Range advantage is a key concept in poker strategy, and two of the game’s great thinkers introduce the idea to our listeners on this week’s podcast. Christian Soto and Doug Hull — both Red Chip Poker founders, authors, coaches and pro players — talk about range advantage in a way that should be accessible for any level of player. Understanding who has range advantage and what that means is a modern poker must in terms of skills you need under your belt. Listen to Soto and Hull use hand examples to illustrate range advantage for players eager to know more on the subject.
Doug: All right. What we’re gonna do is look at a hand that really shows us what we mean by the concept of range advantage. I want you to imagine you’re sitting down at a two-five table. You’re gonna have 200 big blinds. That’s a 1,000 in front of you. Two full racks of red. You open in a middle position, and we’re gonna look at this with a variety of hands that you would do that with. Then, we’re gonna get called in two spots behind us, so we’re out of position to two players, and the flop comes down, Jack-10-eight-two clubs. The 10 is the off suit card. Now imagine we started this hand out with aces. Well, what are we gonna do with aces here? A lot of people are gonna say, “Well, there’s a lot of draws. I better bet this out to make them pay.” What do you think of that Christian?
Christian: Think it’s a slight mistake. Yeah. I think a lot of people are gonna think exactly what you just said. A lot of people are not gonna want them to get there, and other quotes like that. However, I think that’s a mistake. Reason being, is that … Let’s say you do bet aces here. You face a call, and then a raise. This is a really tough situation. Right? You still rate to have the best hand sometimes. Right? Your opponent could have a large array of draws. However, when you call here you’re gonna be out of position of two streets going. You’re gonna be playing a pretty expensive guessing game going forward, as well as, you’re gonna be able to get bluffed pretty easily given that the run outs are not gonna be in your favor. I think aces here is just gonna be a nice hand to have your check call pile, rather than your bet call pile.
Doug: Okay. I can see the logic of that. All right. What about King-Queen? You’ve got two overs and an open ender. Surely you’re gonna bet that one though right?
Christian: The common perception is gonna be that I’m gonna bet King-Queen there. That’s not true. It’s very similar to the reasons I’m not betting Aces, even though they’re completely two different hand types. Reason is, if you bet, not only are you blocking out their draws, when you bet and face a raise, it’s gonna be again awkward, because you can’t fold. Your hand again is too strong.
However, you’re gonna be playing pretty ABC poker going forward, right? You’re gonna have to call, and then hope to hit. If you don’t hit, you’re gonna fold. You’re just gonna fold a turn, a very, very large percentage of the time. However, if you were to put this hand in your check call pile, it does a lot of good things, because when the turn fills the draw your opponent is still gonna bet that hand, because it helps his range, rather than yours. However, this time, we’re the one that got there. When the draws fill and you have King-Queen, the big reverse implied odds are gonna be on your opponents’ shoulders, rather than yours.
Doug: The reverse implied odds are meaning that when the nine comes, any guy with a straight Queen is going to lose a significant amount of money to you.
Christian: Right. I mean, it’s not only when the nine comes in, they have a Queen. Yes, that’s also huge for us, but when the nine comes in, he just has clubs, he’s gonna keep betting, because it’s just a really good card for him to try to rep. I think that when the nine comes, we would just check, allow him to bet his Queen, allow him to bet all his air. I think it just happens to be a really good spot for you.
Doug: Okay. I noticed that we’re checking a lot on this, with some pretty decent hands. Surely when you’ve got a set of 10’s, the fourth nuts on this board. Now you’re gonna fire, right?
Christian: No. Yeah. It’s funny that you say that. I think of people would expect me to bet, especially with my image, a set of 10’s on this board, which would just be the very, very top of my range. However, this is where we make our money. This is how we confuse people.
The reason is that, on Jack-10-eight, when we have a set of 10’s here, this is the spot where we’re checking. The reason is, is that if we put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s going to add up that we should be checking 10’s. The reason is, is because we’re checking Aces. We’re checking King-Queen. We don’t want our entire checking range to just be weak hands. Right? Either weak pair hands, or draws. Right?
Once we check 10’s here, and then face a bet, now we’re going for the raise. Now we’re going for it. That’s really what’s gonna encompass a very, very elaborate checking range here. They’re not gonna know what we have once we check. That’s the point. Right? We’re gonna check-raise 10’s here to protect our King-Queen, to protect our Aces. It’s gonna be very tricky to find out when it is that we have Aces, when it is that we have 10’s, when just check everything.
Doug Okay. Now, if we are check-raising 10’s, I assume we’re gonna be check-raising all of our sets, maybe even Jack, 10. Is it all nutted hands like that?
Christian: No, no, no. We’re gonna check-raising hands like, Ace-Queen, with a Ace of clubs, specifically because it’s a double gut shot, right? It puts partial portions of their range in a very tough spot. For example, if they have King-Jack, right? We check-raise-flop. What does he do with it? Right? He might fold. He might call. However, it’s a really tough spot for him. It puts almost his entire range on the flop, in bluff-catch mode.
Even Jack-10, which is the top of his range, is put in bluff-catch mode, when we check-raise-flop. If we check-raise with Ace-Queen, especially Ace-Queen, with the Ace of clubs, we could just barrel off when clubs hit and we barrel off when we get there. You know what I mean? We could just barrel off, period. It puts his entire range on bluff-catch mode, which is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. When he is in bluff-catch mode, he’s gonna make a lot of mistakes.
I think Ace-Queen is a really good one to check-raise. Maybe King-Queen with both clubs are good to check-raise, like King-Queen suited, both clubs is a check-raise. You’re gonna have some check-raises there. Ace-King of clubs are also a good one. You’re gonna have some bluffs in there too.
Doug: Okay. Now, we’ve kinda gotten ourselves to a good spot, going into the turn here. Let’s imagine that we did take the Aces, and check-call, when the second player bet, and the third player folded. What is gonna be our plan going forward there?
Christian: Okay, so, Aces is gonna play pretty straightforward. It’s gonna go like this. We’re gonna check at most turns, right? We’re gonna check almost all turns that’s not an Ace. I think and Ace is a very special card. We might actually lead on an Ace specifically, just because our opponent might think that we have Ace-King, Ace-Queen, and then he might, you know, blow up. Yeah, sometimes you’re gonna run into it, which is unfortunate for us, but we’re also at the top of our range.
Let’s account for all other cards that are not in use. I think on a King, we would probably just check-fold, right? He is getting there with a lot of hands. Right? He’s got there with King-Jack, King-10, et cetera. I think the cards that we would check-call on, specifically, would be, a 10, an eight, a six, a five, a four, a three, a deuce. An Ace, like we spoke about, we would do something else. Every other card in the deck, is really gonna hurt your range as a whole. What you’re gonna need is like, other hands, like King-Queen to help protect you there, which is why we held them back. We would fold on a Queen. We would fold on a … What is it? A nine, a seven, a Jack … Those we’re just gonna fold. A King, we would fold also with Aces there.
Doug: You’re saying if a three came, non-club, you’re just folding then.
Christian: No, no, no. If a three comes, non-club, I’m gonna check-call, with Aces. He could still have a lot of hands. He could still have a lot of draws. He could still be betting King-Jack, Queen-Jack.. On a blank three I would check-call again, and make decisions on river. However, if the turns a Queen, we would fold. If the turns a seven, we would fold.
Doug: This is what you’re talking about with range advantage. The cards in the middle there, that complete two pair, complete open enders, and gut shots and so on, are more cards that help his range, right?
Christian: Right. If we look at the concept of range advantage from the beginning, right? When the flop comes down Jack-10-eight, two suit … Your opponent has more nut hands, as well as he has many more run outs that favor him, rather than us. Right? If we look at the amount of run outs, like any seven, any nine, any Queen, any club, any Jack. All those run outs are gonna favor him, rather than us. That’s the concept of Range Advantage, which is why we need to hold back all these hands on the flop and shift them into our checking range, just to combat that.
Doug: That makes sense. Okay. Range advantage. If the board is running out in their advantage, we just gotta give it up there.
Christian: Yes. Kind of. It’s a concept of, when he has range advantage … It’s gonna consist of two things. Either he has, A, a lot more nut combinations of hands on the flop already, or B, he’s going to have run outs that favor him, much more than you. That’s really what range advantage means. Sometimes both those things are exactly at the same time, like it is now. Jack-10-eight, favors the imposition player, because run outs are in his favor, as well as he has a lot of nut combinations, like Queen-nine-nine-seven-10-eight, weighed much more than we do. When those two things are applicable, that’s when we need to increase our checking frequency. That’s when we’re going to check hands, like Aces, check hands like, you know, set of 10’s for protection and stuff like that.
Doug: Great. So, now the next thing that could happen is, we got a set of 10’s. We check-raised. There’s basically two kinds of cards that come. As you said, dirty, and clean. What do you mean by dirty and clean cards that can come if we check-raise the 10’s, and got called?
Christian: Okay. Say we check-raise, and the turn is a Queen. Not a good card for us, right? All hands get there. At this point, we would check, right? We would have a check-raise, check range. At this point we would check and force our opponent to make an action. Right? Whether that action is to check or bet, is yet to be seen. If he bets, you have to make a decision on, is this guy capable of betting clubs here, and trying to rep a flush? If yes, then you can call. If no, then you have to fold, right? Or, at least take the mathematical price, and see if we were still correct to call.
On clean cards … For example, the deuce of diamonds comes, which is a complete brick to the board, you would still be betting for value/protection. The fact that you have 10’s here, is just the bonus.
Doug: Great. Now, what about run outs where we check the King-Queen, and it checked through?
Christian Right. Let’s say we check King-Queen. Actually, let’s start with Aces, right? Let’s see we have Aces and it checks through. A lot of people wouldn’t like this, because they would say, “Oh, we’re letting them get there. We’re missing value.” Et cetera.
However, it plays really nicely, when it checks through, because now you just play poker on the term. What I mean by that is, again, when it bets clean, you bet for value. When it doesn’t come clean, maybe you just check give up. If it turns a nine, and you have Aces, you would just give up, right?
Let’s say it turns a nine and you have King-Queen. All of sudden you just turned to nuts, and it was really nice, cause you got to see if for free. Now you just bet for value. Let’s say, it’s a complete break and you have King-Queen, it’s still nice to bet, because now you still have value in your range. You still have Aces. You still have 10’s in your range.
If you go bet-bet, but with King-Queen, it’s just part of your bluffing range. When it goes checks through and you have King-Queen, it’s just a situation where, this is one of the worst hands you’re gonna have in terms of showing up value, and actual value. It still has a lot of equity and you should just have this hand in your bluffing pile, and just go bet-bet. If you get caught bluffing, so be it. Whatever. It helps your image.
Doug: Excellent. In much the same way, if our 10’s got checked through, then we’re doing what? Going for value?
Christian:Yeah, if the turn checks through, it’s actually really cool, right? If it checks through, it leaves the door open for you to actually go for the check-raise on the turn if you want. In general, I would just say that just go bet-bet. That would be my standard play. There are situations where you could go a little bit different and go for the check-raise on the turn, especially if your opponents the type to check back Queen-Jack, or something, and then go for it on the turn. You could do really tricky stuff there. In general, you’re just gonna go bet-bet. That would be the standard line in that situation.
Doug: Is it bet-bet on clean and dirty, or is there a difference there?
Christian: No. Yeah. There’s definitely a difference. You wouldn’t go bet-bet on clean ones. Right? On dirty ones you can check, and then just make decisions like that. If it comes clean on the turn, you know, the three of Diamonds, you can just bet for value, and then make the same decision on the river.