There are a lot of misconceptions out there about hand reading, and in particular, how to build ranges for opponents. Coach James “SplitSuit” Sweeney is here to fix that, fresh off publishing his exhaustive training material on building ranges for his Hand Reading Lab.
Knowing what your opponent holds at all times would make it theoretically possible to play perfect poker. Even though there is no skill that allows us to literally see through cards, hand reading can peel back a lot of the possibilities. SplitSuit’s goal is to get you seeing ranges in razor-sharp relief, so exploitative decisions and complex plays can be made for a profit.
Hand reading is a skill you use in every hand you play, so it’s no surprise so many Red Chippers requested we did more content around it. The key, as SplitSuit will show you, is to put hand types into five main “buckets”, and then think about how full or empty each bucket is with hand possibilities, after considering your opponent’s player type and any previous action.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about the five main parts of a range:
1. Pocket Pairs (AA-22)
2. Broadway Cards (AK, AQ, AJ, AT, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, JT)
3. Suited Connectors (T9s-23s)
4. Cusp Hands (A9o, 75s, T9o, etc.)
5. Trash (T4o, 63s, 72o, etc.)
Pocket pairs are included in pretty much every single range. Might not be all of them all the time, but you can bet they’re getting played more than any other component of ranges. Remember to move the slider back and forth on pocket pair strength based on the type of player your opponent is.
When your opponent is a TAG and opens from middle position, are they really opening any pocket pair, or is there a cutoff, like 55 or 66?
SplitSuit’s first question is, “What portion of pocket pairs are in their range? What is the smallest pocket pair they could have here, given the type of player, and their specific action?”
Keeping an eye on these “pocket pair cusps” preflop is key to building an accurate range.
AK, AQ, AJ, AT, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, JT
Paint is going to commonly show up in your opponents’ ranges. The same principle with pocket pairs applies to broadway cards — it’s important to decide what a player’s action says about whether broadway cards are a likely possibility. If a player who is likely to 3-bet with AK just flats your raise, broadway cards become a distinct possibility.
SplitSuit is focused on the question, “What’s the worst broadway cards they could have here?”
Are they really 3-betting preflop with AJ? Are they calling your raise with QT? Are they opening in early position with anything worse than AQ? Draw a line on broadway.
The suited connector range may not even be applicable if we’re talking about a total nit. But most players at $1/$2 and up understand the value of balancing one’s range with a few suited connectors. Most of them are going to be at the top of the range and not your 23s and 45s type of hands.
You’ll also be able to immediately eliminate suited connectors when you see aggressive preflop actions for many players. Knowing what a player doesn’t have is a huge step toward knowing what they do have.
You’ll have to pay close attention to showdown to catch players running with more sophisticated preflop hands like suited connectors is super-crucial.
A9s, 75s, T9o, etc.
These hands lie just outside of the first three “buckets”, what we would commonly refer to as the “playable” part of a poker range. Most players at $1/$2 will be sampling from these three categories.
Cusp hands become very important to consider because they are very dependent on player type. Again, your nittier, tighter players who are folding most hands preflop are quite often not going to get near these hands. There are plenty of tight ABC players folding anything worse than AT.
At the same time, these cusp hands tend to be popular with both fishier and LAGgier players. Fish and LAGs alike see the possibility of hitting the unlikely aces up, or the hidden straight or flush. They could have a lot of these cusp hands in their range.
Remember, if you combine all of the first three “buckets” — suited connectors, broadway cards, and pocket pairs — you’re only getting about 20% of hands. Your average tight player will not be venturing beyond that range.
T4o, 63s, 72o, etc.
Trash is not often going to be part of your opponents’ range at $1/$2, other than the occasional appearance as a steal, or to balance a 3-bet range. Even then, it is rare. Plenty of your opponents will never touch these hands, plenty more only when it’s exceedingly cheap. The big blind could always have trash when checking their option. The small blind could easily have it with a limp/call.
You see trash in bad players’ range a lot. Trash is the worst 60% or so of hands, and when your opponents are most likely to be playing the 40% of hands that are best, you can immediately see how unprofitable this can become. Notice the fishier players making passive plays, and those on tilt playing way too loose, and you’ll be able to start putting people on trash as a range.
Hand reading preflop is crucial to ranging your opponent during the rest of the hand. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to get into — open raising ranges, 3-betting ranges, what people are calling 3-betting with — there are a ton of bonuses including a copy of Flopzilla, 7+ hours of HD content with 25 videos, study guides… it’s ridiculous. This is the one skill where the investment is more than worth it — you’re going to be using these skills in every hand. All of this is covered in SplitSuit’s new Hand Reading Lab.
At the end of the episode, SplitSuit gives a code to get a secret bonus that you won’t want to miss. Listen, enjoy, and GL building your next range!
What exactly does it mean if he plays 20% of all hands? that doesn’t say which hands he plays, does it? And for example an 8.5% open range is different to an 8.5% cold call range, isn’t it?
It doesn’t tell you exactly what his range is…but it’s a good starting point. I discuss turning percentages into actual hand ranges in The Hand Reading Lab – but this article should also help you get started: https://www.splitsuit.com/hand-reading-with-percentages
There is also the suited-aces part (A9s-A2s), which seems to be everyone’s favorite pre-flop opening/flatting hands these days (at least at 10NL).
Thanks Hagai! Yeah, those would cusp hands. Not quite trash (in certain situations), but certainly not a powerful part of the hand – they sit right there in the cusp =)
Hi! can you write full range of casp hands? T8o J8s K8s 57o -cusp?
Do Casp hands include K9s-K2s, Q9s-Q2s, T9o-54o, J9s-64s, J9o-64o, A9o-A2o?
Cusps are relative. For an opening-range cusps can include things like KT (if KJ is an automatic open and K9 isn’t really). For a 3betting range AQ could be the cusp if AK always gets 3bet and AJ doesn’t.