How would you play your cards if you were able to determine what your opponent was holding? The usual answer to this question is “more profitably”, but without cheating or having X-ray spectacles it is unlikely that you will never know for sure until the showdown. There is however one way in which you can get a pretty good idea – putting your opponent on a range.
Whereas you can sometimes second-guess from a player´s betting action that they are holding strong opening cards or have caught on the flop, in a situation where there are a number of active players in a hand you may have to second-guess three or four players. Putting your opponents on a range of hands involves considering what cards he has opened up with and why. Much will depend on what type of player you have identified him as and his position on the table.
A simple example would be where you hold JJ in mid-position and raise 3x the blinds pre-flop. Your opponent, on the button, calls and everybody else folds. You have identified this player as a tight, aggressive player, so you can immediately discount that he is holding AA, AK, KK or QQ – which would have normally prompted a raise. Therefore, you can create a range for his cards which include mid-range pairs, two gallery cards, suited connectors and an ace with a respectable kicker.
The flop shows 7c 6c 2d and you raise by 3x the blinds again (half the pot). You opponent calls once more. On the basis that he has not raised, it is unlikely that he has caught a set, has two pairs or connectors immediately adjacent to 6 and 7. The odds are against him getting a flush draw, although if there are two high ranking clubs in his hand a call would be justified, but you could now discount the gallery cards and other suited connectors, leaving his hand range at:-
· Two high clubs
· A mid-range pair – not 6s or 7s
· Ace with a 6 or 7 kicker
Now you have reduced his range to a point where his outs are possibly a club for the flush, 8, 9 or T to make up a set, an ace for two pairs or another 6 or 7 for a set. Quite a lot to choose from still, but narrowing his range down all the time.
The turn shows a Th and you bet half the pot once more (6x BB). If you opponent calls once again, the only possible justification is that he is holding the two high clubs. He would have raised had he caught a set of tens and every other indication is that any pairs he may have been holding are lower than yours.
With this information, you will know how to act after the river card depending on whether it is a gallery card or a club.
This is how you build a range of hands around your opponent´s betting action and narrow them down until you can accurately predict what you will see should the hand go to showdown.