The days are gone when you’d see great players put an opponent on exact poker hands and adapt their strategy accordingly. Fact is, this never happened consistently because it’s often impossible to estimate your opponent’s range that accurately and therefor this method leads to more big mistakes than successful guesses.
Over the years the players emerging as the best in the world found a better method. A method consisting of assigning a range of hands to an opponent and develop a range of your own which plays optimally against the range of the opponent.
In this article I’ll explain how this can be done.
Poker Hand Combinations
A range consists of a combination of hands. As you know there are 4 variations of each card in the deck. This means that a combination of two cards (AK for example) consists of 16 hands, you calculate this by simply taking 4*4 (four aces time four kings). If one of these cards are on the board or in your hand you can deduce the number down to 12 (4*3). If the possibility of 2 pairs are on the board the remaining combinations are 9 (3*3).
Suited combinations of a hand are naturally 4 since there are four colours in the deck. So if one of these cards are on the board or in your hand there are only 3 suited combinations left. This tells us that when an opponent’s off-suit hands are still in his range they make for three times as many hands as suited combinations.
There are 6 combinations of each pocket pair and if a card is on the board or in your hand you can narrow it down to 3 combinations.
Being aware of these basics will allow you to estimate hand ranges more accurately and find spots when you opponent has an unbalanced range (too many bluffs or too many value hands).
Player Type and Tendencies
You need to have and understanding of the player’s style and tendencies in order to accurately estimate the player’s range.
A wide range of hands means the player is loose and a narrow range of hands means the player is tight. If the player plays his hands aggressively or passively is important to take note on too.
Pay attention to hands which goes to showdown and take notes based on how your opponent plays different parts of his range. The most important things to take notes on are:
• How your opponent plays top pair-top kicker
• How your opponent plays draws
• How your opponent plays the nuts
• How your opponent plays weak pairs
This will allow you to take notes on both the basic player style and the players tendencies.
As in the example we used in our video about how to play against loose aggressive players, where we saw a player at our table call a re-raise out of position with 24 suited and check raise the flop with a draw. This gave us the opportunity to identify this player as a very loose aggressive player, who calls re-raises out of position with a very wide range and plays draws aggressively.
Knowing this will allow us to change our strategy and for example start re-raising this player with all our strong hands and not be afraid to get it all in on most boards, even if we just hold top pair.
Another important factor when assigning a range to your opponent is the player’s position.
Generally you should assume that the earlier the position, the tighter the range, and vice versa.
Normally players only open raise or call with very strong hands from early position. You need to keep this in mind through-out the hand as you continue to narrow down you opponent’s range.
Action and board texture
Paying attention to how your opponent plays different parts of his range is key in estimating an accurate range of hands. Consider position, board texture and look for pivotal points pre-flop or post flop which allows you to discount large portions of your opponent’s range.
For example if you open on the button and the big blind calls. Knowing your opponent is an aggressive player you can confidently deduct hand like AA-QQ and AK-AQ from his range. So if the flop comes [Ax][Qx][8x], you can put your opponent in a very difficult spot by betting three streets since he can’t have AA, KK, QQ or AQ while these hands are definitely still in your range.
Another example is when your opponent calls a draw-heavy flop where you know he normally re-raises two pairs, trips and draws. This will allow you to deduct these type of hands from his range and perhaps bluff him off a pair on later streets.
Number of players in the pot
The number of players in the pot also affects player ranges. If UTG opens and three players call; you and any opponent left to act should call with a wider range than normally since they are given great odds to call and flop a strong hand.
The same applies if there is a very weak player at the table. Other players will start to call and raise with wider ranges pre-flop in order to play more hands versus the weaker player.
Street by street
Your evaluation of an opponent’s range should be reconsidered for every street you play as previous action, board texture etc. will shape which parts of your opponent’s range make it to later streets.
For example: if the flop is rainbow and a tight aggressive opponent calls a pot sized bet on the flop. If he had a wide range coming to the flop, once he calls such a big bet he will get to the turn with a much stronger and more defined range.
Balance is a complex subject in poker but unless you are a high stakes professional you don’t need to worry about deep diving into this theory but you should still try to have some sense of balance when building your ranges. This is also when counting hand combinations can really help.
Basically you want to avoid spots where you only ever have strong hands, weak hands or bluffs. If you have this type of extreme imbalance, good players will easily exploit you.
For example, if you only three-bet (re-raise) AA, KK, QQ preflop you have a three-betting range only consisting of very strong hands and no bluffs. This makes it easy for your opponents to fold any hand weaker than [Qx][Qx]or if you three-bet them. So by adding a few bluffs to your three-betting range you will keep you opponents guessing and force them to start calling a wider range against your three-bets.
In the same sense you want to be able to identify spots when you opponent has an unbalanced range. For example:
Your opponent who is a loose aggressive player opens on the button and you call from big blind with the . You assign you opponent to a wide range of hands due to his style and since he is opening in late position.
The flop is , you check and you opponent checks behind. When he checks the flop you can safely discount all strong top pairs, two pairs, trips and draws from his range. This the pivotal point in the hand which plays a big part in defining your opponents range.
The turn is the making the board read . You check and your opponent bets half pot. You call expecting your 8 with top kicker to be good often enough to make this call.
The river brings the completing the board as . You check again and your opponent bets half pot.
If you call the river you will most often lose against a ten or a weak queen so calling is out of the question. But since you know he can’t have a very strong hand here, while you can still represent a made flush and you have the ace of hearts which means you opponent definitely can’t have the nut flush. This is actually a good spot to turn your hand into a bluff and check-raise the river.
Make sure you take notes on players at all times. Using abbreviations will speed up the process and allow you to maintain your focus on what’s happening at the table.
For example: ace-king suited is usually written as “AKs”, while ace-king off suit is written as “AKo”. The same applies for all cards.
Other common abbreviations are:
• Top Pair Top Kicker – tptk
• Top Pair Medium Kicker – tpmk
• Top Pair Weak Kicker – tpwk
• Flush Draw – fd
• Straight Draw – sd
• Check – x
• Call – c
• Raise – r
• Check raise – xr
• Loose Aggressive Player – LAG
• Loose Passive Player – LP
• Tight Aggressive Player – TAG
• Tight Passive Player – TP
• Button – btw
• Small Blind – sb
• Big Blind – bb
• Under the Gun – utg
• Early Position – ep
• Middle Position – mp
• Hi-jack – hj
• Cut off – co
Accurately estimating you opponent’s range allows you to more easily adapt your own range and strategy for optimal play. When estimating your opponent’s range you look at his style, tendencies, position, board texture and let the action through-out the hand further define the player’s range.
Beating Loose-Aggressive Players
Be sure to check out Josef’s excellent and easy-to-follow video on how to beat loose-aggressive players.
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