Poker Strategy - 6/8 - Ranges
This is the sixth part of an eight-part guide to the basics of poker strategy. If you have already read this tutorial, then you can access the seventh part here. If you missed the previous part, "How to Bet", then you'll find it here.
If you always knew what cards your opponents held, then you would be the best Hold'em poker player in the world, no doubt about it. Unfortunately, there's no way that this is possible ... without cheating!
The next best option when trying to work out which cards your opponents hold is to assign your opponent what is known as a range. This is the collection of possible hands you think it is likely that your opponent probably has based on their actions in the hand so far, and their action in previous hands.
A range is therefore the set of possible hands that a player could be holding in specific situations.
Understanding ranges is crucial if you have the desire to become a supremely successful poker player. Assigning a range allows you to make assumptions about the cards that your opponent holds. It will also aid you in identifying the best course of action to take whilst you are playing.
Here is where things start to get a little technical in the world of poker-playing. The best and most profitable players learn the "secret" language of poker in a way that allows them to discuss hands and tactics on forums and other such internet sites. The best way of understanding ranges is to learn how to write them down. If you attain a certain level of ability among the poker elite you'll be able to join in once you learn how poker notation works.
The Basics of Poker Notation
Here are a few basics of poker notation - if you've been reading my articles on poker strategy then you've probably already picked a few of them up.
All cards are noted by their nominational value, except for a 10, which is indictated by a T. Therefore a complete suit of cards is 23456789TJQKA.
Suits are not really important, but whether cards are suited or not suited is. A small s indicates suited cards, whilst a small o indicates non-suited cards. T9o means a ten and a nine from two different suits. The higher value card is written first.
When suits are important, the letters s, h, d and c are used. When using suits each card's suit is given, so KhQc means the King of Hearts and the Queen of Clubs. If you see something like AsJs then that means the Ace of Spades and the Jack of Spades, whereas AJs just means AJ suited.
When it comes to indicating a players' range, you need to use the symbols + and - which mean better than, and the extent of the range. For example 99+ is a shorthand way of writing "all pairs, nines upwards" (i.e. 99, TT, JJ, QQ, JJ and AA). Something like AJs-74s means the range of cards between an ace and a jack and a seven and a four, each with a two-card gap (i.e. AJ, KT, Q9, J8, T7, 96, 85 and 74). Don't forget, convention means that the higher value card is written first.
Ranges and Notation - Examples
The flop is Q♦T♣3♦, so your opponent could have top pairs, open-ended straight-draws and ace-high flush-draws. How do you then note down their range?
Here are those hand combinations:
Top pair: AQ-QJ, Q9-Q4, Q2 (QT and Q3 are not considered as those are two-pair).
Open-ended Straight-Draws: KJ, J9.
Flush draws: A♦K♦, A♦J♦, A♦T♦, A♦9♦, A♦8♦, A♦7♦, A♦6♦, A♦5♦, A♦4♦ and A♦2♦.
The complete range is therefore: AQ-QJ, Q9-Q4, Q2, KJ, J9, A♦K♦, A♦J♦, A♦T♦, A♦9♦, A♦8♦, A♦7♦, A♦6♦, A♦5♦, A♦4♦ and A♦2♦.
You can make assumptions concerning your opponent's range depending upon how they have played in the game up to this point. For example, let's say the flop is Q♠9♥4♣. What assumptions can you make about your opponent's range? Let's say they have been a pretty passive player so far - only going past the flop and into showdowns when they have really good cards. Your opponent did not raise before the flop, and you are the first to act. You make a big bet, and they call. What does all this tell you?
As they didn't raise before the flop, you can be sure they don't hold AA, KK or maybe even QQ. If they had, they would have been more aggressive before the flop. They might hold JJ or TT though. They might also - as they called rather than folded - have top two-pair, and open-ended straights. From all these deductions you should be able to work out their range as follows:
Sets: 99, 44.
Top pairs, good kickers: AQ, KQ, QJ.
Open-ended straight-draws: JT.
Top two-pair: Q9.
Others: JJ, TT,
Therefore their complete range is: JJ, TT, 99, 44, AQ-JT, Q9.
Once you have worked out your opponents' range, you can work out how much of their range you can beat with your own cards, and tailor your decision-making accordingly. This will be further expanded upon in my next article.