How To Use Poker Hand Ranges To Maximise Your Profit

Dominic Field

Sep 14, 2023

Poker Ranges

If you want to master the game of poker, you must learn how to use poker ranges. What are they? In simple terms, the range in poker refers to a set of hands you or another player might hold in a specific scenario.

Poker hand ranges are essential in any competitive game of poker. Without the ability to effectively use hand ranges, players in the modern game of either tabletop or online poker will find themselves at a severe disadvantage.

In this guide, we'll take a deep dive into what range in poker is, how to calculate hand ranges, and how to use this information to your advantage. 

What Is A Poker Hand Range?

In simple terms, the poker range is a set of all the possible hands a player might have at a particular moment

You can also refer to a poker hand range as a collection of poker hands played by you or your opponent in an exact way. We try to estimate our opponent’s range because guessing exact hole cards is an almost impossible thing to do.

For instance, if the tightest opponent reraises your preflop in hold’em, you can estimate their range to be aces and kings only. On the other hand, if an opponent who hasn’t folded one hand in an hour calls your raise, you can estimate their range to include any two cards in their deck. Most hand ranges will fall somewhere in between.

Using the info about hand ranges, players can make better betting decisions and maximize their potential hand combinations, especially in the long run.

Visualizing Poker Ranges With A Poker Range Chart

So yes, estimating poker hand ranges is a must if you wish to play high-stakes poker successfully. To help one learn the ins and outs of poker ranges, poker players have developed several useful techniques to help less experienced players climb the learning curve.

The most popular technique is using poker range charts.

A poker range chart, otherwise known as a poker hand matrix, is a handy tool that allows poker players to see which poker hand ranges to play in preflop scenarios where the pot is unopened and a player plans to shove or fold. Playing the proper ranges according to preflop charts makes it so your play can’t be taken advantage of, so memorizing these is crucial when it comes to short-stacked play.

A standard poker hand range chart looks as follows:

Poker Ranges ChartHow to read it? Very simple.

The chart consists of 169 possible starting hand combinations displayed in the 13x13 format. Pocket pairs (highlighted in green) split the chart in half diagonally, with suited hands occupying the upper half of the matrix and off-suited hands the lower half.

What's important to keep in mind when reading the hand range chart is to remember that while it may seem like there's an even number of unsuited and suited hands, that's not the case at all. When estimating the possible hand combinations, remember that:

  • There are six combinations of paired hands;

  • Non-paired hands have 16 possible combos, where:

    • Unsuited hands have 12 combinations each,

    • Suited hands have 4 combinations each.

How To Calculate Poker Ranges?

Analyzing ranges can be tricky and only by learning the theory of a poker game and playing lots of hands a player can get better at it. Implementing some proper preflop strategy in your poker play training will help you comprehend what poker hand ranges your opponents play.

The more time you dedicate to playing and watching your opponent’s hands, the more clues about their strategies you’ll be able to get. This will allow you to get more precise estimates of their poker ranges when playing future hands.

Calculating and accurately estimating what ranges your opponents are playing is the hardest part of using poker hand ranges. Simply because we’re not able to get inside the minds of our opponents and understand the way they think. Still, we can use the information to create a close estimate of the hand range they’ll play. 

Here are a few factors to consider when building a range for your opponent:

Who Your Opponent Is

Although everybody is equal at a poker table, a player’s appearance, age, and demeanor can indicate the way they are likely to play. A common rule of thumb is that the older the opponent, the tighter they are, based on the stereotype that older people are opposed to taking risks.

Your opponent’s outfit can also tell you how they will play. For example, if they’re at a casino dressed in jeans and a hoodie, they’re likely to be frequent guests of the premises, which can mean that they’re experienced players. On the other hand, if your opponent is wearing a business suit or a cocktail dress, it’s likely that they’re new members and may be inexperienced players.

No matter who your opponent is and how they look, the information you’re trying to get is how loose or tight they will play compared to regular poker hand ranges.

Of course, all this isn't useful when playing online poker. In such instances, you will need to pay attention to your opponent's playing style - their betting patterns, the size of their bets, etc.

Your Opponent’s Position In Preflop

Once you’ve had an idea of what kind of opponent you’re playing against, you can also look at their position to estimate the poker range your opponent plays.

A player’s position will significantly change their range composition as long as they’re competent players. If they’re raising from an early position, their range is likely to be tighter. However, if they’re raising from a late position, the range is likely to be wider.

It’s crucial to combine all the information you get about your opponent to create an overall picture of them. It’s important to use the inferences you’ve made from who your opponent is when considering their preflop range based on their position in order to know your own hand range.

The Action Your Opponent Takes

Your opponent’s actions during a hand, whether it’s preflop or postflop, should impact the range you put them on. Starting with preflop, did your opponent raise or limp? Did they call a raise, or did the three-bet? 

Depending on the actions they take, your opponent will have different ranges. For instance, most players won’t call a raise with pocket Aces; they’ll three-bet. So, when considering your opponent’s range preflop, you can already rule that hand out.

Similarly, with preflop range, your opponent’s action will also change the hands they have in their range. Let’s analyze an exemplary game scenario when you raise from the button with A8 and your opponent calls in the big blind. Now, the flop comes 862, your opponent checks, you make a pot-sized bet, and your opponent makes the call. A Q comes on the turn.

Does it make it a problematic situation? Well, now let’s look at the actions your opponent has taken. They would call preflop with some Qx hands; however, they also called a pot-sized bet on an 862 flop. Their range is much more likely to consist of pairs and straight draws, meaning the Q is a safe card for you, although it’s an overcard.

Past Information

It’s crucial to have a close watch on your opponents to spot whether they’re doing something unexpected based on the profile you’ve created about them. If your assumption of the opponent is that they’re tight, but you notice a showdown where they raised UTG with T5s, make sure to keep that in mind. Your initial assumption was likely incorrect, so you need to adjust it.

Many poker players assume the way an opponent plays and don’t update their profile of a player, even when they’re presented with information that says the opposite of the image they’ve created. Instead, you should always gather necessary details at the poker table and use them to better understand the tendencies of your opponent.

While you will never get a fully accurate picture of your opponent’s range, considering those four points may help you get a decent understanding of the hands your opponent is likely to play.

Ranging Your Opponent’s Preflop And Postflop

As a poker player, one of the most important skills you can have is putting your opponent on an accurate range of hands. If you’re thinking in terms of ranges, you will be able to make the best decision possible against all the possible hands your opponent is likely to have in any given scenario.

However, it may be difficult to think through all the possibilities during the game. That’s why learning the concept of ranges and practicing whenever you play is essential for improving your performance as a poker player.

Let’s look at how to figure out your opponent’s range so that you’re able to play as accurately as possible from the first betting round to the last.

Preflop Ranges

Ranges can be used in many different situations, the two most common examples being preflop and postflop. So it makes sense to start with these situations.

Preflop ranges come into play when a player has no knowledge of their opponent’s tendencies or strategies. When no information is available on an opponent, the player should assume that their opponents will be playing perfectly.

This means that their opponents will be playing any two cards in their ranges or any two cards that are two cards away from their ranges. The player should also assume that their opponents will be playing any flushes or straights that include their hole cards.

If you are the player, how can you construct an idea of your opponents’ hand ranges?

Betting is a good place to start. If your opponent is playing around 15% of hands from the Under-the-Gun position, we can assume that their range includes the top 15% of all starting hands. This would include pocket pairs A-A through to 7-7, suited Aces down to about A-7, suited Kings down to K-9, and offsuit holdings down to around A-T and Q-J.

To help you construct hand ranges, you can get hold of various pieces of software, such as Equilab.

Postflop Ranges

After the flop, you will now have a much better idea of what your opponent is holding. This means that their postflop ranges will be more specific than before. The type and texture of the board will determine how tight or loose a player’s range should be.

Instead of trying to put your opponent on a single holding, it’s important to recognise that there is a range of possible hands in play. Recognising this allows you to better understand your opponent, as well as make a better decision based on your own perceived range.

If you think your opponent has made a particular play, in order to formulate your own range, you must always assume that they played perfectly. If you miss out on the fact that your opponent may have had a draw, you will be giving them more credit than they deserve. Your own range should always be tight enough to make the opponent fold at least 50% of their hands.

Estimating Ranges

Always check on the board before tightening or loosing your poker hand rangesIt’s important to remember that the type of the board will determine how loose or tight a range will be. The more coordinated a board becomes, the looser a player’s range should be. If the board is only coordinated in one way, then players will want to tighten their ranges. The more uncoordinated a board becomes, the tighter a player’s range should become.

The type of flop also determines how large and tight a player’s range should be. For example, an under-coordinated flop (any three unpaired cards) will tighten a player’s preflop ranges and loosen their postflop ranges. A coordinated board will have the opposite effect.

Ranges For Heads-Up Play

Ranges can also be used in heads-up situations. Observing your opponent raising with one hand but calling with another allows you to construct a range. For instance, raising pocket tens and calling with King-Queen offsuit. In this case, the player’s range is any pocket pair, Ace-King, or Queen-Jack.

When facing an opponent with a range of this size, the player should assume that there are only 9 other hands in his opponent’s range. This means that it will be easier to make correct calls by playing the pot odds.

You should also bet on any flops containing a possible straight or flush draw. This is so that you can punish the opponent for not betting the turn and river, as well as for bluffing with weak draws at the showdown.

Betting Type: Patterns And Frequency

The actions of your opponents are the most valuable piece of information you can get from them. Whether your opponent checks or bets, it’s the most crucial knowledge you should use when reading your opponent’s hands.

It’s important to keep in mind that the way preflop hands are played differently from one another, not all hands play the same in the postflop range. Therefore, whenever your opponent makes an action, for example, checking, they’re splitting their range so that you’re able to reject all the hands your opponent would bet with.

Now, how to determine which hands your opponent uses in each of their ranges? That’s why you need to examine your opponent’s patterns to work out the way they play certain types of hands.

Although no players are the same, when playing poker, you may often find that certain players have the same style of playing.

Here are some common styles you’ll observe at a poker table and what to look out for:

The ABC Player

An ABC player looks to play a straightforward strategy that doesn’t involve any complicated patterns. This means that when they have a good hand, they’ll make a bet, and when they don’t, they won’t do it. 

As the player will be less aggressive on average and will only bet with a sufficient amount of equity, the strategy may get easily exploited. If you spot someone playing passively whenever they happen to get a weak hand, you know you’re dealing with an ABC player.

The Bluffer

Bluffers are incredibly aggressive in both preflop and postflop ranges and usually take any opportunity to bluff. While their aggressive strategy will often lead to many pots won without a showdown, it’s difficult to be this aggressive without over-bluffing and making yourself vulnerable to exploitation. 

It can sometimes take a long time to spot a bluffer, especially when they have a good hand. Still, in most cases, a bluffer will bet when the opportunity arises, so look out for players who are more aggressive than average.

The Thinking Player

The hardest type of player to play with is the thinking player. They play a reasonable preflop range, value bets at the right frequencies, and use a good amount of bluffs to balance their range. A thinking player may often go unnoticed, which makes them difficult to spot at the table.

As they generally do things right, they simply blend in the background, unlike players who make big mistakes that stick out in people’s minds. Therefore, if you spot a player who doesn’t attract too much attention and quietly goes about their strategy, you’ve most likely found a thinking player.

Post Hand Analysis

One of the hardest things to do in poker is trying to figure out the staring ranges of your opponents, simply because we can never know what your opponents have in their minds. However, by looking at the hands they play, especially the ones that go to showdown, you can get close to that. Those small hands can give you an idea of how your opponent thinks, so you should use as much information from them as possible.

Showdown Hand

Imagine a situation in which a hand reaches a showdown, and you can see your opponent’s cards. This is a perfect moment for you to use this valuable information in order to figure out their strategy. 

Here are some important elements you should consider when you see your opponent’s hand at a showdown:

  • Preflop range. Given the preflop position of your opponent, think about whether this is the hand you would expect to see in their range. In case your opponent happens to play looser than expected, that tendency may occur in other areas of their strategy.

  • Preflop action. Knowing whether your opponent plays in a standard way or tends to mix things up in their strategy is useful when determining their range postflop. For example, you can think about whether their preflop action was congruent with the hand they showed up with.

  • Postflop action. Consider the action on every postflop street and determine whether it’s logical for their hand. For instance, if you raised preflop and made a bet on the flop, did they have a reasonable hand to call with? If you notice your opponent floating too wide or playing draws aggressively most of the time, you get an insight into what their range might be.

How To Improve Your Hand Range Reading Abilities

Mastering hand range reading in poker takes time and effort. And while various software and hand charts can help, the best way to learn the ins and outs of hand ranges is to play, play, and... you guessed it, play. As you do that, be sure to implement the following practices:

  • Always think in poker ranges. Always think about your opponent's entire range of hands rather than putting them on a single hand. That way, you will get a broader picture of possible hand ranges and combinations in play, allowing you to make better betting decisions against other players' hands.

  • Shrink hand ranges each betting round. As the game progresses, hand ranges get smaller, and every betting action your opponent makes further tightens their range of hands. Keep that in mind and shrink your opponent's range accordingly.

  • Keep an eye on bet sizes. Pay attention to the sizes of bets made by other players. Any change or unusual bet may indicate the change in possible hand combinations they have, helping you narrow down their hand range. 

Poker Range Tips: Using Hand Ranges To Master Your Game

Calculating other players' hand ranges is one thing. Another is building your own preflop ranges and using them to your advantage. Here are a few tips to help you master the game:

  • Don’t play low-pocket pairs when short-stacked. Low-pocket pairs are great for making a set and winning a big pot. However, they are difficult to play when you don’t make a set, and you’ll either have to fold or call down with the hopes of your opponent to be bluffing.

  • Play more suited hands than offsuit hands. While the actual equity increase is small, you will likely flop more equity with suited hands rather than offsuit hands. When building your range, make sure there are more suited hands, as they will allow you to barrel and win the pot without a showdown.

  • Don’t overvalue low-suited connector hands. Low-suited connectors allow you to make some incognito hands and win a massive pot against a player’s overpair, and that’s why every poker player likes to play them. However, these hands lose a lot of their value from early positions as there’s an increased risk you’ll be up against an opponent with the higher end of them. Also, you don’t make strong hands too often, so you’ll either need to bluff to find your way out of the trouble or end up check-folding.

  • Play tighter from an early position. Many players tend to overestimate the number of hands they can play from an early position. When you’re playing from an early position, and you’re unsure whether you should raise a hand or not, you probably shouldn’t do that.

  • Keep the balance. Be mindful of balance when creating your own ranges. Don’t be too heavily skewed toward bluffs or values. If you’re constantly bluffing, your opponent can always make the call when they have a pair. On the other hand, if you’re not bluffing, they’ll only call when they have a strong hand.

Key Takeaways: Using Poker Hand Ranges To Your Advantage

And that's about everything a beginner should know about reading and using hand ranges.

Understanding how to effectively use hand ranges is an essential tool in modern poker. By calculating the ranges your opponents may have, you will be able to read the table much better, allowing you to take more informed betting decisions to maximize your profits. 

To calculate hand ranges more efficiently, consider acquiring software, such as Equilab, to help practice constructing ranges. But whatever you do, practice makes perfect. The more time you invest in learning how to effectively construct ranges, the better your long-term results will be.

Poker Hand Ranges FAQs

What Is A Poker Range?

A poker range is a set of hands that would play in the exact same way. For example, when you raise a preflop, you will do the same with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, as well as other hands. These hands would be considered your range.

What Ranges Should You Play Preflop?

You should determine your preflop ranges by your overall style of playing, your position at the table, as well as your opponents at the table. Although there are general guidelines like playing tight from early positions, you should adjust your ranges depending on the game you’re playing.

How Do You Know What Your Opponent’s Range Is?

You can try and determine your opponent’s range by combining their overall style of playing, the position they played their hand from preflop, and any previous valuable information you get about them.

How Do You Read A Poker Range Chart?

A poker range chart has a set of pocket pairs running from the top left to the bottom right diagonal – with AA in the top left and 22 in the bottom right. The suited hands are above the diagonal line in the top left, while the offsuit hands are below the diagonal line in the bottom right. Each square is labeled with a hand that corresponds with them.

How Do You Use Poker Ranges When Playing?

Using poker hand ranges is all about assigning your opponent a range of hands based on their actions and other important information and with that information you determine what hands they’re likely to get.