Unfortunately I’ve been busy lighting money on fire at live poker so I haven’t been able to write for a while. I don’t have much live to play for another two months now so I’ve got some time to do some writing and want to restart the ‘Things it took me a while to learn’ series. Hopefully this article is a return to form.
As I wrote in part 9 tournament hand reading is all about putting players on ranges. However, I didn’t really elaborate on the enormous impact of understanding hand ranges in general. The simple fact is this: If you can pinpoint a mans range, you can own his soul. Pinpointing someone’s range can at times be very easy and at others very difficult, and is entirely situational dependant. Sometimes a person will do something so incredibly obvious they make their range basically one or two hands. Sometimes a persons range will get polarized, meaning the villain either has a very big hand or bluff. When good thinking players come up against other good thinking players they go to lengths to merge their range, fancy talk for being deceptive. What this means is that they play in a way that many hands would play to prevent giving you any clues that allows you to weight their range towards a certain strength. Being able to read ranges is simply an extension of hand reading, though somewhat more generalized.
So how do we read ranges? Well for one it does to a degree come down to experience. For example, when I first began playing live poker after spending so many months entirely online I was not used to how peoples 3 betting and shoving ranges were VASTLY different. After some experience I was able to make the proper adjustments. Even some tournaments online the ranges for a similar, or even exact situation, can differ enormously based on what tournament it is. Example:
Both CO and button have 40 BB’s with antes in play, both players are 100% unknown to you. The CO open raises 2.6 X. The button 3 bets to 8.5X. The blinds fold and the CO shoves. Now, take this example in the 100r and the CO has a much wider range than in a 50 freeze out.
This is of course, a very basic and obvious example. However, without knowing anything about the 100r or a 50 FO and having no experience in either tournament, you may not necessarily realize just how big the differences in ranges are. Outside the experience argument though, range reading can easily be taught and practiced. Let’s start with early tournament range reading.
Early Tournament Range Reading:
The nice part about early tournament range reading is that people are often making less elaborate or fancy moves, especially pre flop. Assuming you know a little about you’re opponent you should be able to get a decent idea of his pre flop range when he makes certain actions. Now, this may result in his range being fairly wide, but you’ll at least have something to go with which you then can eliminate hands from later. Example:
Level 1 in a Stars 100 freeze out, with blinds 10/20. You open in MP2 to 70, and the button who is a known winning player flat calls the button. What’s his range? Depending on the player it’s often something in the area of: 22-JJ, AJ-AQ, 54s+, KJo, KQo, JTs-ATs, 64s-J9s. This can’t be exact but it’s reasonable, and we can expect QQ+/AK to reraise.
Once you have an idea of his pre flop range you can begin eliminating possibilities post flop depending on the flop texture and action. This all becomes second nature with experience. Now let’s take a look at some early tournament example hands and think about how knowledge of our opponent plus thinking about his range leads to a decision.
Stars 109 Freeze out. It’s the first level, blinds 10/20. The villain in the hand is a well known 2+2’er, Mattsuspect. He knows who I am and I know him to be pretty TAG at this stage of the tournament. I don’t have much information on UTG+2, so I have to give him credit for a standard range.
Hero’s stack: 2880
MP2 (Mattsuspect): 3010
I hold Kc Ks on the CO. Blinds are 10/20.
Preflop: 2 folds, UTG+2 raises to 80, 1 fold, MP2 reraises to 280, Hero calls, folds to UTG+2, UTG+2 calls 200.
Alright, at this stage I can feel pretty confident that for Mattsuspect to reraise an early position player at this stage of the tournament he has a very small range. Many TAG’s are even cold calling AK here since UTG+2 isn’t calling a reraise with many worse hands than AK. I fully expect his 3 betting range to be QQ+ here, though at times players will add AKs and JJ. I call because I know if I 4 bet his range can play perfectly against me. His QQ/AKs will snap fold since he knows my 4 betting range is only KK+ given the positions, but he may think my cold call range is something like JJ+/AK.
Flop: 7c Qd 9h (Pot 870)
UTG+2 checks, MP2 bets 700, Hero folds.
To me, this seems like a very simple fold and overall a simple hand. I know that even if MP2’s range includes AK and JJ he’s not betting that large into two players, especially not when a thinking one cold called his reraise. QQ has now sucked out on me, and I’m of course still behind AA. Therefore I beat nothing in his range and easily fold.
Alright, let’s go with one more early example that get into thinking how a players range will react to certain plays:
The player in this hand was well known online player ‘yellowsub’. In my analysis I’ll be paraphrasing a post djk123 made in the thread, so he also deserves some credit. The tournament is the Full tilt $500+50 Sunday Million. We are without reads.
Hero holds Ah Qh on the CO.
Preflop: Folds to MP2, MP2 raises to 150, Hero calls, 3 folds.
This seems standard to me so far. We can again give the villain a pretty wide range.
Flop: 5c 3h Ac (Pot 360)
MP2 checks, Hero bets 245, MP2 calls 245.
At this point the hand gets a little strange. It’s odd for MP2 to not C bet a board like this, and that often means he has a polarized range. A reasonable range to give MP2 is something like 99-KK, 33, 55, AA, A9-AK, or just maybe a very strangely/badly played suited connector with clubs. Most of the time though, his hand is in one of the first categories, either a pair with showdown value that doesn’t want to turn it’s hand into a bluff, or a huge hand that’s aiming to trap the hero. The AJ-AK aren’t really huge, and are often betting, but they will sometimes check hoping to get value and thinking on a board like this it’s hard for their opponent to hit. The bet seems standard, as we can still gain value from the checking pairs, the rare/odd club draw, and worse A’s. At this point, I would weight villains range towards 99-KK or 33+55+AA since A’s and flush draws mostly bet the flop.
Turn: Kh (Pot 850)
MP2 checks, Hero bets 609, MP2 raises to 2120, Hero folds.
Here’s where a lot of the discussion took place. The real question in the hand is whether the turn was the correct play. Djk123 came into the thread and broke down the villains range and his probable actions with those ranges and provided information as to why bet/folding the turn is incorrect. The logic goes as follows; if we mostly weight villains range towards 99-KK and slow played sets there cannot be very good value in betting this turn. The slow played sets will now check raise us and we’ll have to make a disgusting feeling fold. The pairs trying to get to showdown will likely give hero credit for an ace and fold. KK has no sucked out and will checkraise. If we check the turn and make our flush we can of course get it on the river verse anything. If we check the turn and villain bets the river we can always call since the villain will at times show up with worse A’s and the occasional missed flush draw. The villain is also more likely to pay off two streets with a 99-QQ type hand if we check back the turn and look like we were simply taking a shot on the flop but have now decided to try and bluff again on the river.
Again, we see that the key to ranges is having information and assumptions about our opponents probable actions with certain hands. By being observant and learning about how players react to certain board textures range reading becomes much easier.
Mid-Late stage Range Reading:
In the mid to late stages of tournaments the important part of hand reading often comes down to shoving and reshoving. For this portion of the article I’ve brought in a guest writer, Luckychewy aka Runthistable, who I feel is better suited to explain this process, the math and the tools involved (Pokerstove, Sitngo power-tools.) Here’s his contribution:
Three ridiculously crucial things to have access to for any aspiring tournament player when reviewing sessions are the Calculator, PokerStove, and SnG Power Tools. As all of you know by now, middle through late and especially end game tournament play heavily relies on how strong of a pushbotter you are. These three programs will greatly help you improve your pushbotting and help combat other pushbotters. I use calculator and stove to assist in calling ranges, and power tools to assist with shoving ranges. A lot of spots you find yourself in will become straightforward after a while, but every now and then there is a close spot you need to review and this is how you do it. For what it's worth, I'd recommend throwing some hands in a word document as you play a session and thus making it easier to find exactly what you want to review afterwards.
When figuring out what range to call a shove with you first need to figure out what equity you need versus the players range to breakeven. Obviously breaking even is nice and we shouldn't be passing small edges in most cases, but you’re goal should be to turn a profit calling shoves. There are a lot of situations that arise in which I’m not sure if I’m making a positive or negative EV call because it’s so close, these spots I refer to as marginal. Sometimes I pass on marginal spots and sometimes I don’t, it really all depends on so many variables. As you get better and better at calling and pushing ranges you will find yourself in less and less marginal spots as stuff will start becoming more clear-cut whether it is profitable or not.
So, starting with calling ranges. This is where Calculator and PokerStove are used. First, you need to figure out your required equity given the pot odds. An example hand from full tilt’s 55k guarantee is as follows: Unknown player in the CO position shoves for 15.5k at 1k/2k/250 ante with 8 people at the table, and I’m in the BB with 55 and almost 65k after posting. The pot is 3k in blinds+ 2k in antes+ the 15.5k he shoved for which = 20.5k. I only have to call 13.5 since I’m in the BB, which means I’m getting 20.5:13.5, or close to 1.5:1. To figure out exactly what equity you need to breakeven you take what’s in the pot, add how much you need to call, and then divide this new number by how much you need to call. So if 20.5 = x and 13.5 = y, the formula would be y/x+y. In this case, x+y = 34, and y is 13.5, so 13.5/34 = .397. Essentially I need to have 39.7% equity or better versus his range to make a call profitable.
The second part involves PokerStove. I first plug my hand and then guesstimate an appropriate range for the CO player. Poker has a lot more gray areas than black and white, so if you guesstimate a range and later find out the CO player is a huge nit or huge spew, oh well, you didn’t know it at the time and there’s not much to be said. You will inevitably make mistakes when determining ranges but it will get better with time and even I’m not nearly as good as some players who spawned from sit and go’s where it’s essential that you know the correct call/push ranges in a bunch of spots. In this case I’ll give the unknown CO a somewhat conservative range of 22+, A2s+, K8s+, Q8s+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, 87s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, Jto and I’ve got ~51.7% equity. So clearly this is way better than a breakeven call as I’m only required to have ~39.7% equity and I have ~51.7%, quite a profitable call in the long run. For those that care, in the actual hand he had AQo and I lost a sizeable flip. This could mean that his range is tighter than I assume or it could mean that he just so happened to have the top end of it this time around. Regardless, I’m fine with the call and would make it again if I had to.
Generally with regards to pushing ranges as opposed to calling ranges, your range will be much wider because you profit off of the amount of folds you get. Obviously when making a call you have no folding equity, which as I explained earlier is why you need to be a favorite versus the players range with the given pot odds. The equity of your pushing range versus a players call range is generally going to be a dog, but you get a lot of folds so it’s still profitable. SnG Power Tools is a huge help in figuring out how wide you can profitably push from what position. Unlike Calculator and PokerStove though, it isn’t free, but it is cheap. I’d highly recommend those of you who don’t have it to buy it. You can get it online for like $20, minimal in return for how much money it can potentially make you if you put it to good use. Again though, it makes its calculations off of your assumptions of the other players calling ranges. It’s important of course to make good assumptions, but you will inevitably be wrong some of the time. Generally if you are close enough it will be clear whether or not a certain shove is profitable, but not always in close situations. As always, everything is very opponent dependent so while it’s okay some of the time to generalize (as you will have to do versus unknown players) you definitely don’t want to make the same assumptions of the BB’s calling range versus your button shove is the BB is charder30 or joeshmo123456. If I had to take a guess, charder might call a bit wider than Joe.
That’s all I’ve got to say about calling and pushing ranges. I learned so much from 2p2 and met so many great people and friends from this site I feel I have a debt to fill by giving something back. I hope ya’ll learned a bunch and win lots of monies in the future (though hopefully not from me!). Thanks for reading.
Alright, that’s what I have for now. Thanks to Luckychewy for his contribution and for the other posters whose ideas I’ve stolen. If there’s any questions, you know where to put ‘em.