When we all first learned to play poker, all we were interested in was our own hand. Just the hole cards in front of us.
Slowly we started to get a clear understanding of what we were aiming to do - for better or for worse - and began to try to exploit our opponent, all the while trying to work out what cards he held.
This is where it ends for many poker players.
To become a skilled poker player this over-simplistic thought process must be replaced by a more sophisticated one that thinks in terms of complete hand ranges - the full range of hands that you assess your opponent has at any one time.
This is obviously a difficult proposition, but don’t worry, nobody is expecting you to do this perfectly. The trick is to just do it better than the people you play against. This is entirely realistic.
All Roads Lead to Pre Flop
This process begins at the start of every hand. You should already be aware that each position at the table requires a different range of hands to open.
If you are hearing this for the first time then try to understand how important it is to accumulate information. If your opponent makes their decision before you then you have additional information that your opponent doesn’t.
This simple concept allows you to make better quality decisions and therefore more profit. The net result of this is that we open a tighter range of hands when there are more players left to act.
Once the preflop action has all taken place you should have a clear image in your mind of what your opponent holds. This is the starting point of where the magic begins and you can begin to work out your opponent’s most likely holdings.
This next step in understanding hand ranges is far from easy to master, but fortunately it is more a matter of effort than it is talent.
The tool Flopzilla allows you to input ranges and a board. It will then show you exactly what the breakdown is for each strength hand for the player.
This process when repeated many times will seriously enhance your intuition about who is doing the best on average on any flop/turn/or river. You will even see how certain cards that come on the turn and river change the situation dramatically.
All of this information is essential to become a great poker player.
Knowing who has the range advantage in every spot also opens up new bluffing opportunities. When up against a good opponent who can read hands very well, you can seize the initiative by applying pressure knowing that without a solid read they cannot call you down easily.
Capped ranges are an offshoot of the concept of range advantage. Knowing who has the strongest hands most of the time is a great help, but it is also useful to keep in mind when a player has a capped range.
A player’s range is said to be capped when it doesn’t include the strongest possible combinations.
A typical example is when an opponent cold calls in the BTN to a CO open. In this case it is highly unlikely that they hold a pair higher than jacks, possibly even pocket nines.
You can use this information to push players off a hand on a board that suits you more.
This concept comes with a warning. Even though the opener in this situation has the strongest premium hands, on low or medium connected boards a typical caller preflop will have many different two pair combinations and all of the sets.
Be aware that the tables can be turned on you here.
A raise of an open raise pre flop is known as a three-bet. The typical range types we see here are polarised and depolarised.
Polarised means we reraise hands that we wish to stack off with and complete bluffs with some potential, such as 54s.
Depolarised is a bit more fluid. Here we extend our value range to include hands that are still very strong but don’t necessarily want to stack off with, such as AJs. We also don’t have a complete bluff range.
Knowing when to choose either range depends on who you are up against. If the player is a pro then polarised works very well.
On the other hand a depolarised range is great for extracting extra value against players who call three-bets too much.
With all this in mind, you should be able to see how important it is to know how each player views you and what their three-betting range looks like. Getting this wrong can lead to huge problems post flop.