Beep… beep… beep
The counter is ticking down… you’ve only got a few more seconds to make a decision. “Did he raise on the flop? There’s a 3rd spade on the turn, does he have a flush? Is my top pair beat or is he bluffing? I don’t know what to do!”
Does this sound familiar to you? Do you want to learn the most important skill in all of poker and avoid these situations? Do you want to have an edge over every opponent you encounter?
Then I challenge you to become a Poker Range Master!
In The Theory of Poker, the classic poker strategy book written by David Sklansky, he said this:
Of course, it isn’t possible to always know your opponent’s hole cards, but the best we could do is know the range of cards he has, and play accordingly. This doesn’t come naturally, but is the result of hours upon hours of hand history reviews and daily in-game practice with a focus on ranging your opponents. Many opponents only concern themselves with their hole cards and the board, but your job is to play against the range that he’s repping by his actions.
It’s about putting your opponent on a range of hands and assessing the strength of his range vs your particular hand. Your conclusion should be something like, “He’s weighted towards a Monster here, so with my disguised full-house I’ve got to bet big to get max value as he’s likely calling or shoving over” or “His turn check-behind is indicative of a Draw/Air hand, and the blank river means he’s not calling a bet unless my top pair is beat, so I’ll just check/call should he choose to bluff.”
Tasks to complete in order to become a Ranging Master
- Commit yourself to two full weeks of one hour per day hand history reviews with an emphasis on putting your opponents on a range of hands.
- Use Poker Tracker (or a similar software) to filter for specific hands to review. Create a filter for the following hands: Went to Showdown, effective stacks at 25bb’s+, any raise pre-flop, and 2 players saw flop. This will give you hands with plenty of post-flop play for lots of practice at assessing how ranges change as hands progress on each street.
- Use a Range Review Tracker, which you can download here or develop your own.
- Use Flopzilla (or a similar range analysis software) to evaluate ranges.
- Incorporate some range practice in your Warm-up for each on-the-felt session by starting with just two tables maximum for 15 minutes, where your entire focus will be to put your opponents on a range of hands. Track how successful you are with paper and pencil.
Skills you will gain by completing these tasks
- A greater understanding of ranges and how they play against various hands.
- A growing expertise with using Flopzilla and your poker tracking software. You’ll be able to assess more situations and gain understanding of more HUD stats as you review.
- You will bridge the gap between your off-the-table range reading and your on-the-table range reading. It’s easy to read ranges when away from the tables (just like being on Jeopardy, answering from your couch is so much easier than in the studio). When you’re on-the-felt with time restrictions, multiple tables to contend with and money on the line, your decision making abilities are constrained and difficult to manage. These skills will allow for more comfortable play and easier in-game decision making.
- You will get a great sense of the hand range tendencies of the players at your stakes, allowing you to create your own poker ranges that will give you the upper hand vs your opponents.
- 14 hours of hand history review will show you many of your own mistakes. Take notes on these in your Poker Journal (get my free 21-page Poker Journal here) and make it a goal to correct these mistakes.
Steps of study for each one hour training session
- Filter for hands at least a week old as you don’t want hands that you remember easily. Playback these filtered hands in the Reviewer.
- For each hand, look at the opponent’s VPIP, PFR, RFI by position (Raise First-In) and Pre-Flop Limp and Limp/Call percentages to assign a range of hands he’s playing. This will get easier with time as you’ll learn the population tendencies of your opponents at your limits. If you’re debating between 18 or 20%, go with the lesser range as you want to make sure your plays are still profitable even if he’s playing at his tightest.
- Enter his range in Flopzilla. Put your cards in the “Dead Cards” section to see what your equity is vs his range.
- As the hand progresses through the flop/turn/river, adjust the range you assigned him within Flopzilla. His range could start out at 20%, but you could narrow this down to 15, 10 or even 5% based on his actions.
- As the hand progresses, assign his range an order of strength. I use the following classifications developed by poker pro and coach Andrew Brokos of Thinkingpoker.net:
Very good hands that can expect substantial action from worse; worth multiple bets and often the entire stack. How to identify:
- Putting chips into multi-way pots
- Passively calling off lots of chips
- Sudden/unexpected aggression
- Suspicious checks
- Aggressive plays w/ lots of bets
- Large % of stack going in
- Very large bets (overbets and all-ins)
Good hands that can win at showdown in small pots but can only beat bluffs in big pots. How to identify:
- Calling or checking in good spots to bet; trying to get to showdown cheaply
- Small blocking bets (especially on the river)
- Skipping good bluff opportunities
Weak hands unlikely to win at showdown unimproved. How to identify:
- Calling on a wet, draw heavy board
- Calling when a reraise is likely to be called; checking when a bet is likely to be called
- Polarized between nuts/air
- Large bets on scare cards
- Overbet shoving before the river
Use the Range Review Tracker to assess the range you gave your opponent and the strength of the hand you deduced that he had at showdown.
Sometimes you’ll find an exploitable weakness in an opponent. Make sure you update the player notes in your poker software database with your findings so you can exploit him in the future.
Pre-Flop you’re dealt AJo with effective stacks at 75bb’s
It’s the first hand of a SNG, and we open to 3bb from the CO and the super passive BB calls (over 61 hands at 25/2 with RFI: 4; fold to steal 71). Let’s put him on the range of 24.9% (starting at 30.2% and taking away premium hands from his calling range):
Pot at 6.5bb’s; he checks and we make a 5bb bet which he calls. We bet so much to get value and to overcharge him for any draws he may have. Now, he’s not calling on an A high two-tone board with nothing, so we can remove: 33-88, the off-suit connectors that don’t have a pair or a gut-shot draw, and we can weigh the remaining suited hands to just diamonds (25% weighted). There are two Monsters in his range (JJ,22) but that’s a very small part. He’s most likely Weak or on a Draw. This gives him a 16.4% range with our cards and the flop removed, and we’ve got 87% equity vs this reduced range:
Pot at 17.5bb’s; he checks and we still like our hand so we bet 15.5bb’s for max value which he calls. The Th strengthens his range just a bit, and our equity has dropped to 79.7%. His passive check/call is still indicative of a Weak to Drawing hand as this would be a great spot to check/raise with a straight to get value out of our likely strong hand as indicated by our betting large on two streets. We’ll won't make any more changes to his range yet:
Pot at 48bb’s and we’ve got about a pot-sized bet left in our stack. He checks again, and now we have a decision. The Qs drops our equity down to 68%, a full 19% drop in equity from the flop:
This doesn’t complete the flush-draw, but it makes him a straight with any K. He’s still most likely on a Weak hand or a missed flush draw, but he will only call a bet if he’s got us beat with a K or a set (possibly with a worse two pair, but the 4-card straight on the board would discourage such a weak hand from calling), so value betting here has no upside. We check behind and he turns over JTo for a weak two pair. His hand fell within the range and strength we assigned him. Good job! Here's a completed line on the Range Review Tracker:
- On your wall calendar, put a huge red X over each day that you practice the above. Your goal is to get 14 days in a row and have 14 pages of the Range Review Tracker filled out.
- If you graphed your % of correctly assessing an opp’s range and the relative strength of his hand each day, you should see an upward sloping line. You may never hit 100%, but consistently in the high 80’s indicates you’re doing very well.
Putting it into play
You will need to actively practice your ranging during each session of play, to ingrain the process in your Poker Mind. The more often you’re actively thinking through each street of the hand, the more likely you are to make the correct decisions at the times when they’re needed the most. Over time, you will feel more comfortable following the action at the tables and have an easier decision making process for each hand you’re involved in.
Having an accurate assessment of your opponent’s range and strength of his range will allow you to more successfully:
- Value Bet thinly in spots where you would’ve checked behind in the past
- Bluff when you know your opponent can’t defend
- Pot Control when necessary to see a showdown
- Fold in spots where his range and actions tell you you’re beat
- Call his bluffs when he’s weighted towards Weak and Draw/Air hands
I CHALLENGE YOU to commit yourself to daily one-hour practice of the above steps for the next two weeks. Download the Range Review Tracker and use it faithfully. Please post your progress in the comments below as I’d love to learn how this has helped your game.
This commitment in time will pay for itself over and over with an increased hourly win rate as your understanding of the opponents at your stakes increases.
Make your next session the best one yet!
Picture courtesy of Steven S.
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