by Ashley Adams
A lot of poker theorists, players, and writers talk about “range”—that is finding an opponent’s playing range. This refers to the range of hands that an opponent may be playing. It’s considered helpful in devising your playing strategy to consider what range of hands your opponent is likely to be playing. So, for example, if you have a tight opponent who raises from early position, you might not be able to pinpoint the exact hand he has, but you might put him on a “range” of hands—anywhere from AK, JJ, QQ, KK, or AA. This concept works for limit, no limit, hold’em, stud, Omaha, or indeed any type of poker.
I find this exercise of putting opponents on a range of hands to be useful. And, to be sure, I do it regularly—almost automatically—when I play. But I find another concept to be even more useful. I call it ANTI-RANGE. That is, figuring out the hands that my opponent is NOT likely to have. From my experience, I find that by deducing what my opponent doesn’t have, I can take advantage of many bluffing opportunities that I might not normally consider.
I realize, of course, that if you can accurately put someone on a range of hands then by extension you are excluding hands at the same time. Even so, I find that it is very useful to think in terms of the hands my opponent doesn’t have— even if I’m not sure what the exact range of his hands is. Here’s an example. It’s a $1/2 no limit hold’em game. I’m in early position and call the big blind with 3d3s. A mid-position player makes it $10 and my relatively straightforward opponent in late position makes it $25. He has $500 or so as do I. I figure to have the right implied odds to draw to my set, so I call. The other opponent also calls.
The flop is Ah 7s 2c. I missed completely and check. The next player also checks. The third player, who had 3-bet pre-flop, now bets $75—roughly the size of the pot. What do I do?
Here’s where I find the concept of anti-range to be so useful. I don’t know if my opponent has AK, KK, QQ, JJ, or TT. I haven’t narrowed his range of hands at all. In fact, I’m now thinking he might have been just been making a move preflop and is now continuation betting in an effort to pick up a fairly large pot.
But I’m pretty certain about what he doesn’t have. I’m fairly sure that with his pot-sized bet on the flop that this relatively conventional player does not have trips. If he did, I really doubt he would have played them the way he has, with a 3-bet pre-flop and now a pot-sized bet.
Having figured out my opponent’s anti-range—namely trips—I can devise a strategy to take the hand away from him. I can either call him here and then aggressively bet the turn (assuming it isn’t something scary like an Ace) or, more likely, I can check-raise him here, representing that I have trips, probably causing both of my opponents to fold and winning me the pot.
Anti-range is no magic bullet to be sure. There’s always the chance that I have incorrectly deduced the hands my opponent is not likely to have. There’s always the chance that my opponent is deliberately acting uncharacteristically to throw me off the scent—causing me to make an error in play. But poker is a game of probability, not certainty. Most good players have incorporated the process of putting their opponents on a range of hands. Do that one better by considering your opponent’s anti-range—that is to say the hands that your opponent is not likely to have. You’ll increase the opportunities when you’re able to take advantage of your opponent’s conventional play.
Ashley Adams is the author of Winning No Limit Hold’em and Winning 7-card Stud, both available at Amazon.com. He is also the host of the popular poker radio show, House of Cards. For listening times and stations, to get a podcast of the show, or to check out the blog, go to www.houseofcardsradio.com. You can email Ashley at email@example.com.