Three Tips on Learning Pre-Flop Ranges

Pete Clarke | 1 month ago in Poker Theory and Concepts

Information overload is one of the biggest pitfalls when learning the game. There are so many concepts to master and thought processes to understand. Pre-flop charts are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to the crime of overloading your poker brain. So, how do we make the most out of that nice colourful hand-grid that has found its way onto your computer?

1. Learn Why, Not Just What

How easily do you think you could recall this sequence next Thursday if you could only look at it once today?


My guess is that it would be almost impossible for most of us; at least without a way of assigning some meaning to the chain of random letters and numbers. Maybe you could invent a story to give the characters meaning and this is exactly what you should do with hand ranges. How much easier would it be to recall the following?

“It is not recommended to allow your chickens to encounter a smashed egg. Once they get the taste for eggs, they are quite likely to start smashing and consuming their own eggs and this means less food on the breakfast table!”

When we understand the meaning of the information that we are learning, it slots together cohesively. It is not important to remember the paragraph above word for word in order to convey the meaning of it to another person next week. Because you understand that chickens lay eggs, and that people eat them, you can easily make sense of the advice given here.

Students who ask simply ‘what’ when learning their ranges are trying to learn about egg eating chickens by storing each individual letter in their heads instead of simply taking the general message from the statement.

Imagine that you are sat there staring at a range chart and noticing that it recommends calling 75s in the BB against a SB opening range. Ask why. Isn’t this a dangerously weak hand? Well, how about calculating its equity against a range the SB might be opening? If he is playing around 50% of hands, then 75s has 38% equity. You are investing 1.5BB to win 3.5BB so your pot odds are better than 2:1. This means you need to get back less than 33% of the pot to call. Since you have position to boot, calling now makes sense. Now you can probably deduce that many other hands are callable in this situation and you can use your chart to double check.

2. Sort Hands into Groups

Instead of trying to remember what each individual hand does, try to lump hands into three categories: offsuit, suited and paired.

For example, let’s say that we are trying to remember the range we should 3-Bet SB vs CO. First off, we want to define the worst off-suit hand we can 3-Bet. This will be something around KQo or AJo. Next we want to think about suited hands. As these have much higher EV in big pots due to their ability to beat Villain’s strong pairs from time to time, we can 3-Bet much wider in this department (again, asking why.) We draw the line here at hands like A3s, 98s and QTs. Now onto the pairs – that’s easy – we 3-Bet down to around 77 or 88 here. 3-Betting baby pairs would simply bloat our 3-Bet range too much.

If you are a visual person, you could even picture the hand grid in your head and imagine the colours and what they represent. Why not imagine the CO 3-Bet range as a shape that spreads down the hand chart from top left (AA) to bottom right (72o). How far does it get? How wide or narrow is it at various points in the grid?

3. Deviate Often and Don’t Be too Exact

Instead of obsessing about whether JTs is a 3-Bet 25% of the time or 50% or 75%, just try to understand that when hands are recommended as a mixed strategy between calling and folding, raising and folding, or calling and raising; there is little difference in the expected value of each play – at least, against an average player. It will make very little difference if your frequency for raising differs a bit from the chart, but what will hurt you is failing to use exploitative reads to pick the best line.

Large Stack of Poker Chips

If Villain is a huge calling station then do not follow the advice of 3-Betting 97s 25% of the time, instead, 3-Bet it 0% of the time and call the station’s pre-flop raise with the idea of winning a big pot if you get the right flop. On the other hand, if Villain is a player who folds all the time to 3-Bets, then pick a 100% frequency for 3-Betting this hand.


Above all else, try to remember that a chart is a general strategy for use against solid players or unknowns. As soon as Villain demonstrates that he is not playing a competent strategy it is vital that we ask ourselves how our chart would change in this situation.

When it comes to range learning, be curious, be organised and be flexible.

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