Putting Your Opponent On A Hand Range

Have you ever gotten to the river without the slightest clue as to what your opponent is holding? If so, then you could definitely benefit by learning how to put your opponents on a range of hands. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, putting players on a range simply means narrowing down the cards that your opponent(s) could be holding. With that definition out of the way, let’s get into the specifics for how you can develop a better idea as to what cards your opponents have.

Not An Exact Science

The first thing you need to understand about putting an opponent on a range is that the process isn’t an exact science. Now you’ll sometimes hear players make bold statements like, “I guessed he had AK, and I was right!” Of course, they’re not telling you about the 200 times before that when they guessed wrong. In short, it’s impossible to consistently guess the exact cards that your opponents are holding.

Instead, you need to focus on exactly what putting an opponent on a range implies - a.k.a. making an educated guess about their cards. So instead of trying to figure out if somebody has AK, you should be deciding if they’re holding AK-AT or KQ-KT. The obvious purpose behind doing this is that you want to find out if your hand is capable of beating their range of hands. If so, then you can call or bet with more confidence.

Gathering Information

Much like how it’s impossible to consistently know the exact cards your opponent is holding, it’s also impossible to find out an opponent’s range right away. Instead, deciphering ranges is a process that starts pre-flop, and continues until the showdown (if you play this far).

What this means is that you need to be looking at your opponents’ betting patterns and table position from the outset of the hand. Unfortunately, these are about the only two things you have to go off of in the beginning of a hand, but opponents’ ranges become a lot clearer after the flop. Once the flop is dealt, you have more cards to look at, which goes a long way to helping you define an opponent’s range. By the river, you should have a good idea as to what range of hands your opponent could be holding.

Example Of Putting An Opponent On A Range

Perhaps the best way to illustrate how defining a range works is by showing an example. To set this example up, let’s say that you are playing in a shorthanded $2/$4 NL Hold’em game with five players, and average stack sizes are $300. You raise $16 from under the gun with AsKd and two players limp in - the two players to your left.

As mentioned before, you don’t get much information early on in a hand, and this is certainly a case of that. But what you can tell from the limping in is that these players aren’t holding premium cards like AA-JJ, AK because they would’ve re-raised you. At this point, with both players in late position, you can assume their ranges are the following:

KT(suited), K9(suited)

This is obviously a lot of cards to think about, but it’s the best you can do given the circumstances. Luckily, things get better after the flop, which is revealed to be 9h-8s-4h.

Seeing this weak flop, you put out a $30 raise, which draws a call from the player to your left and a fold from the button. While the call from the player acting immediately after you doesn’t exactly narrow the range down to three or four cards, it does give you a better picture as to what they’re holding.

At this point, you can throw out overcards and missed non-suited connectors (AQ-AT, KQ, KJ, QJ) since your opponent likely would’ve folded those after this flop. You can also eliminate the pairs (TT-44) because your opponent would probably raise with a set or top pair on this flop, or fold with second or third pair. Judging from the flop where both straight and flush possibilities exist, you’re looking at a range like this:

KhTh, Kh9h

By now, you’ve got a good idea that your opponent is holding suited connectors, Ax suited, or even JT. The turn is a Qh, making the board 9h-8s-4h-Qh; not wanting to show weakness, you bet out another $30, while your opponent re-raises you $70.

From all of the information you’ve gained at this point, your opponent’s range is still pretty big following the re-raise. You can throw out JT, but other than that, it’s likely they still have the following suited cards and suited connectors:

KhTh, Kh9h

There’s always the possibility that your opponent is re-raising on a bluff, but from everything you’ve seen regarding their betting pattern and the board, it’s safe to assume that they hit a flush. Plus, seeing as how the board still hasn’t helped you, your best option here is to fold.

Benefits Of Tracking Opponents

If you were oblivious to your opponent throughout the previous hand, you might have called the re-raise to bluff this player. Luckily, you had enough information on them to make an informed decision, and avoid donating any more money. By tracking opponents and their betting patterns throughout the entire hand, you have a good indication as to what they’ve got.

Will you always be right when using this information to put your opponent on a range? Certainly not, because sometimes you’ll leave out a hand or two, and other times you’ll get bluffed. But at least you’ll have enough info to make an educated guess on whether to raise, re-raise, call or fold. And best of all, you won’t be forced to take stabs in the dark when you get to the showdown.