A bluffcatcher is a hand which you wouldn’t bet with, because they are not strong enough. However you would certainly consider calling a bet with them if you are suspicious that your opponent is bluffing.
The following hand is an example of a bluffcatcher:
We are heads up against an opponent on the flop and first to act with 78. The flop is k73. We lead for ¾ of the pot and our opponent calls. The turn is k, we check and our opponent checks behind. The river comes 10, we check and our opponent bets ½ pot. We call with our pair of 7’s and our opponent shows 45 for a busted straight and flush draw.
We do not expect our opponent to bet with a pair of 7's, 3's or pocket pairs in between the Q and 7. This is because they expect to get called by almost only hands that beat them, so the safest option is to check. Therefore we expect our opponent to have a very strong hand or a hand which they are bluffing with, this is known as a polarized range. Since our opponent did not raise the flop or bet the turn, we can assume that a decent amount of the time they are bluffing here. Because we are not comfortable betting out with our hand but we are happy to call and catch the bluff, it is named a bluffcatcher.
How can I take advantage of my opponent using bluffcatchers?
To fully understand range merging we must flip the situation on its head, let’s look at the situation from the opposite angle in the following example:
We are heads up with an opponent but this time we have jj, the hand has played out the exact same as above until the river. So with our hand we are looking at the same board – k63k10. Most players will be tempted to check and take down the pot on this board as our hand is marginal at best. However this is a great spot to bet and merge our range, taking advantage of the fact our opponent may call us with a bluffcatcher.
By merging our range here, our opponent is likely to look us up with weaker hands such as T’s, 7s and other pocket pairs. This is because he believes that our range is polarized (we are only betting with the nuts and air). There is obviously additional added value to merging your range, as opponents are likely to call value bets in later pots where we have a strong holding (in situations where they assume we are “merging” again).
Note: Remember to be aware of your image and adjust!One thing to note is that if you do this regularly then players will adjust and start slow playing their super strong hands as they expect you to merge your range regularly. This is of course more of a meta game problem than anything else, but it is of course important to be aware of how your opponent thinks and adjusts to the way you play!