If you play poker online and are not yet familiar with the term “ranges”, then stick around – your ROI could be about to get a significant boost! In poker, your range refers to every hand that you might be holding – either from your point of view, or your opponents – given your previous actions at the table. For example, if you have been folding 90% of your hands, your opponent may assume that you are playing TT-AA only (a pair of tens or higher).
It’s easy to get too wrapped up in what hand you actually have, and indeed, that strategy may even seem to make sense when you first begin to play the game. If you want to take your game to the next level, you need to begin to think differently. If you consider your entire range instead of just the two cards in your hand, you may realize that your opponent is going to struggle to bet back against you, and you may be able to collect many more pots than you ever could be focusing solely on your holdings.
And it’s not just your own range which matters – it’s important to consider your opponent’s range as well.
Equity refers to the share of the pot that is yours based on the possibility that you might win it at a particular point in time. The easiest way to think of this is your odds of winning the hand at any given moment. When playing Texas Holdem, the amount of equity you have in a hand should dictate the size of your bets – the more equity you have, the more often you should be betting. If your equity is lower, you are much more likely to check.
Every possible combination of cards that you can have has a specific amount of equity against your opponent’s range. You should always aim to play a range that has a high level of equity against your opponent’s – for example, if your opponent is playing very tight, you will need to tighten up as well. At the same time, you want to ensure that you are playing a few more hands than your opponent – make them think you are playing tight also, and you may be able to convince them to fold when your holdings are not as strong as you are representing.
And here’s where things really start to become complicated – it’s not enough to only consider equity when deciding what action to take at a given time in a pot. Polarity refers to the difference in the top end of yours and your opponent’s ranges – say, the top 25% of hands you are willing to play. That percentage is not set in stone, of course, and some players will be much looser with the hands they play than others.
If you have a polarity advantage, it means that you have strong hands with a range advantage more often than your opponent. This means that the hands at the top of your range are significantly stronger than those in your opponent’s range. You may be thinking: “but I have no control over the cards that I receive!” – but this is exactly what makes polarity so important.
The wider your range, the weaker the top section of your range will end up being against that of your opponents. If you only play pocket Aces and Kings, you can be certain of having a higher polarity than your opponent – but you would almost certainly be blinded out long before you collected enough pots to take the lead!
Improving Your Preflop Ranges
If this is all sounding a little bit too complicated, don’t worry – help is at hand. Software tools such as Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker make it simple to keep track of your hands. These packages will even draw up useful equity and polarity graphs for you, making the concepts much simpler to understand.
The way that they do this is by keeping track of every hand that you play online and storing the results in a local database so that you can replay your sessions afterwards. You can even filter the data for specific situations, allowing you to tune up your game in areas where you are currently struggling.
Simply talking with other players or using online tutorials and trainers is another great way to learn how to improve your range play in Texas Hold’em. The key thing to remember is to never play just with the cards you are holding – consider what range of hands your opponent may be holding, and what range your opponent has likely put you on given your previous actions at the table.
By playing using ranges in combination with the current board, you are guaranteed to put your opponent in a difficult spot more often, and this is sure to have a positive correlation with your win rate.