Learn to put players on hand ranges

Lee Childs, courtesy of Ante Up MagazineRe-printed courtesy of our content partner Ante Up Magazine.

You sat down at a $1-$2 cash game in a casino and bought in for $200. You’re in the cutoff seat, one seat right of the button. You’ve only been at the table for about three hands and don’t have any information about the players. Those in this hand are under the gun (UTG) with $300 and UTG+2 with $140.

Both limped for $2 and it folded to you with {k-Hearts}-{j-Hearts}. Which of the following do you do and why?

A. Fold B. Call $2 C. Raise to $15 D. Raise to $20

The first thing we need to think about is the range of hands our opponents have. We’re new to the table so we have to make a lot of assumptions and think about what a typical player would have. We know most players raise strong hands and limp with speculative hands. Also, we know some like to limp really big hands hoping to reraise if someone else raises.

Since you don’t know these players and don’t know whether the game has been playing loose or tight, passive or aggressive, let’s put the UTG limper on pairs, suited connectors, suited aces, Broadway cards or possibly a big pair/big ace hoping to trap.

The UTG+2 player has a slightly narrower range so we’re going to heavily discount big pairs and big-ace hands. It’s just not common for someone to limp with those kinds of hands after someone else has limped because they don’t want to let a lot of people see a flop. More than likely, this player has a pair, suited connectors, suited aces or marginal Broadway cards.

A hand such as {k-Hearts}-{j-Hearts} won’t play easily in multiway pots. Big pairs and big Broadway cards are easier (and more profitable) to play vs. fewer opponents. If you just call, you have to be able to trust yourself to not play a big pot if you hit just your king or jack because when we just limp along preflop we have no idea what opponents are holding. We need to play it for two-pair or better, combo straight/flush draws.

Simply folding the hand is the most profitable play. You don’t have any information about your opponents so take some time to see how everyone is playing before you get involved. If I get big pairs, small pairs, or suited connectors when I am new to the table, I just play them straightforwardly as I can make profitable decisions regardless if I know anything about my opponents. If I don’t have hands that are really easy to play postflop, then I’m going to find reasons to fold so I can gather more information about my opponents before I start getting involved.

I highly discourage just calling as you’re frequently going to be in some really marginal postflop situations. You’ll flop two pair only about 2 percent of the time and you’ll only flop a flush draw about 11 percent of the time. On top of that, if you flop the flush draw, you’re not drawing to the nuts unless the {a-Hearts} flops.

Raising between $15-$20 is fine. If you raise, I would lean toward $20, as you’ll quickly find out how strong the UTG hand is. If he reraises, you can fold knowing he limped with a monster. This is the biggest argument for raising as you not only find out if he’s limping big hands in early position, you also avoid playing postflop against a hand that dominates you.

I will continue my analysis of this hand next month when we’ll find out what our hero decided to do. Decide To Win!

— Lee Childs is the founder and lead instructor at Inside the Minds. For information about his group training sessions and personal coaching, visit inside-the-minds.com.