What if you didn’t just think about what range your opponents hold, but how you could manipulate that range? Most players never get this far in their understanding of the game, but I’ve talked to quite a few advanced players, and they all agree that this concept, something I call “ranging”, is important to maximizing your win rate. Searching for other writing on the topic was tough because no other authors seem to have tackled it and only a few online posts even mentioned it.
The basic idea is that in certain situations you can actually make certain ranges fold and other ranges call, choosing which types of hands are in the pot with you. If you think about that for a second, it doesn’t sound so complicated, but putting it into practice takes a lot of thought and it’s easy to make mistakes attempting to manipulate ranges.
Let’s look at a couple hand examples that illustrate how ranging works.
Recently, I was playing at a $1/$3 No Limit Hold’em table where only one or two players knew who I was. I was just a random player to most of the table, so I was able to make some plays that wouldn’t usually work for me. The table was very soft, so I limped with T 9 under the gun. An older player who had been tight and grumpy raised to $12 from middle position. I knew he had a big hand, so he would be easy to play against, and we also both had over $500, so I didn’t mind this raise at all.
There was also a drunk at the table, playing every pot, rarely folding, and only betting big or raising if he actually had a hand. The drunk called on the button, which also made me happy. If I hit my hand, one of these guys was going to pay me off!
The flop was T 8 3, not great for my hand, but not terrible. I was behind a possible overpair from Mr. Grumpy, but I had two pair and trip outs as well as backdoor straight and flush outs, and we were deep stacked. I might also have the best hand if he held ace-king or ace-queen. I bet $20 because Mr. Grumpy would probably reveal his hand by either his action, or his physical reactions and demeanor when facing my lead.
He did reveal his hand by immediately raising to $50. Definitely an overpair. The drunk called, and since he didn’t raise, I knew he didn’t have a big hand, probably a ten or an eight with another small card. I had the drunk beat, but was definitely behind Grumpy’s overpair. Given the pot odds, and the possibility we’ll see develop on the turn, I called the extra $30 easily.
The turn was the 4, which is a pretty good card for me. I would have also liked a ten, a nine, a seven, a jack, or an ace. The ace would have given me a chance to bluff Grumpy off his overpair and make the drunk fold before he had a chance to make two pair, but the 4 was just fine. A flush draw was more than good enough for me to make a ranging play here, and even the four of diamonds would have been enough given the ranges my opponents probably held. I checked.
Mr. Grumpy bet $110 into a pot that was over $200 at this point, but he had $350 behind. The drunk called, further indicating that he had a single pair and was just too clueless to fold it. I raised all-in. Think about why for a second. I knew the drunk was never going to fold, and I knew grumpy held an overpair, so how can I risk all those chips when I am a 4 to 1 dog against an overpair?
Because Grumpy is going to fold. Almost always. He hates his overpair when there is this much action. When I check raise all-in, and there is still a player to act behind him, he figures one of us has to have him beat. From his perspective, he is a solid player and because of that he doesn’t give away his whole stack when someone flops two pair or a set against him. A lead-call and then a check-raise on this board has to be a monster, probably a set of nines or tens.
And the drunk? I know he’s going to call. He hadn’t folded a pair in two hours. He is calling with three outs. I had the chance to fold out the hand that was ahead and get the hand that was drawing thin against me to call off all of his chips. The problem was that we were all-in, meaning I have to show my hand to win. A brick hit the river and I was first to show, rolling over my top pair and pleased with myself that I was winning a $500 pot with the only betting line that gives me a chance to win it.
The drunk looked at my hand, showed an eight, and folded. Grumpy, predictably, lost his mind. I got the old standard speech, one that I don’t get often in Minnesota these days. You know the one, it starts with “Keep it up buddy,” and never seem to end. Grumpy said that he folded queens, and I am absolutely certain that he was telling the truth. He ranted for ten minutes about what an idiot I was. He even asked me to explain the hand, but I just looked ashamed of myself and acted like the bad player that the table thought I was.
Welcome to ranging. Once you can put opponents on ranges accurately, you can use those ranges for a lot more than deciding whether you are ahead or behind, or even whether you should bluff. You can actually manipulate what ranges you are playing against.
Another similar example happened in Wisconsin a while back. I was dealt a pair of jacks my first hand at the table, and after five people limped for $2, I raised to $20. I got five callers. I know, the game was great. The flop was K 4 3, not exactly a bingo flop, but I still had a chance to win the pot. I checked the flop, because I didn’t think I could value bet and didn’t see a reason to bluff with the best hand if no one had a king. I also knew that I could make some very interesting plays on the turn if I checked behind and got some information from the other players’ reaction to it when they had a chance to act before me on the turn.
The turn was the 3, pairing the board but probably not hitting any of my opponents. The first player checked, and the second to act bet $50 into a $120 pot. The next player called, and the others folded. Now, what do they have?
The bettor probably has a weak king. Ace-king probably shows some aggression preflop, so a weaker king is likely, and since the king is a heart, a king with a flush draw is not possible. The second player just calling indicates a draw most of the time, and hearts are the most likely draw in this spot.
Now, what do I do about it? I raise.
Like the first hand, I am pretty sure that I can get the bettor to fold, and if I can fold out the hand that beats me, while keeping the draw in the pot, I can turn my jacks into a winner when the flush draw misses. If both players happen to have a king, then I probably knock them both out since my line of checking the flop after a preflop raise, and then raising the turn, looks like a monster.
Sometimes I run into a monster in this spot. The first bettor may have a set, but the caller almost never does. On a draw-heavy board, sets tend to play fast to avoid giving away free cards, so the caller almost never has a big made hand here, and in most cases the bettor doesn’t either after he limp-calls preflop. If he has four full of threes then I fold to his all-in raise, but that is going to be rare.
Sure enough, the bettor folds and the caller calls again. The river was a brick, we both checked, and my jacks won the pot. The original bettor wasn’t angry like Mr. Grumpy, but he claimed to have folded king-jack. Ranging turned a $20 loss into a $200 win.
Ranging can also work with made hands. This hand, played by my pal Tony O, illustrates the point beautifully.
The pot was only $10 in a $1/$2 blinds game, and all five players had checked the flop and the turn on a board of J 3 2 8 4 when the big blind bet $4. This usually indicates that the bettor spiked a pair on the river, and Tony knew this player and knew that this was almost certainly the case. He also held 8-6, and was usually winning the pot. When he saw a player behind him reaching for chips to call, he knew it was time for some ranging.
Tony raised to $14, enough to fold out any single pair hands that could possibly have checked the first two streets. Tony thought the player reaching for chips probably had an eight as well, and his kicker was no good, so he had to raise thateight out of the pot. It worked, the player folded instead of calling, the original bettor called and showed ace-four, and Tony won the pot while the player who folded behind him looked unhappy about his fold.
The great thing about all of these plays is that they now only make you money, but they are beyond most players understanding of the game and will usually leave you with a very soft table image if the players don’t already know you well.
I’ve also made plays like this in tournaments, at times when I had an ace-high flush draw and was able to fold out made hands and keep a lower flush draw in the pot, and even preflop situations where I want to isolate a bad player and keep the stronger players out. Ranging is valuable stuff, just be careful–If you don’t know what you are doing this concept can get you in real trouble. Know your opponents well and think in terms of types of ranges and with a little practice you can be the donkey who got lucky and gets the lecture while you stack chips.
Latest posts by Chris Wallace (see all)
- ‘Ranging’ For Calls and Folds Against All Types of Players - July 2, 2015
- An Open Letter to the Poker Tournament Directors Association - June 25, 2015
- Getting a Patch Deal is Really Easy: Just Work Your Ass Off - May 5, 2015
- How Much of Poker is Luck? - March 31, 2015
- Famous Quotes For a Poker Player To Live By - March 2, 2015