Sunday, June 07, 2009

Poker Basics - Introducing Poker Hand 'Ranges

Get searches in Google et al from players at many different stages of poker knowledge and experience.... so to keep things balanced I'm starting a mini-series on a poker basics topic today - one that is a bit of a buzzword recently, but has been around as long as the game itself - the subject of Poker Hand Ranges in Texas Holdem games.

Todays idea will be to explain what we mean by ranges and point out come common situations in which they can be used. Later we can look at more detail of how your opponents ranges will affect your pre-flop decisions... whether we get post flop will depend on reader feedback for the first posts!

Going to assume that readers have a tool called PokerStove... if not then grab it now, it is free and invaluable for players at all experience levels to compare hands with other hands and hands with ranges of possible hands too... get it from or search google (there are no strings etc).

Right, with all that preamble out of the way, let us look at poker hand ranges.

Imagine a situation at the end of a SNG tournament (to keep it simple, we will adjust for cash / tournament play later). You are wondering whether it would be a good idea to shove all-in into a single opponent and would like to know whether this is a profitable move in the long-run.

(just as an aside we are ignoring ICM here, this example is to explain the concept of ranges only)

If your opponent folds you will win the blinds, a nice addition to your stack. If he calls then you will bust x% of the time and double-up y% of the time (the x and y depending on the hands you both reveal). We will start at the beginning, how often will you actually be called.

Lets look at 2 opponents, a tight player who will 'only' call with pairs 8-8 and better, and Ace-King or A-Queen - suited or unsuited. And a Loose player who loves to call wide and will play any pair 44 and up, any suited ace and unsuited ace-seven and up, K5suited + and J-9 off + lots of 'any 2 high card' and suited / unsuited connectors 8-10 or better....

Before we make any decisions we should learn the 'how often' side of the equation for these players (and those in-between). For this you click on the 'player 1' (top left) of the PokerStove main screen, and then the 'pre-flop' tab on the next window. You are then presented with a matrix of possible hands like the ones at the bottom of this post:

By selecting the hands that you judge each opponent will call with based on their previous play, you can get a percentage figure which is the proportion of hands they will call with compared with the hands that they will fold.

For the examples we gave these numbers are:

Tight Player: Will have a 'calling hand' only 5.6% of the time (yes, if someone is this tight they are folding more than 94% of the time... change your play at all??)

Crazy Player: Will call you 30% of the time, that is a lot but even someone this loose will fold 70% of the time to your shove.

Next we look at how your hand will fare those times you are called.

Say you have 7-7 and want to know how you will do against the 2 ranges we identified those times you are called. Lets use some really simple numbers to illustrate the point here. After posting a small blind of 50 and big blind of 100 you each have exactly 1000 chips left, we then use information from PokerStove and run the hand 100 times to see what the average loss / gain is:

100 Hands Against Tighty:

94 Times we win the blinds +150 chips * 94 = 14100
6 times we are called.... using Pokerstove we select 6% for player 1 and choose 7-7 for ourselves (as player 2) once ok'd we click the large 'evaluate' button to get the equity of each hand. Here we have a clear 66/33 result (so a ratio of 4 losses and 2 wins from our 6 hands)
- 4 times we lose 1000 chips = (4000)
- 2 times we win 1150 chips = +2250

When we add these up we end up with a gain of 12350 chips over 100 hands or 123.5 chips per attempt... this is huge and clearly shows that shoving tight players has a positive outcome, mostly based on the fact that you steal the blinds to often.

100 Hands Against Loosy:

70 Times we steal the blinds +150 chips * 70 = +10500
30 times we are called, again we need PokerStove to show us how much equity we have against the 30% range, next to player 1 on the main screen type 30%, then choose 77 for player 2 and click the 'evaluate button' ... as you can see we are a small favorite when called, so:
- 16 times we win 1150 chips = + 18400
- 14 times we lose 1000 chips = (14,000)

When the dust settles, our balance is +14900 or +149 chips per attempt, even better than the push against the tighty, albeit with some significantly increased short-term volatility.

Anyway, the examples are just to give you an idea of the thought process (raising / seeing a flop / something else may be optimal depending on stack sizes and situations). To start working with ranges:

- First we estimate all of the hands an opponent would play in a given situation.
- Next we memorize the basics of particular hands against these ranges
- Finally we combine this information to make a decision with a positive outcome over time.

Well, hope someone finds this 40 minutes of my Sunday afternoon useful!

GL at the tables, Mark

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