You’ve seen it time and time again on tv. A poker pro like Daniel Negreanu or Patrik Antonius will guess their opponent’s exact cards. It’s an uncanny, almost psychic, ability. The reality is that there’s a great deal of work that goes into reading an opponent. It involves poker hand ranges, and it begins before the cards are even dealt.

While most poker players aren’t going to read hand ranges like the pros, it’s still possible for amateurs to get a good idea about what their opponent is holding. The trick is called putting your opponent on a range of hands. Keep reading our guide to ranges in poker and you'll become a better card player yourself. 

What is a Hand Range?

A hand range is a set of hands that a player might hold. Guessing exact cards is next to impossible in poker, so good players estimate the range of cards an opponent likely holds. If a tight player reraises you pre-flop, then you know that player likely holds aces and kings only. Loose players are harder to read because they might raise holding any two cards in the deck. 

Poker Ranges Explained

The reason poker pros often guess an opponent's card is that they put their opponent on a range of hands. They’re grouping hands together that have the same effect on the game, then using their knowledge of an opponent to make an educated guess on what cards the player holds. 

One of the simplest ways to think about hand ranges is simply ranking strong hands to weak ones. The concept isn't as alien as you might think -- all players do this intuitively. For instance, you could also group hands together like this:

  • Premium Pairs: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J
  • Middle Pairs: T-T, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 6-6
  • Lower Pairs: 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2
  • Ace-X: A-K, A-Q, A-J… A-2
  • Middle Connectors: 9-8, 7-6, 6-5

Now instead of thinking of all 1,326 possible Hold’em starting hands, you are thinking of just five different categories. It’s much easier to put someone on a middle pair rather than trying to guess exactly 8c-8s.

Poker Opening Hands: Putting Someone on Range

Now that you understand what a range is, how do you use it? The idea behind putting someone on a range is that you’ll have a rough idea of what they have by process of elimination.

  • Tight Players: Let’s say you’re playing against a very tight player who almost never bluffs. That means if they raise early in a hand, they would be at the very top of their range. We’re talking A-A, K-K, Q-Q or A-K.
  • Process of Elimination: That may seem like a large number of hands but think about all the hands you’ve removed. No small or middle pairs. No small connectors.
  • Postflop Analysis: Now let’s take it a step further. Let’s say the flop comes 6-5-2 rainbow. Your opponent checks. Standard poker strategy dictates they’re going to bet with A-A, K-K, or Q-Q so if they check, that actually narrows their range all the way down to just one hand: A-K.
  • Poker Ranges Explained: That’s a very basic example but for many players, hand ranges are their “aha!” moment. It suddenly becomes much clearer how some of the top players are able to make such accurate reads.

How Hand Ranges Actually Work

People often think that poker is all about physical tells. For instance, if a player itches his right ear, he has pocket aces.

  • Building Player Profiles: The reality is that the best information we get at the tables is actually voluntarily given by each opponent. Every time a player checks, calls, bets, raises, or re-raises, they are telling a story. It’s up to you to figure out if the story makes sense.
  • Playing the Odds: The longer and more complicated a story gets, the more it defines a player’s range of hands. For instance, the average poker player isn’t going to check a flopped set if there are straight and flush draws on the board. It’s simply too dangerous and it’s giving their opponent a free chance to hit.
  • Making Good Decisions: Once you’ve put your opponent on a range of hands, you can decide whether you should call, bet, or fold. If the majority of hands in their range have you crushed, then you should probably fold.

How to Use a Preflop Range Chart

Reading a poker hand range chart is easy, once you know how the layout of the chart. For those brand new to the poker ranges, we have a few conventions and guidelines that most hand range charts follow. We provide an unmarked sample chart so readers can follow the layout. 

Going diagonally from top-left to bottom-right, you'll see the pairs: Pocket Aces, Pocket Kings, Pocket Queens, and so on. To the right of this diagonal line, you'll see all suited hands. To the left of the diagonal line, you'll see all of the offsuit cards.

Poker Hand Range Glossary of Abbreviations

Abbreviation Meaning
S Suited: The two cards are the same suit. Example: Two Diamonds, Two Clubs, etc.
O Offsuit: The two cards aren't suited. Example: One Diamond, One Club.
UTG Under the Gun or Early Position
MP Middle Position. MP1 is Middle Position 1. 
LJ Lojack or Middle Position 2.
HJ Hijack or Middle Position 3.
CO Cutoff
BTN Button, or on the Button. 
SB Small Blind
BB Big Blind

Most hand range charts are color-coded. Each color indicates a particular poker hand range. Most pairs are one color, though premium pairs are often a second color. Let's say you're interested in a range of all ace-king hands, plus hands with a combination of ace, king, or queen. These hands will be highlighted in one color and shows a hand range that an opponent might have if they are betting aggressively.

Full Ring Starting Hand Range

If you're more concerned with which hands to play, here is a chart that shows the conventional wisdom on poker hand ranges you should play from each position. Notice that the percentage of hands increases significantly with your position at the table. Those on the button or in the small blind should be playing 40% to 50% of the hands. We use a 9-Max table in this example. 

Position Starting Hand Range Percentage of Hands
UTG 77+, ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, A5s, AQo+ 10%
UTG+1 77+, ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, A5s, AQo+ 10%
UTG+2 77+, A8s+, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s, 98s, A4s-A5s, AJo+ 13%
LJ 55+, A2s+ K9s+, Q9s+ J9s+ T8s+, 98s, 87s, 76s, AJo+, KQo 16%
HJ 44+, A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+ J9s+ T8s+, 97s+, 87s, 76s, 65s, 54s, ATo+, KJo+, QJo 20%
CO 22+, A2s+, K5s+, Q8s+ J8s+ T8s+, 97s+, 86s+, 75s+, 65s, 54s, ATo+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo 26%
BTN 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q5s+ J7s+ T6s+, 96s+, 85s+, 75s+, 64s+, 53s+, 43s, A4o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o 40%
SB 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q4s+ J6s+ T6s+, 95s+, 84s+, 74s+, 63s+, 53s+, 43s, A2o+, K8o+, Q8o+, J8o+, T8o+, 98o 47%+

Self-Scouting: Thinking About Your Own Hand Range

You can take the concept of ranges and go one step further by understanding that your opponent will think about you the same way.

  • Self-Awareness Helps: If you’ve been playing pretty tight and you suddenly make a big re-raise pre-flop, then your opponents are probably going to think that you have a premium hand like A-A, K-K, Q-Q or A-K.
  • Throwing a Curveball: You can, of course, switch things up by making huge raises with mediocre hands to truly confuse your opponent. No-Limit Hold’em offers plenty of room for creativity.
  • Use Ranges in Poker to Your Advantage: The important thing is to stop thinking about exact hands and start thinking about a range of hands.
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Poker Hand Ranges FAQ

What are poker hand ranges?

A poker hand range is a collection of the possible hands that your opponent might have at the moment. Poker hand ranges exist in both preflop and postflop play. Also, they vary depending on the type of opponent you face. Tight players have a smaller hand range, while loose players have a much larger set of starting hands in their range. 

As a poker hand plays out, the best poker players can narrow down the possibilities based on the community cards showing. Knowing your opponent's poker hand range is valuable because it allows you to consider all the possibilities that you might face in the coming hand. 
 

What are preflop ranges in poker?

Preflop ranges in poker help to put an opponent on a limited set of hands. You refine the range based on your opponent's actions throughout the range. 

A preflop range is based on what you know of your opponent from previous hands. If you're facing a really tight player and they re-raise, you can assume they hold nothing but aces and kings. If you're facing a loose player who hasn't folded a hand over the past hour, then their range could be any two cards in the deck. 

Read our preflop ranges chart above for more information. While our table gives players the hands they should be playing in certain positions at the table, they also apply to the ranges other players should be using. 

How do you know what range you are in poker?

Determine poker hand ranges based on four factors: the player type, the player's betting patterns, bet size, and betting action. To know your own hand range, you need to self-scout yourself. Understand whether you're a tight or loose player, then apply what you know of poker hand ranges to your own scouting report. 
 

How do you practice poker ranges?

For practice, play low-stakes online poker and make slight alterations to your game (when needed) with an eye toward poker hand ranges. In specific, take these steps: 

  • Practice Value Bets: Make value bets in spots where you normally would have checked in the past. 
  • Practice Bluffing: Make a bluff when you know your opponent can't defend.
  • Apply Pot Control: Practice pot control in order to see a showdown, which gives you information on the kind of hands your opponent plays.
  • Learn to Fold Correctly: Fold in spots where that same player's range and actions indicate that you're beat in the hand.
  • Learn When to Call: At the same time, if the opponent indicates weak hands or drawing hands, then call what appear to be bluffs and semi-bluffs. 
  • Remember: To practice poker ranges, you'll need to study a full list of poker hand range charts. Study these until you memorize them, then begin to practice.