December 17, 2021
In the old days of poker analysis, much was made about putting an opponent on a hand. Astute players used their power of observation, memory, card sense, and deductive reasoning to try and figure out what their opponent was holding. Even so, it was usually impossible for even the most sagacious hand reader to accurately deduce their opponent’s exact hand. So skilled players focused instead on the range of hands that an opponent might hold.
For example, one might recognize that an early position raise from a tight player meant they were likely to hold any of the following hands: JJ, QQ, KK, AA, or AK. Put an opponent on playing that range, and you could come up with a reasonable strategy for exploiting them.
All well and good. Figuring out an opponent’s range is a key part of a winning strategy. But there’s another related concept that can also help you exploit your opponent. I call it the “anti-range.”
A different way to consider the obvious
Anti-range doesn’t seek to determine the likely range of hands that your opponent is playing, but rather, the hand or hands that they are likely not playing. This too involves observation, memory, card sense, and deductive reasoning. And, done well, it provides another way to develop an edge over a less-skilled opponent.
Here’s an example of applying your observation of anti-range:
You’ve been playing for an hour or so in a moderately loose $2/$5 game. You’ve seen enough of some of your opponents to figure out their general style of play. An active, loose-aggressive, tricky, fairly good opponent, in early position, raises to $20 pre-flop. It’s the standard raise for the game. A couple of loose players call. The action comes to you in the cutoff. You have 22 and call the $20 with the hope of set mining. Four of you see the flop with $83 in the pot.
The flop is 3♥ 5♥ K♠, missing you completely. You have last action. The villain bets $50, the two limpers fold, and the action comes to you.
Normally, you would fold. You called with your 22 hoping to hit a set, but missed. In many instances, this should be an easy and fairly normal fold.
But, in this case, taking a different line could win you the hand.
What isn’t your opponent holding?
Consider your opponent’s anti-range – that range of hands that he is very unlikely to be playing. While his range is very broad and could include a flush draw, a pair of Kings, a medium or big pocket pair, and maybe even a bunch of bluffs with a couple of big cards and no pair, it’s highly unlikely that he hit a set.
With a set, he would almost surely check. (Of course, there’s always a chance that he is playing extremely unconventionally. But that’s true whenever you are putting someone on a range as well.)
In this instance, you know your opponent fairly well. You know, for example, that he often C-bets, and is fairly aggressive. You know your image is that of a fairly tight ABC player. Therefore, his bet of 60% of the pot could mean an enormous range. So when he fires a bet on the flop, you really have no good way of narrowing down his holdings … except for determining his anti-range.
As we noted, your opponent’s range is pretty wide and could include a wide variety of holdings. They might have an over-pair, a big ace, or could even have been playing a big King aggressively preflop and now has a pair of Kings. On the other hand, he may have started with a mid-sized suited connector and hit complete air.
You really don’t know with any degree of certainty how to narrow down his holding.
But you can be fairly certain of what he doesn’t have. You can be fairly certain he doesn’t have a set because, if he does, he would be very unlikely to play aggressively in this spot. So you can subtract sets from your opponent’s holding, narrowing his range through the process of elimination.
You, with a relatively conventional, tight-aggressive image, might then use that information to take the pot away from him by representing that you hit a set. You might raise him here, or float him and show aggression on the turn, for example.
It’s surely not certain to succeed, but your perception of your opponent’s anti-range gives you a way of exploiting them.
Venerable grinder, 7-stud enthusiast, host of “House of Cards Radio” and author of Winning Poker in 30 Minutes a Day (D&B Publishing, 2020).
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