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Pre-flop Calling Ranges | ‘The Hand Reading Lab’ Part 4 | Podcast #72


Sky Matsuhashi

on June 14, 2016

Today I teach you why exploring your pre-flop calling ranges will improve your frequencies and give you better insight into your opp’s pre-flop hand ranges.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


The Hand Reading Lab

In episode 68 I talked all about Flopzilla (a software program included in the ‘Hand Reading Lab') and half-way though the episode the video portion kicks in and I showed you how to use Flopzilla to range your opponent through the streets.

Pre-flop Calling Ranges

Podcast Mission (2:20)

My mission for today is to show you how important it is to explore your own pre-flop ranges, and how you can go about doing so by yourself away from the tables.  Take the time right now to answer these questions for yourself before we get to the meat of the today’s podcast:

  1. Why would exploring my own pre-flop calling ranges improve my poker skills?
  2. How can I explore my pre-flop calling ranges on my own?

Why would exploring my own pre-flop calling ranges improve my poker skills? (3:00)

A very important aspect to hand reading is understanding our own pre-flop calling ranges.  We’re going to work on that today through a very important part of SplitSuit’s ‘Hand Reading Lab'; the pre-flop exercises.

8 videos into the course, SplitSuit introduces these pre-flop exercises as an exploration in your own pre-flop ranges.  The exercises are 6 pages long with 4 questions per page (took me 2.5 hours to complete), and they give you specific scenarios, like “A TAG UTG opens, it folds to you in the CO, what range do you call with?”  Your job is to consider the scenario and enter in the exact range of cards you’re calling with as well as the %-form the range equates to.

The questions in this powerful exercise opened my eyes to many things that I never really thought about before, and I believe this has made me a better hand reader and player.  When someone just tells you that your ranges are too wide or too tight, it’s really easy to just nod your head and say “okay” without internalizing it or using that info to improve your game.  But it’s another thing entirely when, through self-directed study, you find these areas of weakness on your own because you’ll be more likely to make any necessary changes to your game.  It’s like anything in life: the things you earn or do for yourself are more valuable than things given to you.

When you go through these exercises for the first time, they make you think critically about what hands you’d play given specific opponents, positions, and the number of opponents yet to act.  This critical thought will inform your pre-flop hand choices and will make you a stronger player.

Let’s go through two exercise questions with my real answers, and we’ll see what I learned from them.

The scenario for these two spots is we’re at a cash $1/$2 NLHE table, with 100bb stacks for everyone.

Scenario 1: CO open when folded to me: 22+ A2s+ A8o+ K9s+ KTo+ Q9s+ QTo+ 65s+ 75s+ JTo

CO open range

Scenario 2: CO raise after 2 limpers:

Initial range: 77+,A9s+ ATo+ KTs+ KJo+ QTs+ QJo T9s+ (13.6%)

13.6% CO raise

Looking at the ranges side-by-side, I realized this is a big frequency issue.  I’m opening in the CO 26%, but raising over 2 limpers a small 13.6%.  I’m limping behind with lots of the weaker stuff in my range so I’m prolly playing almost the same 26% range from the CO, but why am I letting two limpers cause me to tighten up my raising range?  I often preach that you should treat limpers like the weak hands and weak players that they are.

I decided to address this frequency issue and keep my CO raising-over-limpers range exactly the same as my CO opening range.  I’m just going to make it 3bb+1 for each limper, so my raise will be to 5bb’s here.  Here are the reasons why:

  1. If it was good enough to open in the CO either for value or to steal the blinds, it’s still good enough to raise over these limpers
  2. Opening here likely takes position away from the BTN who will be less likely to call the bigger bet sizing
  3. The bigger bet sizing will likely get the blinds to fold
  4. My most likely callers are the limpers, and I’ve got position on them
  5. If one of the limpers decides to limp/3bet I can easily ditch many of my dominated hands like the weaker A’s and broadways. The reason for this is we all know that a limp/3bet from EP often means AA or KK.
  6. Being the pre-flop aggressor makes it more likely my bluff flop cbets will work to get them off their hands

How can I explore my pre-flop calling ranges on my own? (12:05)

I learned a lot from these pre-flop exercises, and one of those things was that I don’t consider my pre-flop calling ranges enough.  With how aggressive today’s games are, we often face a raise when we’re in the MP’s and the LP’s.  And when you’re facing a raise you now have the option of calling, 3betting or folding.  These spots are so common that we’ve got to dedicate some time off the tables to study these.

Here's a question from the pre-flop exercises, and I'll go through this so you can see how I figure out my calling ranges:

We’ve got 100bb’s, a spewy player opens from the HJ and we are in the CO, what range do we call with?

As already discussed, I have a 26% opening range in the CO (once again):  22+ A2s+ A8o+ K9s+ KTo+ Q9s+ QTo+ 65s+ 75s+ JTo

CO open range

I won’t be playing this entire range vs a raise, but it’s a perfect place to start my analysis of this situation.

I work through things like this in Flopzilla in 3 steps:

3betting: (want value and some bluffs) TT+ AJs+ and AQo+ for value.  I’d also throw in some non-premium hands as semi-bluffs, and those could be A7s, A6s, T8s, 75s and 65s.  The suited A’s are thrown in as bluffs b/c my ace makes it less likely he has an ace so he’ll fold, and the sc’s are in there b/c if they get called they can flop pretty well.  So, my 3betting here is a range of 6.5% or 86 combos of hands.

3bet 6.5%

Folding: (I don’t want to face too many squeezes and also don't want to be dominated) I’m ditching the off-suit broadways and anything less than AJo, ditching A8s+ATs, losing most of the suited weaker broadways that could be dominated even though he’s spewy, and losing most of the suited gappers.

Calling: (we remove 3betting hands and folding hands) This leaves us with a 7.25% range, 96 combos, and it is 22-99, A2s-A5s due to the straight and flush possibilities, 76-KQs for some floppable sc action and KJs as a good suited gapper.

pre-flop calling ranges CO 7.25%

In total, I’m playing 13.75% (182 combos) in the CO vs a HJ open, so I’m folding about ½ of my total CO opening range.  That sounds pretty good to me as you definitely want to tighten up when facing a raise, even if it’s from a spewy player.

Now that you’ve seen how I figure out my own calling and 3betting ranges when facing action, you can follow these same steps to determine your own.  I’d like to see you do this by position, so the MP’s (you can group this into one range), CO, BTN, SB and BB.  Also, do this considering a LAG opener as I just discussed, a standard winning TAG opener and a LP fishy opener.  With these three player types and 5 positions to consider, you’ve got 15 different calling and 3betting ranges to think about here.

It’ll take a lot of work on your part to do this, but I know that these exercises will benefit your game as you consider different hand strengths vs ranges and the player types you’re up against.

Podcast Challenge (19:35)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Get started figuring out your own pre-flop calling ranges with this very common situation: You’ve got 100bb’s, on the BTN vs a tight EP opener.  We face this all the time, so what would you call with?  Figure this out for yourself and let me know your answer via email.  I’ll respond with my own calling range here.  Maybe we can learn a little something from each other.

Purchase the Hand Reading Lab with my affiliate offer code

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The course contains everything you need to master the skill and art of hand reading:

  • 27 videos
  • Powerful Guides and Exercises
  • A 2-hour Hand Reading Webinar
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  • A Flopzilla License
  • A set of custom Flopzilla Ranges to help you hand read opponents and use Flopzilla successfully

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Up Next…

In episode 73, I'll answer 3 insightful listener Q’s.  And next week, in episode #74, I’ll continue the HRL series with part 5 where I’ll discuss the importance of making some assumptions and assigning your opponent a range pre-flop, and sticking with it.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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