What does the term 'hand range' mean?
The term means the following; in no limit Hold'em there are 1,326 possible hand combinations any player could have when the cards are dealt. After a player makes their first move then you'll acquire some information, helping you to exclude some of those 1,326 hands from their range. The more decisions a player makes preflop or on later betting streets should narrow down the combination of hands that player is likely to have.
You can very rarely put your opponent on just one specific hand that he can have, but most of the time you can exclude many possibilities. A hand range simply means all the hands that your opponent might hold at a certain stage in a given hand. You should use this information to make your own decisions – and the more information you have about an ooponent's range, the more accurate those decisions are likely to be.
Determining preflop hand ranges based on stats
Determining your opponents' range is the toughest preflop and on the flop. Players tend to play in a different way with certain hands, and there are no obligatory rules on how to play each hand. A tight-aggressive player might fold one preflop that a loose-aggressive player would instead raise with. Let's see a few examples.
You raise on a small buy-in tournament preflop with pocket nines. Your opponent makes a three-bet and all other players fold. What should you do? Let's assume that you have some information about your opponent, and you know that he doesn't three-bet very often at all. Weak-tight players like this are not really balancing when it comes to three-bets. This means that they are reraising only with their strongest hands, tend to call with their medium strength hands and fold their weaker hands.
In this case you can determine your opponents' hand range to a precise degree. It is almost certain to contain only the strongest possible hands, which can be broken down as AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKs and AKo. With this information about your opponent's probable hand range, you can make an easy fold with pocket nines.
Now assume that the situation repeats itself, but your opponents is one that three-bets all the time. This is a very wide range, which will contain many hands weaker than your pocket nines, so you'll need make a different decision . In the first example the putting in a four-bet wasn't an option, but now both that and a call are viable. Folding would be the only clear mistake.
Determining hand ranges based on postflop action
Take a look at a postflop example. You're in the big blind and call the raise of an aggressive player with J-T suited. The flop is K-J-3 rainbow, so you have second pair without any draw. Your opponent continues betting with a half-sized bet on the flop.
In this case you can help narrow their range if you have any information about how often they make a continuation bet. If this opponent c-bets most of the time then you can assume that whatever comes on the flop is irrelevant – he's betting whatever. Against this kind of player it shouldn't occur to you to fold your middle pair, even though it's not a strong hand. Because he is an aggressive player, in many cases he'll be bluffing or have a weaker hand.
What are the chances he will have that exact hand?
You're playing in a small buy-in tournament, and everyone at your table is sitting with a 15-35BB stack. If you three-bet against a button open in the small blind with pocket kings and the big blind moves all in, you'll obviously call. Even if the big blind happens to show up with pocket aces, you should still know that you made a good decision and just got unlucky. The big blind would play the same way with many weaker hands too, so against his range your kings will be the favourite to win. This time unfortunately he had the specific hand that is ahead of yours.
When you try to find out what your opponent can have, you should never guess the specific hand he's holding, but instead find out the range of hands he would play that certain way with. After all we are not psychics, only thinking poker players. In the next part of this article we'll take a look at some more difficult situations. You'll see that many times the difficulty of the situation will help you to drastically narrow your opponents range after the turn and river cards. We'll also check how certain bluffs affect hand ranges – join us for the next part soon!