Top poker players are adept at putting their opponents on a range of hands. This battle-hardened skill in turn leads to more profitable decision making.
By contrast, players who are unable to properly range their opponents are often forced to guess whether an opponent either “has it” or “doesn’t have it.” You should almost never find yourself guessing during a hand. Instead, you should be thinking carefully through the hand and about your opponent’s tendencies, taking every piece of information into consideration while trying to determine their range.
Today we will cover four of the most common mistakes players make when estimating their opponent’s range.
Mistake #1: Assuming your opponent thinks like you do
This perhaps both the worst and most common mistake you can make when ranging an opponent.
It’s easy to think that because you would 3-bet with AKo in the small blind, to take an easy example, that your opponent would do the same. But this type of thinking can get you in trouble.
No two players are the same, and so it’s unwise to think “what would I do?” when trying range an opponent.
Of course, your opponent may ultimately think along similar lines as you. But when trying to put them on a range it’s best to begin by thinking about their tendencies, their skill level, etc., and set aside what you might do in their position.
You can start by asking yourself simple questions: Is this opponent a competent regular or a recreational player? How aggressive are they? Then consider finer-grained information, such as:
- Preflop raise percentage by position
- Check-raise frequency street
- C-bet frequency by street
- Fold to c-bet by street
I recommend adding these to your HUD if they aren’t already there.
Again, it’s crucial to take advantage of all the information at your disposal, and avoid asking “what would I do?” when putting an opponent on a range. Not only is this just bad practice when ranging, it also risks forming a habit of making decisions based on what you might do in an opponent’s position, which makes you the predicable and exploitable one.
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Mistake #2: Assuming a limper always has a specific range of hands
Many recreational players limp small pocket pairs, suited connectors, and Ax hands. But these aren’t the only hands you’ll see them limp. Some recreational players will limp anything from 43s to AA, and other random and “nice looking” hands in between. (Recall mistake #1. An opponent may limp hands that you wouldn’t ever imagine limping!)
You can start to narrow a limper’s range by determining whether she is a regular or recreational player. Recreational players limp a wider range of hands, from 32s to AJo and KK. Competent regulars tend to have balanced and well thought out late-position limping range (especially when stacks become short—pay attention to stack size as well!). Competent regulars also tend to limp behind other limpers with hands that play well in multi-way pots–hands like A5s or 33, for example.
Limping from the small blind is a completely different story. Many players use a mixed strategy in this position, which includes a limp/3-bet, limp/fold, and limp/call range. Take this into consideration when deciding what to do in the big blind, and remember that checking behind puts you at a range disadvantage since you cannot have the strongest holdings, such as AA, KK, etc., whereas your opponent in the small blind can.
Mistake #3: Underestimating the importance of position
We’ve all heard it before: position, position, position! But seriously, you must consider position on every street when trying to put your opponent on a range.
Let’s look at an example that demonstrates the importance of position.
Poker Tournament. 100bb effective stacks. Antes are in play.
Hero is dealt two cards UTG
Hero raises to 2.2bb. 7 folds. BB calls.
Flop (5.8bb) 8♥ 6♦ 5♥
BB checks. Hero checks.
Turn (5.8bb) Q♣
BB bets 2bb. Hero calls.
River (9.8bb) 9♠
BB bets 15bb.
Villain’s position is very important here. Because he called from the big blind, he can have many two pairs, sets, and straights on this board that we cannot have.
When Villain overbets on the river, he is mainly representing a straight with either 7x or JT. (It’s also possible he’s going for a thin value overbet with a hand like 88, but we’ll assume he isn’t for simplicity.)
Let’s consider how many combos of 7x we can have compared to our opponent. Here is our approximate UTG range of 15%:
We have just six combos of 77, which is the only 7x hand in this range. We might open A7s, 87s, and 76s as well–another 10 combos–bringing our total 7x combos up to 16 if we play them all as a check on the flop.
Now, let’s think about what our opponent might be defending from the big blind:
He has all suited 7x and most offsuit 7x for a total of 106 combos of 7x straights. If we assume the big blind is tight preflop and doesn’t defend the weakest offsuit 7x–Q7 through 87–he still has 55 combos of 7x straights. It is pretty clear that, in this spot, our opponent has many more combos of 7x.
Now let’s consider how this changes if our opponent flat called from UTG2 rather than the BB.
We’ll assume UTG2’s flat call range looks something like this (assuming his value 3-bets include QQ+, AK+):
Notice that we now have the upper hand on our opponent. We have the same number of straight combinations (77, JTs), but we also have some strong hands that he can’t have (QQ, KK, AA).
The lesson here is that an opponent’s position is very important when putting them on an accurate range.
Mistake #4: Forgetting previous streets
Forgetting and/or disregarding the action on previous streets is the final mistake we’ll cover today. You’ll often hear a player say something like, “he has [X hand] here, I just know it!” even when X hand doesn’t make sense given the opponent’s line.
Let’s look at another hand example. As you read through the hand history, try to determine what range or exact hands you think our opponent has in this spot.
Poker Tournament. 30bb effective stacks. Antes are in play.
Hero is dealt two cards in the HiJack
4 folds. Hero raises to 2.2bb. co folds. Button (strong regular) calls. blinds fold.
Flop (6.8bb) J♠ 9♠ 8♣
Hero checks. Button checks.
Turn (6.8bb) Q♦
Hero checks. Button bets 2.2bb.
River (11.2bb) 8♥
Hero checks. Button bets 7bb.
Take a moment to consider the hands you think villain could be value betting in this spot. Click “Show” below when you’re ready to move on.
In addition to whether our opponent checks or bets on each street, we should also consider her bet size (the larger the bet the more polarized they are), whether the hand is heads-up or multi-way, position, etc. Again, we must consider every piece of information when ranging our opponents.
It’s essential to avoid the mistakes we’ve discussed today. Also, in addition to paying attention to your opponent’s particular tendencies, be sure to study approximate open-raising ranges by percentage. If an opponent is opening 20% from middle position, for instance, then you should know roughly what a 20% range includes. This is very useful for narrowing an opponent’s range even before the cards are dealt.
That’s all for today, folks! Feel free to leave comments and questions below.
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Read more from Upswing Poker:
- How to Play Small Pocket Pairs in Tournaments
- 4 Ways to Improve Your Results in Multi-Way Pots
- Preflop Strategy Quiz — Only a Feared Grinder Will Get 9/10