What is Range Advantage in Poker?

Understanding What Flop Textures Hit Raising and Calling Hand Ranges is a Profitable Poker Skill

The ability to put your opponents on a range of hands is a hugely profitable skill in poker. When you are first starting out, working out what other players hold is a challenge. However, the more you play, the more you pick up an understanding of player’s ranges.

To really turbo-charge your profits, learn to compare the possible holdings of your opponents with the type of cards on the flop. For example, if the bet sizes, position, and tendencies of your opponent show high pairs are more likely, and the flop comes 6-7-8 of one suit, their hand did not hit the board hard. Using this to put pressure on your opponents with timely bets is often a profitable skill.

This page covers the first principles of range advantage in Texas Hold’em. After you put players on starting hand ranges, you can combine this with the board texture and their bets. Sometimes, you will know that one player can or can’t have the nuts.

Hand range advantage in poker introduction

Poker Range Advantage: Starting Hand Ranges

One of the very first things you learn on your poker journey are the starting hands you should be playing. These will change based on which game you are playing – for the purpose of this guide, 6-max cash games at NL Hold’em will be used an example.

At a 6-max cash table, the six positions are as follows:

Under the gun, hijack, cutoff, button, small blind, and the big blind.

In the first round of betting, the under the gun player is always first to act. Up against five opponents, the hand will have to be strong enough to play well against five other random hands. The average under the gun player will therefore have a stronger hand range. This will usually be in the region of the top 16% of hands. This range will usually include most pairs, and hands like AKs, AKo, AQs, AQo, AJs, AJo, KQs, KQo, KJs, JQS.

Assuming the players before you have folded, as you move through the seats, the starting hand ranges will widen, as there are less players to face. For example, on the button, a player might increase the number of hands to 40%, which now include starting hands as wide 98o, 57s, 43s and more.

How Range Advantage Works: Raising vs Calling

Consider that there is a player under the gun who opens with one of his top 16% of hands. Then every other player on the table folds, apart from the big blind, who decides to flat call. In this situation, the big blind might decide to call with around 25% of their range.

With one big blind already committed, it is cheaper for the big blind to call than any other position. For example, if the UTG has raised to 2.5x the big blind, the big blind only needs to call 1.5x the big blind.

At this point you can see that the UTG player has a stronger hand range than the big blind player. When the two hands clash, it is slightly more likely that the UTG player will have a better hand. In this example, the UTG player might usually win around 60% of hands if they went to showdown.

Note that no other player raised in this example. If someone had 3-bet, their range is likely to be narrow (especially after seeing a UTG raise). In this case the UTG player further defines their own range by choosing to flat the 3-bet, or re-raise instead of folding.

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Range Advantage and the Flop

The texture of the flop can have a big bearing on the range advantage.

For example, a flop might come down a rainbow (three different suits) A-8-4.

As you can see from the under the gun range detailed above, there are lots of Aces in that range. Therefore, with that flop, the range advantage will favor the under the gun player heavily. When you consider that the big blind might 3-bet their big ace hands (such as Ace King and Ace Queen) and discard many weaker aces, the range advantage in this situation can be huge.

However, there can be a different story if the flop were to come 7s-8s-9s.

Suddenly that range advantage enjoyed by the under the gun player is not so impressive. Yes, the big over pairs might still be looking OK, but all of those non-paired over cards will have missed this flop. Conversely, the more speculative hands played by the big blind might have hit this flop hard. Hands such as 98o, 810s have are looking good, while both 10-J and 5-6 have made a straight on the flop. Overall, this flop has evened out the two ranges.

Nut hands advantage in poker

Nut Advantage

Within the range advantage, you also have the nut-hand advantage. This is the ability to have the best possible hand, otherwise known as the ‘nuts’ in poker. On a flop such as Jc-6c-2d, the under the gun player is more likely to hold a hand such as Ac-Kc, which will effectively become the nuts if another club hits on the turn or river. This nut advantage can be useful in winning those big hands, especially when more than one player is lucky (or unlucky) enough to hit the flush.

Small pairs are not as likely holdings in early position for a raiser – and rare candidates for a 3-bet. This means that on low flops, the player that called is more likely to have a monster (a set), compared to the raiser.

It’s likely that the UTG player will have the nut advantage with their smaller range. This is especially the case when once again you consider that the Big Blind will usually 3-bet with their biggest hands, leaving their calling range a little weaker.

Wrapping Up: Range Advantage in Poker

The next step for working with range advantage is to understand which of your opponent’s understand the concept and which do not.

If you 3-bet someone with a good understanding of how flops hit different ranges of hands, your post flop play will be different than when you make the same bet against an unaware player. Watching showdowns when you are not involved will give you a big clue as to who is using this concept to boost their profits.

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