Hand Reading With Percentages

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Not All Percentages Are Created Equal

Some people get caught up on the idea of trying to figure out what five percent of hands means or what 10 percent of hands means in terms of specific ranges. The problem with that is that five percent of hands in one situation can be a completely different five percent of hands in another situation. This is why you have to look at the context of how a range was conceived instead of just relying on pure numbers. A lot of this also has to do with interpreting statistics on your HUD in context post-flop as well.

Many people look at a number like VPIP and say “well, this person has a 22% VPIP, so if they call my open-raise they must have 22% of hands”. First, this is incredibly wrong and the stat you’d need to use is Call Preflop 2Bet. Say their Call Preflop 2Bet is 9%. You don’t open Equilab, drag the bar to 9%, and now you know villain’s range. Instead, you need to realize that villain would 3bet some of those hands like AA, KK, AK, etc. So you’d remove those from the range, add in some extra hands like either weaker broadways like ATs or drawy hands like suited connectors or maybe strong suited gappers like J9s.

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A 9% range of hands is NOT the same in all situations. Not even close.

Pre-Flop Examples

For example, suppose you think someone is cold calling with about 8% of hands in some situation. That eight percent of hands will be different than the range they might have if they were to 3-bet eight percent of hands as well. Generally speaking, you can break these ranges up based on whether they are capped (like with calling ranges), uncapped (like with 3-betting ranges), polarized (a lot of 3-betting ranges), or depolarized (a lot of open-raising ranges). All of these types of factors can change which specific range you’re dealing with if you’re looking at a certain percentage.

When in doubt, ask yourself what’s the best and worst part of each range. There are 5 key parts of every range of hands:

  1. Pocket Pairs
  2. Double Broadway Hands
  3. Suited Connectors
  4. Cusp Hands
  5. Trash

When a player just calls an open-raise they likely call with 22 but don’t call with AA. When a player 3bets they likely 3bet AK but not KJs. Once you come up with the top and bottom of each range section it becomes much easier to draw up an accurate range of hands for your opponent.

Post-Flop Context

A similar type of thing happens with post-flop play. Suppose you have an opponent that makes a continuation bet 95 percent of the time. A lot of people would jump to the conclusion that this opponent is bluffing a whole, whole lot. The problem with this conclusion is that it ignores context. In this case, the context is what kind of range is the opponent making it to the flop with as the pre-flop aggressor. If a player is only playing five percent of hands pre-flop, for example, then that 95 percent c-betting percentage isn’t going to mean much bluffing is going on. If the player is 35/28 in a six-max game, however, that means a ton of bluffing is happening.

Postflop, percentages are just frequencies and then we use those frequencies to estimate their range (and then we drill down deeper to figure out the density of that range). For instance, say your opponent raised preflop with 15% of hands and you called with 99. The flop comes K32 rainbow. If villain CBs 70% of the time think about how many weak hands have to be in there. Only 30% of his preflop range is TP+ which means over half of his CB range has to be made up of things like second pair and/or weak hands like varying Ax.

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Understanding how frequencies translate into real ranges is a vital part of hand reading and being able to appropriately assign a range on the flop, turn, or river. And the more you practice this the easier it becomes to estimate in real-time.

The Key Lesson

The key thing to remember for this lesson is that you can’t just lump two ranges in with each other because they share a percentage. Five percent of hands in one situation can be a completely separate range as five percent of hands in another spot, so make sure you think through what you’re doing with these numbers. Consider the context of how villain would create their range of hands and remember that passive actions and aggressive actions usually create very different looking shapes – especially when it comes to the big monster starting hands!


This is just one aspect of hand reading. If you want to learn even more about putting players on correct ranges and how to become a hand reading ninja – check out The Hand Reading Lab today and start assigning ranges with razor-like precision…

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SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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