Strategy Snacks #4 - Check the Edge of Your Ranges

Strategy Snacks #4 – Check the Edge of Your Ranges

In the last strategy snack, I talked about how to think about ranges, chipping away at them rather than trying to build them up. Finding accurate ranges for your opponents is a big key to eventually attacking those ranges and maximizing your profit. This week I think we should talk about how to make sure those ranges are accurate. 

Strategy Snacks Dog

So hungry… (Image: Chris Wallace)

I find that my job as a poker coach is increasingly focused on the mental game. Simple strategy, and even more complex stuff, is available to serious players through training sites and books in nearly unlimited quantities these days. But applying that knowledge in the heat of the moment can be very challenging. And after a little work on strategy, we invariably end up talking about the mental game and how to make the right play when the time comes. 

One of the easiest ways to make sure that tilt or bias doesn’t creep into your game is by simply checking the edges of your ranges. Let me explain with an example I often give my students. Follow along and think about how you would assess this situation. 

You have A♣ 8♠ in the small blind with 40 big blinds. A strong player with a bigger stack raises to two-and-a-half big blinds from the button. The big blind has a fairly large stack as well and we’re in the middle portion of a $1K buy-in tournament. 

Now, take a second to think about this because your opponent’s range and how the hand will play out is important here. What do you think the button’s range is? 

Woman looking suspicious at a poker player

Always be suspicious… (Image: Chris Wallace)

Did you assume that the button has a range that includes big broadway hands, pairs, and suited aces? Anything else? 

Many of my students assess his range exactly like this in this spot because I have set them up in a situation where they really don’t want to play a weak offsuit ace out of position against a strong player. But I didn’t ask if they wanted to play the hand, I just asked about the opponent’s range.

I set them up with lots of mental hurdles, things that will affect how they view their opponent’s range to make it much tighter, and it works most of the time; they usually get it badly wrong. And we face those kinds of challenges constantly at the table. There are always a few things that will change how you approach a hand and make it harder to come up with unbiased ranges. 

While we could talk for days about how to get rid of cognitive bias in your game, this is a strategy snack, not a seven-course meal with a wine pairing and dessert. So I’ll give you the one simple tip that helps you get around this problem most of the time. 

You start with chopping the junk out of the range, but then you must check the edges and make sure that they are accurate. To do this, you have to look at the other side of that range, the hands that you assume they don’t have. 

In this case, if we start with a range that only includes bigger aces and suited aces, we must assume a strong player would fold a small offsuit ace in an unopened pot on the button with a big stack. That doesn’t seem right, so we can add all the aces back into the range. We would also have to assume that they would fold hands like J♠ 7♠ or 7-8o, which are probably raising hands for a strong player in this situation most of the time. Would they ever fold a suited queen in this spot? Would you? 

Now go back and think about all the hands you are assuming they will fold. That’s how you check the edges of your range. If you think an opponent will only raise A♠ 8♠ or better in middle-position, then would they limp or fold with A♠ 7♠?

This process of looking at first the hands they will hold, and then the best hands they won’t have, helps us to check our initial assumptions and prevent much of that bias that can creep in and mess up our logical thinking. And that’s how we keep food on the table. Which reminds me, I have to go check on the chicken. Enjoy your snack, but don’t spoil your dinner.  

Written by
Chris Wallace
Professional poker player, HORSE world champion, author.

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