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What is a Hand Range?

Hand ranges demystified

Vanessa Rousso hot poker star Once you're pretty comfortable with playing a basic, A-B-C poker strategy, it's probably time to learn about hand ranges.

You've most likely heard the term hand range before, especially if you've visited any of the popular poker forums online.

The hand range is the basic unit of modern hand analysis. Almost every discussion of every poker hand--even in the micro-stakes forums--now revolves around deducing hand ranges.

So what is a hand range? Why will learning about ranges help your game?

Good questions. Let's answer them one step at a time.

Hand range definition

A solid player will be used to playing certain hands preflop. Some follow starting hand charts, while others just rely on intuition when deciding what cards to play. In any case, every player has a particular range of hands he chooses to play preflop, whether or not he realizes he's playing a range at all!

A hand range is just a set of possible hands either you or an opponent can hold. When I speak of your preflop range, I mean all of the possible hands you could be holding preflop when you take a specific action.

For example, your preflop raising range from the button is the set of all hands you'd raise from the button; your preflop calling range in the big blind is the set of all hands you'd call a raise with from the small blind; and so on.

A hand range, when typed, looks something like: R = {22+, A2s+, ATo+, KTs+, KQo, JTs}

This notation might look a bit weird, but once you get the hang of reading it, it becomes second-nature. What it means is that the range R includes the following hands:

  • 22+: Pocket pairs from 22 up through AA
  • A2s+: Suited aces from A2 up through AK
  • ATo+: Offsuit aces from AT up through AK
  • KTs+: Suited KT, KJ, and KQ
  • KQo: KQ offsuit
  • JTs: JT suited

We always define hand ranges in the context of specific situations. Some factors that can influence hand range calculations are:

  • A player's position,
  • A player's HUD stats (VPIP, aggression, and so on),
  • A player's previous bets in a hand,
  • A player's actions in past hands similar to a present hand,
  • A player's tilt factor (whether he's fuming, whether he's been coolered recently,...).

So we could put our opponent on a hand range with 99% certainty given a certain analysis of all the above factors; and if we changed the value of just one parameter, we'd come up with an entirely different range!

Why Do We Care About Hand Ranges?

So we know that a hand range is a set of a player's possible hands in a particular scenario.

But why should we care? Why should we think in terms of hand ranges, rather than some other strategic paradigm?

For one, thinking in terms of hand ranges gives us a way to logically structure our thinking about hands. Rather than just grasping in the dark to put our opponent on a hand, we can put them on a range; then we can figure out the probability that our opponent is holding different hands in the range; and from there we obtain a pretty accurate picture of what we're up against.

Thinking in terms of hand ranges also makes it easier to detect patterns when we review our play.

When we spend a bit of time conducting some range analysis, we start to notice certain things about our opponents' tendencies. Players rarely check-raise turns with just one or two pair type hands, for example.

Knowing this sort of information can make it easier to identify recurring situations at the tables; which improves the accuracy of our reads and speeds up our judgment.

Vanessa Rousso plays at pokerstars One of the top places to play online poker is pokerstars.

This is where some of the best players play poker, such as Vanessa Rousso pictured on the left, David Williams, and many more.

And the best players always think in term of hand range.

If you sign up at pokerstars, you can observe Vanessa Rousso playing poker there. Her username is 'LadyMaverick'. Or you can play her, if you dare.


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