How to Put Your Opponent on a Range

David Sklansky
David Sklansky.

In his book The Theory of Poker, David Sklansky states that to play a hand correctly is to play it the exact same way you would if you knew your opponent's hole cards.

Of course, unless your opponent is especially clueless, this is never going to be possible in the real world.

You should, however, be constantly trying to put your opponent on a hand - or, more accurately, a range of hands.

Assign a Range

Often you'll be playing and will hear someone say "I put you on x, so I called" or "I put you on y, so I raised."

This is the wrong way to think about your opponent's holdings.

You'll rarely - if ever - be able to determine your opponent's hand down to the very two cards he holds.

Instead, what you should be trying to do is assign a range of hands.

But assigning your opponent a range is not as easy as it might sound.

At the beginning of the hand you have little information, and his hand range is fairly wide.

As the hand plays out, though, you pick up more information and can define his range more accurately.

Eli Elezra
Eli Elezra's SPF range? Waaay too low.
 

Six-max game online. Effective stacks $200; blinds $1/$2.

Your opponent on the button plays your average TAG game; let's say 18% of hands played, 15% raising pre-flop.

You have J J and raise to $7 from under the gun.

Two players call and your villain on the button calls as well.

Because of the limpers his calling range is very large - much larger than normal.

Let's just take a couple minutes and fully think about it.

We can exclude AA, KK, QQ and A-K because those hands are almost always re-raised pre-flop.

They are especially unlikely since your average TAG will not want to play any of those multi-way.

So, if you were that TAG on the button, which hands would you call with?

Well, hands that play well multi-way.

When assigning a range it's never going to be completely accurate, but we can come up with approximations.

At this stage of the hand we can figure his range as being:

  • A-J
  • Axs
  • K-Qs
  • K-Qo
  • K-Js
  • Q-Js to 5-6s
  • J-9s to 9-7s
  • TT-22

Granted, some of those are more likely than others, but that's the general range we can assign to his pre-flop call.

As you can see, it's huge. So far all you have to go on is his pre-flop call after two limpers.

You'll have to wait until the flop to further define his range.

On the Flop

The flop comes 6 7 2. You bet $25 and the first two limpers fold; the button smooth-calls.

Your opponent called your raise after limping on the button and has now called your flop. You can take a huge number of hands out of his range.

First, you can eliminate the overcards. Our TAG opponent would fold the flop after missing.

Chances are if he had 8-8 or 7-7 or some other overpair to the board, he would have raised the flop, so you can also discount those.

What we're left with is draws, sets, two-pair hands and weak one-pair hands.

After the flop his range looks like this:

  • K-Qs to 8-9s in spades (although overcards, flush draws and open-ended straight flush draws are discounted, because most TAGs will raise the flop with those)
  • 6-7s
  • 8-9
  • 7-8
  • 7-9
  • 7-7
  • 6-6
  • 5-5
  • 2-2

All of these hands would at least call the flop. Some of them of course would raise, but when assigning ranges it's sometimes helpful to use all hands that will continue to this flop bet.

As you can see, you've eliminated the bulk of his range.

You're now left with a fairly good idea of what your opponent holds.

The Turn

The turn brings the T. You bet $50 and your opponent raises all-in. Do you call?

Let's look at his range, which you can define further.

Which hands call before the flop, smooth-call the flop, and now raise the turn?

His range looks like this. (Again, some of these are discounted because he would have raised the flop and not waited till the turn when a flush card came to make a move.)

  • K-Qs to 7-8s (suited in spades)
  • 8-9
  • 6-7
  • 7-7
  • 6-6
  • 2-2

His range obviously has you crushed. Very rarely would he take this line with a hand worse than this range.

Antonio Esfandiari
Like magic, the fog clears with information.
 

The Fog Clears With Information

What starts out as a hazy vision in the fog eventually becomes clearer the more information you get until you can make an educated guess as to his likely holdings.

Remember the idea is to not put him on one exact hand. The idea is to eliminate what he doesn't have and come up with a range of hands he likely holds.

Range is the greatest tool you can use to improve your poker game.

If you can accurately deduce your opponent's range, you're going to be making fewer mistakes.

And as we know, fewer mistakes equals more bucks.

More strategy articles:

assets/photos/authors/_resampled/croppedimage6060-daniel-skolovy.jpg
About Daniel Skolovy

Daniel Skolovy started out in the gaming industry as a lowly dealer, spending countless graveyard shifts dealing blackjack, pai gow, carribean stud, baccarat, etc. He quickly became bored dealing games that were so obviously weighted in the house's favor.

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WB 2014-08-20 06:39:01

We assume he would raise an overpair like TT on the flop.

DJ 2014-04-13 08:51:47

Why is pocket TT excluded from the possible range after the turn brings the TS ? The whole hand would make plenty of sense then too

colin 2013-10-01 10:22:04

Anytime I type something into google about poker I always end up at this site. Great site.

daniel brow 2013-02-12 17:19:32

why does his range after the turn contain 78s in spades when 7S is on the flop?

Ringo 2012-01-26 13:02:12

@elvis

Scrap my previous comment, I thought you meant if he re-rased more pre-flop.
If you raised more preflop, and everything else played out as stated, you can still put him on a wide range. He calls preflop because theres 2 callers before him, so he is getting 3/1 (+blinds) for his money. If you make a bigger raise preflop, you would be over-betting the pot, so therefore you can rule out any straight draws, leaving 67, 89spades/45spades, AXs, 77, 66 or 22.

Ringo 2012-01-26 12:50:50

@elvis

If hes tight aggressive and raises preflop, you can probably put him on AA-TT, AKs, AQs, depending on his stack, and the size of the raise. He may even be squeezing with AKos, AQos or AJs/ATs being that he is in position, and there were 2 callers to the initial raise. I would almost certainly fold JJ to a preflop re-raise out of position against a TAG though.

elvis 2011-12-25 14:59:56

just wondering, if the raise was much higher preflop, should i put the raiser's range wider or narrower? i am sure it depends on the player, but generally?

Daniel 2010-10-26 17:35:04

I agree with him in certain aspects, but the way he explained the hands excluding flush draws because people tend to raise it or people tend to re raise preflop with kings is not always true and is just a general idea. At least in my case, i look the most profitable way to crush my opponents. if i know my opponen and i have kings, sometimes i mix it up and prefer to just flat call. Although most people would argue with me about this, your oppponents don't expect you to just call a raise with kings. if i have position, i would let the guy with pocket jacks bet and if it is a shitty flop i would raise it, or even some times just calls then raise the the river. I only do this when I have a perfect read and i know my opponent.

Rolando Salomia 2010-10-26 00:13:42

rolando: I want to know more about strategy of poker

claire jacobs 2010-10-22 01:58:17

poker is a game of skill. And I do believe that reading such strategies like this one is very helpful for every players in winning.

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