How to Use Poker Hand Ranges to Outplay Your Opponents

How to Use Poker Hand Ranges to Outplay Your Opponents

In this blog I’m going to share a crucial poker concept involving poker hand ranges that I’m confident will give you a leg up on the competition. I know this because I’ve personally used this tactic many times throughout my career, including in a special hand I played on the hit poker show Poker Night In America (more on that in a minute).

The tactic is called is something I call ‘Range Leverage’.

Poker Hand Ranges for Beginners

Before you can begin to use range leverage to your advantage you must first understand poker hand ranges and how they work. A hand range is simply all of the hands that a player can have at any given time.

For example, if someone raises from first position (under the gun) in a full ring cash game, it can be said they’re most likely hand range is as follows: 77+, ATs+, A5s-A3s, KQs, JTs, AQo+. (Note that cash game ranges and poker tournament ranges will differ, especially as antes kick in and stack sizes change).

The ‘+’ sign represents all of the hands better than the listed hand within that category. 77+ means the player can have 77, 88, 99, etc. The ‘-‘ represents all of the hands in between the listed hands. A5s-A3s therefore would also include A4s. Finally, the ‘s’ represents suited hands whereas the ‘o’ represents off suit hands.

If you were to enter these hands into a poker hand calculator or poker range software, it would look like this.

poker ranges chart-poker hand calculator

PokerCruncher is a poker equity calculator commonly used by professionals to determine their chance of winning (otherwise known as equity), against the range of hands their opponent can have.

The above is a common example of an under the gun opening preflop range. (For a complete guide on preflop ranges, including which hands to play from which position, download our free Quick Start Guide to Preflop Play).

Range Leverage in Poker

Range leverage is a poker term I coined to help people better understand when to be aggressive at the table. To use range leverage in poker simply means to play aggressively when the situation favors you. That is to say that when the types of hands you can have are stronger than the types of hands your opponent can have, one should apply pressure. When this scenario occurs poker players say they have a range advantage over their opponent.

Range leverage is the process of using your range advantage to your benefit by playing aggressively, either to get the most value from your premium holdings or to maximize your probability of succeeding on a bluff.

For an example of how to use range leverage to outwit your opponents, and how you can implement this strategy into your own game, check out this Hand of the Day I played from a televised cash game called Poker Night in America.

When attempting to use range leverage, keep in mind poker hand ranges vary by the position of the players involved. That is to say that an early position preflop raiser will typically have a narrow hand range comprised mostly of premium holdings. This strength will give him a range advantage post flop on most boards, especially those containing high cards.

In comparison, a late position opener will have a wider preflop hand range and thus, their postflop range advantage won’t be as strong (although it will often still exist). Therefore, the early position raiser can represent more premium hands postflop, such as big pairs or broadway cards than the late position opener.

One must take the specific cards on the board (referred to as ‘board texture’) into consideration when determining if they have a range advantage. While there are no hard fast rules, flops with more high cards tend to favor the preflop raiser whereas those with lower cards sometimes favor the preflop caller (especially when the caller is defending from the big blind, as their wide range allows them to more easily connect with low textured flops).

The truth is that there is no one size fits all formula to determine whether or not you have a range advantage, and each situation must be evaluated independently.

That said, here’s a quintessential example of a situation where the Hero has a range advantage and therefore, should apply pressure almost regardless of what his holding is. This hand was sent to me from one of my clients, but in order to prevent biases and to keep the focus on the concept of range leverage, I omitted his hold cards.

In a $2/$5 NL cash game, the Hero opens from early position to $15 and the Villain calls from the big blind.

Pot: $32
Flop: J♦️ 5♣️ 4♠️

The Villain checks, the Hero bets $20 and the Villain calls.

Pot: $72
Turn: K❤️

Once again, the Villain checks.

The first question you want to ask yourself before making a decision is, ‘whose hand range does this situation favor?’ The answer to this question will help you determine who has a range advantage and whether or not you should use range leverage to apply pressure.

The simple way of coming to this conclusion is to determine which player has more kings in their hand range. Specifically, is it more probable that the Hero opens from early position and continuation bets a J54 flop with a king in his hand, or that the Villain calls a raise in the big blind and check-calls a J54 flop with a king?

The Hero has far more kings in his range because of how the hand was played on the flop. How could the Villain reasonably call this flop while holding a king? The only conceivable way would be if he had specifically King-Jack. The Hero however, could easily have continuation bet the flop with a king as a bluff. Possible holdings include AK, KQ and perhaps KTs.

Therefore, the king on the turn gives the Hero a clear range advantage over the Villain because it’s a card that favors the Hero’s range. The correct play is therefore to bet, regardless of his particular holding.

Bet Sizing and Poker Hand Ranges

As for bet sizing, the Hero should go big to apply pressure. It’s important to realize that all parts of the Hero’s range benefit from choosing a larger bet sizing. When he’s bluffing it’s more likely his opponent will fold, and when the Hero has a premium hand, he will get maximum value. While the specific poker bet sizing varies by situation and stack size, I advocate a bet size between pot and 2x the pot with many of the Hero’s holdings.

The goal is to put your opponent in a difficult spot. Had the Hero chosen a smaller bet sizing (1/2 pot for example), it’s simply too easy for the Villain to continue calling and get to a cheap showdown.

To recap, a hand range is all the possible holdings a player can have in any given situation. Range leverage means to apply pressure when it’s likely you have a better hand than your opponent. The opportune situations to use range leverage are when you have a range advantage, meaning the hands you can hold are better than your opponents.

Not sure how to determine whether or not you have a range advantage? Download our free Intro to Hand Reading. It walks you through the step by step process I’ve used for years to put my opponents on a hand range and determine whether or not I can profitably apply range leverage to outplay them.

You’ll learn three key strategies which will help you do this in real time and get access to a simple template which you can follow. It’s totally free.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post on poker hand ranges and range leverage. Have questions? Drop them in a comment below.

Best of luck.
Alec

Alec Torelli
Welcome! I'm Alec Torelli, founder of Conscious Poker, a training site dedicated to transforming good players into great ones by providing the best poker strategy and mindset content. I've been a professional poker player for 15 years and have over $1,500,000 in tournament winnings and millions more in both live and online cash games. On this site, I share the lessons I learned during my poker career to help you crush the games, optimize your bankroll, make winning decisions and achieve your poker goals.

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