Define your opponent’s range, then act accordingly at the poker table

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By Tristan “Cre8tive” Wade

I recently played the Borgata Winter Open’s main event. It was a slow-structured tournament with 75-minute blinds and a wide array of players. I got involved in a very interesting hand early in Day 1. We started with 30K chips. I had been fairly active and I’m sure I had a crazy image. I was min-raising blind under the gun, every time, for the first two levels. On this hand the blinds were 75-150.

I was in third position and raised to 400 with 6-6 and a stack of 35K. It folded to the player on the button (30K), who called. The small blind (45K) and big blind (50K) called as well. The button played solid until this hand and hadn’t gotten out of line post-flop. The small blind was one of the tighter players at the table but still active. The player in the big blind was the most active player at the table. He was a thinking player and capable of anything. At this point everyone’s range (different hands opponents are capable of having at any given time) is quite wide.

The flop came A-6-8 rainbow. I flopped bottom set on an uncoordinated board. The blinds checked to me and I bet 900 into a pot of 1,200. The button folded and the small blind called. The big blind then re-raised to 2,200. With what range of hands would the big blind raise here? His raise was fairly small and there were two people left in the pot. I eliminated bluffs from his range because he was giving both of us good odds to call. I also eliminated A-A from both players’ range because they would’ve three-bet preflop.

Therefore, the big blind must have a pretty strong hand such as AJ-AQ-A8-88. Since the big blind was fairly active and my image was a little nuts, I reraised him and made it 4,700, which was 2,500 more. I wanted to build the pot and allow him to make a mistake.
The small blind, who had called my initial bet on the flop, went into the tank. He thought for a little bit and then counted out chips for a raise. He decided to raise 4,800 on top of my 2,500 raise, making it 9,500. The big blind thought for a while and folded.

We were heads-up and I held the third nuts. I immediately ran through his range in my head. What was the small blind’s range? I had been given a lot of information on the flop. With all of the action in front of him, the small blind’s range was very polarized. He wasn’t the type of player who would be bluffing in this spot with 7-9 or another straight draw. He also wouldn’t play two pair (A6-A8-68) like that. The only hand that made sense in this player’s range was 8-8.

It’s not easy to fold a set. I had a crazy image. I’m a young Internet player. Nobody ever believes I have anything! I still had to follow through with the information I was given. I said: “You have to have 8-8 here. I don’t think you can have anything else,” and I folded. Once the hand was over the big blind asked if he had 6-6? The small blind said, “No. He was right,” and he pointed at me. He then turned over 8-8.

This is one example of being able to define your opponents’ range and then make the correct call or fold. Though I had been active and probably had a loose image, I still had to take into account the action in the hand and the opponent. To be successful in poker you have to be able to assign ranges to players, and constantly update that range on later streets. Take the information that’s given to you and eliminate hands your opponent can or can’t have. Once you get their range down to a group of certain hands, it will make poker a lot easier. Also be prepared to follow through with your analysis of their range. If you can add these elements to your game it will make you much tougher to play against.

— Tristan “Cre8ive” Wade is a professional poker player with more than $1 million in online tournament winnings. He’s a member of Team DeepStacks, the No. 1 team of poker instructors in the world. You can find him and other Team DeepStacks pros at DeepStacks.com. Email him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.