The ability to identify and read poker ranges is one of the most important skills a player can have.
Poker is a game of incomplete information and we will almost never know exactly which two hole cards our opponent has. But with logical deduction and strong technical knowledge, we can build our opponent’s range and use that information to make even more profitable plays.
What Is A Poker Range?
A range is a collection of all the possible hands a player can have right this moment. Ranges exist both preflop and postflop, and can vary widely since tight players will have fewer hands in their range and looser players will have many starting hands in their range.
You always begin by building your opponent’s range preflop and you continue to refine that range as they take action throughout the hand.
To learn more, either continue reading or push play and watch my free in-depth video first:
The 4 Forms Of Poker Ranges
There are 4 main ways that we use to discuss poker ranges.
They are interchangeable and in time your goal is to visualize them all in parallel. Meaning if you see just a range matrix, you should know roughly how many combos are in it. If you see a %-form, you should have an idea of what that looks like visually.
So here are the ways we talk about ranges…
The Poker Hand Matrix
You’ve likely seen the 13 by 13 matrix before. This matrix lists out all 169 possible starting hands (13×13 = 169) and is the universal way that poker players visualize ranges.
The matrix displays every pocket pair along the diagonal, every suited combo is above the diagonal, and all unsuited combos below the diagonal.
All poker software that utilizes the matrix will have different color-coding systems, but selected hands are colored in a way that makes them stand out from unselected hands.
Percentage Form (%-Form)
The percentage form of a range tells you what percentage of all possible starting hands are currently selected. So if you select no hands, you would have 0%. If you selected every hand, you would have 100%.
When suits are considered, those 169 possible starting hands become 1,326 unique combos. So if you wanted to figure out the %-form of pocket Aces, there are 6 combos which means the percentage form for AA would be .45%.
Percentage form is incredibly useful when syncing your opponent’s preflop frequencies with an actual range of hands. If you know your opponent open-raises preflop 15% of the time, you can start by building the top-15% of hands to estimate their range.
Combos count how many ways a player can make specific hands. Newer players may think there is just one combo of AK, but there are actually 16 combos of Ace King with 4 of them being suited and 12 of them being unsuited.
As a helpful hint, remember that the 169 starting hands give us 1,326 unique combos. So to quickly compare %-form and combos, remember this simple chart:
Keep in mind that combos can be impacted by your hole cards, commonly referred to as blockers. For more information on this, read my complete guide on counting combos & blockers in poker.
The range strand is a string of text that lists all of the selected hands.
This is typically an ugly line of text, but it can easily be exported from and imported into your poker software of choice.
What Does 22+ or AQ+ Mean?
Range strands can also be discussed verbally or shared in forum posts, and there is a common shorthand that players use to quickly talk about ranges.
If you see someone write “JJ+”, this is a range strand that says “select pocket Jacks and all pocket pairs above it” so JJ, QQ, KK, and AA. The plus sign after a starting hand tells you to include all similar hands that are higher than it.
- 22+ means you should include all pocket pairs (22, 33, 44…QQ, KK, AA)
- 98s+ means you should include suited connectors 98s and higher (so 98s, T9s, etc.)
- AQ+ doesn’t have an “s” (suited) or “o” (offsuit) qualifier, so you would include all versions of AQ and also AK.
And so on…
How To Calculate Ranges
The range you assign is a bi-product of who your opponent is, what action they are taking, where they are making that action, and how they might craft that specific range.
The best way to calculate ranges is to determine how many hands they are likely playing in a given situation. This is where you need to pay attention to their frequencies and how tight or loose they would be in a specific spot.
For example, a tight player is going to be tight from early position and open-raise few hands first to act. This is an example of a small frequency, and as we learned from the percentage form earlier, a low frequency = low %-form = not many hands included in that range.
On the other hand, a LAG that open-raises on the button, is typically going to raise with many hands and that higher frequency equals a higher %-form. So while a tight player won’t open-raise Q♠T♦ from UTG, a LAG will gladly open-raise that hand on the button.
For building ranges, I created a simple system with the acronym DEAF:
- D: Define the action your opponent is making
- E: Estimate their frequency
- A: Axe out any hands that wouldn’t be included
- F: Factors that would influence their range
You first define their action since players use different hands when being passive vs. aggressive (we’ll discuss this later in the forking section). Estimate their frequency and how often they would take this action and what the subsequently looks like as a visual range. Then axe out any hands that would get played differently. And finally, consider if there are any factors at play that would change their range (such as having fish behind them preflop or not closing action postflop).
If you aren’t sure where to begin in your next poker study session, start by listing out your open-raising range from each position preflop. Then jot down the %-form, range strand, and number of combos for each of them.
This isn’t to say that every opponent will use the same ranges you do – but you can now say “I raise this range here, and players who are like me are likely close to this range. Players who are tighter than me likely have a few less hands than my range here. Players who are looser than me likely have a few extra hands than my range here.”
And that’s a starting point that is super useful!
How To Use Ranges
Once you determine your opponent’s range, the next step is to use those ranges to craft your actual line. There is a ton of nuance to doing this well, but here are the main considerations I make:
Are there “too many” hands in their range? Looser players tend to have tons of hands in their range that likely shouldn’t be there.
Will those extra hands fold to aggression? If those extra hands are likely to fold if they face a raise or re-raise, you are massively incentivized to run bluffs based upon simple math against them often.
Will those extra hands continue to aggression? If they refuse to fold those extra hands, focus on getting thinner value since they will continue onward with weak-marginal hands. More sophisticated players should also consider the effect of multi-street bluffing.
In smaller poker games, players tend to include far too many hands into their preflop ranges. This gives you ample opportunity to find bluff 3bets, +EV preflop calls, and to be proactive in your postflop line creation.
Memorize These 5 Poker Ranges
To make your life easier, here are 5 preflop poker ranges that you need to memorize. They are often the starting point to estimating ranges on the fly and will help you gauge how many hands (and what kind of hands) relate to different frequencies.
- 2.5%: QQ+/AK
- 5%: TT+/AQ+
- 10%: 44+/AJ+/KQ/KJs
- 20%: 22+/ATB/54s+
- 33%: 22+/ATB/A2s+/A7o+/T9+/43s+/53s+/J8s+/K8s
By memorizing these ranges, you can quickly deduce a 17% preflop calling range (likely a 20% range minus the QQ+/AK 2.5% range). You can deduce a 30% preflop open-raising range by removing a few hands from that 33% range. Etc.
The more you practice with poker ranges, the easier it is to estimate and visualize them at the tables. It takes time and effort, but it pays off massively when you can deduce your opponent’s range far better than they can deduce yours.
Also, remember that knowing what’s included in the top-X% of hands can help you remove hands that you might panic about later. A player that open-raises 15% of hands almost certainly is not going to have Q6s in their preflop range, so we have many less flush combos to panic about on suited boards.
Same thing with fearing two pair combos on Q62!
Learn The Common Preflop Raising Ranges
What are the most common preflop raising ranges? Here are 6 of the most popular preflop opening ranges that your opponents tend to use.
Who raises with a top-9% preflop range? Tighter players tend to open-raise this from early position, especially UTG and UTG+1 in full ring games. It’s rare to find a 6max player who is this tight.
22+, ATs+, KJs+, QJs, JTs, T9s, 98s, 87s, 76s, 65s, AJo+, KJo+, QJo
Who raises with a 15% preflop range? This is a more common open-raising range for TAG players in middle position (full ring) and early-middle position in 6max games.
22+, ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, J9s+, T8s+, 98s, 87s, 76s, 65s, 54s, ATo+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo
Who raises with a 20% preflop range? This is a typical range as players get closer to the HJ and CO, regardless of them playing full ring or 6max. Notice that every starting hand that has two Broadway cards (Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace) is included here, even the offsuit combinations.
Who raises with a 25% preflop range? This range includes a few more speculative hands than the previous one (including A9o, higher suited gappers like T8s, and even T9o), and is commonly used around the cutoff. LAGs may raise with this sort of range starting in middle position.
Who raises with a 35% preflop range? This is a common range that players use when stealing from the button. Looser players steal with this sort of range from the CO as well, and tighter players may cap their open-raising range from the SB with this range.
Who raises with a 50% preflop range? This is a more typical range that players open-raise with from the SB since there is only one player left to pick up the pot preflop. Looser players steal with this sort of range from the button as well.
Review these ranges from time to time to keep them fresh in your mind. And if you want my precise methodology for building open-raising ranges, watch this video:
Notice the differences in these ranges as that percentage form continues to rise. The 9% range has so few combos, and most of them are very strong starting hands. But as we get closer to 50% of hands, we see that every hand with an Ace is included, lots of suited gappers, and even weak hands like Q7s and K6o.
If your opponent is open-raising even more hands, say 75%, consider how many weak hands are included in that range. Would they fold many of those weak combos to a 3bet? Would they make tons of c-betting mistakes if you call them preflop and go to a flop?
Answering those questions is how you start turning a range into an actual line that nets you profit.
Standard Preflop Calling Ranges
Preflop calling ranges are a bit different.
When players are facing a preflop raise, they have three options: fold, call, and re-raise. And it’s incredibly important that you remember to remove the hands a player would re-raise with when building their preflop calling range.
So here are 5 of the most common preflop calling ranges:
Who calls with an 8% range? This is a common range that tighter players use to call preflop raises when they 3bet a predictable QQ+/AK. Most tight players use a range like this when calling raises in early and middle position.
Who calls with a 13% range? This is a typical range that players call with between middle position and the CO. Notice the inclusion of suited connectors and stronger double Broadway hands, minus the QQ+/AK that they would 3bet with.
Who calls with a 16% range? Looser players will call with this range from most positions, and tighter players like this kind of range near the CO when there is a raiser and no other callers. Notice the 3betting range has been widened which is why JJ+/AQ+ is now removed and replaced by hands like J9s and KTs.
Who calls with a 22% range? This is a common range from late position and the blinds. Notice the number of drawing hands included here from A2s to 75s, giving this range lots of possible implied odds in a multiway pot.
Who calls with a 30% range? Looser players will call with this range from late position or when closing action in the blinds. Players that call with this range in early or middle position tend to be fishy since this is a LOT of hands to call with preflop and would mean this person is giving raise action almost 1/3 of the time preflop.
The vital part when building a player’s preflop calling range is considering how wide they would re-raise. Are hands like QQ, TT, and AQ likely to get called or re-raised? For more on how I narrow in on calling ranges, watch this quick video:
Remember these calling ranges and you’ll have a huge leg up when saying “I think this player calls a preflop raise about 10% of the time here” and being able to visualize exactly what that might look like.
Ranges That Fork & Split
Whenever you are building ranges, consider if the range forks or splits. A range fork is when a range branches into different sub-ranges.
Think about when a player faces a preflop raise. They can either fold, call, or re-raise – meaning their range has three different forks: all of the hands that would fold, all of the hands that would call, and all of the hands that would re-raise.
One way to use this to your advantage is when you say “this player tends to continue against preflop raises about 20% of the time here. They also 3bet the top-4% of hands.”
So when you raise, they fork their range into hands that would fold and hands that would continue. And of the 20% of hands that would continue, get forked into 4% of hands that would 3bet and the remaining 16% of hands that would just call.
This same concept applies postflop too, and can really help you narrow down how strong certain ranges are. For instance, if they are facing a cbet and would always raise with monster hands and call with marginal hands, then you have less to panic about when they just call your cbet.
With GTO (game theory optimal) play and solvers being all the rage, it’s important to understand what these ranges actually mean.
A GTO solver, like GTO+ or Pio, uses a set of constraints (such as initial ranges, sizing strategies, and precision) and then outputs the exact ranges and frequencies that all players in the hand should be using. This demands that the constraints used when building the tree are correct, otherwise the solver output becomes unreliable.
And building your strategy on unreliable ranges is a recipe for disaster.
Using a solver for a river decision is simple since there are only a few branches left to explore. But each earlier street adds another layer of complication since there are tons of extra branches added. Meaning preflop ranges are the most expensive to run, since the solving computer needs to analyze every single possible flop, every possible turn card, etc.
If you’re interested in seeing what a GTO range looks like for a “simple” spot like facing a 3bet when OOP preflop, watch this video and see for yourself.
How To Balance Your Poker Range
The concept of balancing your poker range means that you have a proper ratio of bluff and value hands. This is oftentimes wrapped around a discussion of GTO and indifference points, and is highlighted in a simple example.
Say you are on the river with a pot-sized bet remaining, and you opt to go all-in. What is a perfectly balanced range here? Well, your opponent would be getting 2:1 on a call, so if you have 2 value hands for every 1 bluff in your shoving range, you are perfectly balanced. Your opponent couldn’t add more hero calls or make more hero folds and expect to make any additional money.
But the first question should really be: is having a balanced range important? Push play on this video and we’ll break it down:
Are My Opponents Balancing Their Ranges?
If the question is “do my opponents have perfectly balanced ranges?” the answer is a very clear “no.” Having perfectly balanced ranges is nearly impossible for a player to implement, and as such, no human opponent you play against will be perfectly balanced.
That being said, better players are aware of both their range and their opponent’s range – and they are also more capable to deciding when to balance themselves.
But most of your opponents have very little idea how to balance. They don’t know which bluffs should be prioritized in their betting range, nor how many bluffs should be used.
So 95% of the time, your opponents are either
- Bluffing way too often, and thus unbalanced
- Bluffing too infrequently, and thus unbalanced
Both player types are easy to beat. Simply continue less often when the rare-bluffer fires, and continue more when the over-bluffer bets/raises.
Now these things can be situation-dependent, but just know with 100% confidence that your opponents at $1/$2 live and 25NL online are NOT very balanced in their ranges and overall strategy!
GTO vs. Exploitative Ranges
A GTO range comes from a solver (such as The GTO+ Bundle available at Red Chip Poker) and looks to employ pure balance across all bet/raises sizes and actions. It assumes that your opponent is going to do the same. And the solver output gives you exact ranges and frequencies to use.
Of course, our human brains cannot utilize pure GTO solutions since they are too complex. But exploitative ranges, those that attack a strategic weakness in your opponent, are much more usable.
If you aren’t sure when to consider using GTO instead of leaning toward an exploitative approach, I highly suggest watching this entire video.
Exploiting Your Opponent’s Poker Range
Once you’ve assigned your opponent’s range, the next step is to formulate a plan for exploiting their range. This is typically a process of deciding which action is best, which bet/raise size accomplishes your goal, and crafting how many bluffs you want to attack with.
In a simple example, say your opponent is an ABC poker player who gets to the turn with a lot of one-pair hands that are going to hate facing another bet on a scary turn card. All that means is that a bet from you is likely to generate a lot of folds. So instead of attempting to utilize a more balanced size + bluffing frequency, you can exploit them by throwing 100% of your bluffing combos into your betting range.
Does doing so make you exploitable? Yes. It’s incredibly easy to beat someone who bluffs way too often. However, the question also needs to be asked: “is my opponent likely to try and counter-exploit any gaping holes in my strategy?” If the answer to that question is “no”, then fire those bluffs with impunity and enjoy the outright +EV bluffing opportunity.
If you ever aren’t sure, you should focus on trying to be as balanced as possible. And this is where GTO solvers come into play. However, for 98% of players, this is less than ideal since there are large exploitative opportunities available in smaller poker games.
The methodology we’ve discussed so far applies to postflop ranges as well.
Build a solid range preflop, carry that over postflop, apply forks when appropriate, and craft your line around the range they likely have. Simple!
Of course, there are tons of factors that go into postflop ranges that massively impact how tight, wide, strong, and weak a player’s range gets. Things like being in vs. out of position, heads up vs. multiway pots, and static vs. dynamic boards to name a few.
Since postflop spots are so variable, here are a couple of in-depth examples where I breakdown the ranges I’m assigning postflop during a hand:
The biggest technical difference between preflop and postflop ranges is the way we talk about percentages. Preflop, the percentage form looks at how the selected hands compare to all possible starting hands.
But postflop, we use percentages to describe how often the range that got to this street does something. This is how you can end up with higher percentages postflop than you had preflop.
Improve Your Range Reading Skills
Like any poker skill, the best way to improve is to practice between sessions. With poker ranges, that means first working to understand how the 4 forms interrelate and building your intuition of them.
Next, you need to practice building and refining ranges. The more you train these skills between sessions, the better you’ll be able to utilize them during sessions.
When it comes to working on the technical aspects of ranges, I highly suggest completing my Poker Math & Preflop Workbook. Tons of the examples focus on combos, ranges, %-form, and put them to use in various spots like 3bets, squeezes, and even preflop all-ins.
The workbook also includes a complete answer key and the ability to quickly copy/paste ranges directly into your poker software of choice.
Either way, be sure to spend some time over the next few days practicing with your new range knowledge. If you have any questions, just tweet @SplitSuit and I’ll do my best to help.