What is exactly a hand range
A common term that is thrown around on poker websites without explanation is range. A lot of beginners want to ask "What does range mean?" but are afraid of looking stupid.
Definition of range
A range is the entire spectrum of hands your opponent could have in a particular situation. In simpler words, a range is whatever you think your opponent might have. In the vast majority of situations in poker, your opponent will have more than one possible hand.
Why is knowing your opponent's range important?
You need to formulate an idea of what your opponent is holding, so you know what the best course of action is. Playing without considering your opponent's hand is very basic and is not a winning strategy. If you have a very strong hand, you may think that it doesn't matter what you do because you will win the hand anyway.
This is not true, you still need to guess the range of your opponent to play optimally. If your opponent's range is mostly comprised of bluffs then you shouldn't be doing very much betting with your strong hand. If your opponent has mostly strong value hands and you are just coolering him, then bet, bet, bet.
In addition, formulating a range is necessary to use a poker odds calculator like pokerstove to do poker math for you, and figure out mathematical solutions to situations in poker.
How does a poker player figure out another player's range?
That is a pretty complex question, and becoming good at determining ranges is best learned through lots of time at the poker table. There is not a one paragraph answer to this that will make you a master at determining ranges. If that were the case, most poker games would be dead because it would be too easy to become skilled.
Here is a good jumping off point for beginners. To determine an accurate range work from preflop onward and methodically eliminate possibilities. Figure out what hands your opponent can't have when you are just learning to play poker well. This will help you internalize this knowledge and make decisions faster in the future. There are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of factors that contribute to making an informed assessment of what your opponent could be holding in hand, everything from the time of day, to how he has played in the past to what his screenname is. This will all come in time, but for now just grasping the basic thought process is a good start.
For example, before any action the range of your opponent is any two cards. But then he raises from early position. You have played hundreds of hands with him and your PokerTracker HUD tells you that he has raised only 15% of hands from that position. You also have noticed he is tight and aggressive and is likely a winning player. That means that he is reasonably likely to have a strong hand like JJ and not very likely to have a weak hand like 96s. Now you have eliminated the weakest 85% of starting hands from his range. Everyone else folds to you in the big blind and you decide that you will call with 4c4h because you think that you stand a good chance of winning a large pot if you make a set with another 4 on the flop.
Example of range estimation thought process
The flop comes out QhTh4d. You check your set because you know that a continuation bet is likely from a winning regular. To your surprise he checks back. This eliminates very strong hands, because you give your opponent credit for knowing not to slowplay on a draw heavy board.This leaves the possibility of either a very weak hand that is not going to put any more chips in the pot (although usually people make continuation bets on the flop with these hands), or most likely, a middle strength hand, such as 99, AT or JTs. A hand of this strength is trying to get to showdown as cheaply as possible.
The turn is a 3d, making the board QhTh4d3d. Your opponent is very unlikely to bet because he has a hand that will not get called by worse hands nor will fold out better hands. This means you need to do the betting, and hope to get value on both the turn and river. You bet 3/4 pot on the turn and he flat calls. This definitely eliminates any sort of weak hand, and fits in with the notion that he has a mediocre hand that is too strong to fold, but is not worth very much otherwise.
The river comes out as an Ad, making the final board QhTh4d3dAd. Hoping to get a crying call from a middle pair or hoping that he now has two pair with AT, you bet 3/4 of the pot again. To your surprise, he raises! What is an accurate range for this player?
An accurate range for your opponent is JdTd, Td9d, maybe QdJd or KdTd. Why? After the flat call on the turn, you narrowed his range down to mid pair hands looking to get to showdown. Based off your history with your opponent you don't think he is terribly tricky and therefore isn't bluffing a significant percentage of the time. So, what strong hands can he have on the river? Only a backdoor flush or AT makes sense, and AT isn't strong enough to raise with. Range finding will never be perfect, but even in a situation like this where you don't know for sure what the range is, you can be very certain that he has a flush and you can comfortably fold your set.
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