In movies and on television there have been countless poker scenes that show two players staring each other down while one of them picks up some clue about the hand the other player is holding and uses that clue to make a big dramatic play that turns the tide of the game. In real life, no-limit hold’em poker doesn’t usually work like that. Physical tells are an afterthought and the ideas of deducing and manipulating hand ranges rule most successful players’ hand-reading skills. A key exercise in being able to deal with hand ranges in poker is to follow the ranges of several players through various no-limit hold’em hands at each step in the betting. Here we’re going to look at how to perform this exercise and look at what it can do to improve your hand-reading abilities, and therefore your profits, in Texas hold’em.
Suppose in a 9-handed full ring no-limit hold’em game with $0.50/1 blinds and $100 starting stacks, a tight player in early position open raises to $4 and it folds to a somewhat loose and passive player on the button who calls. The blinds fold, and they see a flop heads-up. The flop pot is $9.50 and there is $96 left behind in each player’s stack. At this point in the hand before the flop is dealt, each player has a possible range, and to get better at hand reading, you should be able to point out what that range is. The early position player’s range is probably something like Ace-King, Ace-Queen, pocket pairs Seven-Seven and up, and maybe some big suited-connectors like Jack-Ten suited or King-Queen suited. The button’s range consists mostly of small-medium pocket pairs, say pocket Twos up through pocket Jacks, some small-medium suited connectors, suited broadway hands like King-Jack suited, and big off-suit broadways like Ace-King and Ace-Queen.
With those baseline ranges established, the flop comes King Eight Five with two hearts. The early position player makes a continuation bet of $7. At this point in the hand, his range is probably Ace-King, Ace-Queen, King-Queen suited, pocket Aces, pocket Kings, pocket Eights, and pocket Queens. The other hands in his range he probably wouldn’t bet on this flop. The button calls the flop bet. This means his range is probably flush draws, Ace-King, King-Queen suited, King-Jack suited, King-Ten suited, second pair, or an open-ended straight draw with Seven-Six suited.
The turn pot is $23.50, and the turn card makes the board King Eight Five Four with the Four on the turn completing the possible flush draw. The early position player checks, which he would do with most of his range since both the possible flush and straight draws came in, and the loose-passive button makes a bet of $20. Because he’s so passive, his range at this point will be fairly strong since he’s making such a committing bet here on this super dangerous board. He probably has a flush or a straight, and the early position player saves himself some money by folding.
This may seem tedious to a lot of people, but this is the type of hand range work that is required to become exceptional at hand-reading in no-limit hold’em. If you put your opponents on ranges at every step of the way in every hand you play, then you’ll quickly begin to increase your profits as you make more good call-downs and more tough folds.