The Basics of Hand Ranges
We at Juicy Stakes are slowly but surely covering many of the basics of poker for new or inexperienced players. Here we will talk about hand ranges. This is a relatively new concept in the “science” of poker. It is one of the new areas that even the most seasoned poker pros study.
Do Poker Pros Really Study?
This should not be surprising at all. Professionals in many areas study constantly. Many review material they already know backwards and forwards. Musicians practice scales which are perhaps the most basic aspects of music. Even concert pianists spend long hours practicing the simple stuff. They have to keep their fingers nimble so they can handle the complex stuff.
Poker players are no different! For example, they have to practice the mathematics of poker in order to quickly recognize a mathematically sound opportunity. At this point, we should move directly to our Juicy Stakes Poker review of hand ranges. Hand ranges are just one of many areas that poker professionals study so it is no surprise that we can devote an entire article to them!
What are Hand Ranges?
There are only two hidden cards in Texas Holdem. After the flop, we all see the first three community cards. Our thinking about hand ranges has to start before the flop. Although all good poker players thought in range terms twenty years ago, the actual concept of hand ranges as a subject for study is truly a new phenomenon in poker.
In its simplest form, the possible range of hands of any player who stays in a hand to see the flop can be from a simple high card to a pair of aces. The big blind might have nothing at all but, if everyone who stayed in just called him, he might have nothing but it costs him nothing to see the flop.
On the other hand, if a player raises in early position, everyone else at the table will immediately put her on a range that could be a very high pair, an ace-king combination, or a bold bluff.
Bluffing is also a big aspect of the study of hand ranges because players bluff on almost every hand!
The Idea of Hand Ranges Has Gone through a Massive Evolution
At one time, it was possible to pin exactly what an opponent had by the customary betting patterns of the time. A high pair or an ace-king was often the only set of hands many players would bet on in early position.
This is no longer the case and a lot of the evolution in ranges has come about because poker analysts have spoken so much about ranges and about mixing up one’s betting.
If There is So Much Variation in Ranges, How Can We Know what a Player Has?
Hand ranges have broadened and because of that we need to know our opponents very well in order to use hand ranges as a winning tactic in poker. It is true that an opponent might have a hand with low suited connectors. The flop could make such a hand a winner!
So, we need to know whether opponent x might call or raise in early position with low, suited connectors or with any other less than optimal hand.
Furthermore, we need to analyze the possibility of an opponent stretching their range of acceptable hands to include intermediate pairs or unsuited connectors.
What are the Stakes in the Game?
The lower the stakes, the wider the range of playable hands. In low stakes poker, you might be up against players who can easily afford to lose a given amount of money and will bet on almost any hand, at least before the flop.
As the stakes get higher, the range of hands that players will call or raise with narrows. This is the natural result as the cost of staying in a hand to see the flop goes up.
So, the idea of putting an opponent on a reasoned range of hands changes as the player’s betting position changes and as the stakes change.
The Opponent’s Stack May Also Affect Their Hand Range
If a player is doing well and their stack has grown, they might have a tendency to become a bit looser with their pre-flop betting. Some players will actually get tighter as their stack grows because they want to preserve their winnings.
The psychology of poker has also evolved in the last twenty years! We now have to be amateur psychologists just to be able to come to a fair conclusion of what an opponent meant by a three bet or a raise in early position.
The idea of hand ranges is quite a bit different than the cold hard mathematics of poker. It relies on our understanding of psychological and emotional elements rather than just being formulaic.
What Do I Have?
We all know what we have hidden in our hole cards. We don’t know what our opponents have hidden in their hole cards. The concept of hand ranges began with the obvious question: what do I have and what can I reasonably hope to get? At the same time, all poker players thought about what an opponent might have.
Oddly enough, it is a modern idea to also try to get into the opponent’s head and try to figure out what he or she thinks we might have.
When we put our hand range against an opponent’s hand range, we form a kind of mental Venn diagram. There is a part of the diagram where we win easily. There is also a part of the diagram where an opponent might win easily. In a great many hands, the area that both hand ranges share will be the largest area and here is where the battle for the pot will rage.
When you can place both your hand and the opponent’s hand in this overlap position, then you can employ any manner of psychological warfare to get the opponent to either fold or build up a pot that you feel secure about winning.
A good example of the psychological side of hand ranges comes about in the concept of range advantage. Here one player has many more possible hands, in theory. If a player raises in early position and the big blind calls, it usually means that the player who raised has a good hand. The big blind also may have a good hand but by just calling instead of re-raising, the big blind signals that he doesn’t have a particularly good hand.
So, if the flop seems to favor the early raiser, he can intimidate the big blind into folding even if the raiser actually wasn’t helped by the flop.
We Need to Be Able to Count Possible Hands
This seems trivial but it actually goes to the heart of the matter. We can’t just say that we think the opponent might have a particular range of hands. We need to actually count the range of the opponent’s hands versus our range of hands. By doing so, we find that it makes excellent poker sense to fold good hands if we feel that our opponent’s range of hands is superior to ours.
This happens quite often. The best pros think nothing of folding a pair of jacks or tens if the opponent who bet appears to have a better range of hands. Amateurs are far more often likely to see value in a pair of jacks while the pro will understand that the pair of jacks probably has no more value than a pair of twos.
If we hope to get our game up to the level of professional poker players we need to understand this idea so well that we both fold good hands that will probably lose and keep hands that we can use to intimidate an opponent into folding.
The bottom line is that poker has become far more sophisticated in all aspects in the last twenty years and hand range analysis is one of those aspects. We need to be able to make quick analyses of an opponent’s hand and mindset in order to make the best decision for that particular hand.