What are poker hand ranges, and how do professional players use them in decision-making? I’ll guide you through the poker range concept and explain everything in simple words.

What is a poker range?

A poker range is a set of hands a player can possibly have in a specific game situation.

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Button open raise
Typical Open Raise preflop range for the Button position

This example shows a standard Button opening range. With hands highlighted in color, the player enters the game with an open raise, while non-highlighted hands are folded. Let's figure out all the details here.

Appearance and combinatorics

To visualize ranges we use the preflop matrix that contains all possible combinations of pocket cards that can be dealt to you. We can highlight the 3 main sections here: Suited hands (both cards have the same suit), Off-suited hands, and Pocket pairs.

Poker range perflop hand matrix

Each cell represents all kinds of combinations of a hand written in it. For example, AKs means all possible variations of suited Ace-King hand, which are: A♡K♡, A♢K♢, A♧K♧, A♤K♤

Note that there are only 4 possible combinations of AKs hand, whereas it’s 12 for unsuited one (AKo). Every pocket pair has 6 possible combinations, for example: J♡J♢, J♡J♧, J♡J♤, J♢J♧, J♢J♤, J♧J♤.

These numbers allow us to calculate the total number of possible preflop combinations in poker (1326), and also calculate the number of combinations in our range. In our example we have 546 combos out of 1326 that we’ll play, so it means that the typical Button Open Raise range contains 41% of total starting hands.

Suited hands are usually much more playable, and in most cases, ranges are shifted more toward the suited part of the matrix. Our Button open raise range is no exception - you can see that we raise much more suited hands while folding the same type of hands but off-suited.

String format

Every range can be also presented as a string. The main purposes of this format are:

  • You can discuss ranges without having to send pictures every time;
  • You can import/export ranges from one app to another.

To consider a real example, let’s get back to our Button Open Raise range. In a string format it’ll look like this:

22+, A3o+, K8o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, A2s+, K2s+, Q3s+, J5s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 75s+, 65s, 54s

How to read this string:

  • 22+ means all pairs higher than 22 (22, 33, 44, … etc. all the way to AA);
  • A3o+ means all A-high (or, so-called Ax) hands starting from A3o (A3o, A4o, A5o, …. AKo);
  • K8o+ means all Kx hands starting from K8o (K8o, K9o, KTo, KJo, KQo);
  • 96s+ means all 9x hands starting from 96s (96s, 97s, 98s).

The other parts of this string are easily readable using similar logic.

Preflop charts

Preflop charts are basically the same as poker ranges. Players usually create hand charts for the most frequent game scenarios to structure their preflop play.

The most popular application for managing preflop ranges is Freebetrange. In this app, you can create your own ranges or explore ready-made preflop strategies from famous players or schools.

How to use ranges in decision-making

When professional players have to make a decision, they’re not trying to “guess” the other player’s cards. They’re thinking of the entire range of hands the opponent might have in this spot and trying to estimate the average profitability of actions against this range. This approach allows professional players to be winners on a long distance.

We can highlight three general levels of poker thinking:

  1. Beginner: Hand vs. Hand. I have a hand and my opponent has a hand. I’m trying to guess what their hand is and is it better than mine.
  2. Intermediate: Hand vs. Range. I have and my opponent has a range of hands. I’m trying to understand how my hand stands against his range on average.
  3. Advanced: Range vs. Range. Both I and my opponent have ranges of hands in this spot. I’m thinking about how I play all the hands in my range so I extract the most profit from them.

The better you understand ranges, the higher you move in your poker thinking and the closer you are to becoming a pro.

Start exploring poker ranges with Freebetrange and you’ll quickly accumulate a better understanding of preflop mechanics in general.

Nick Korolev
Freebetrange co-founder