When you’re playing poker, you can obviously never know exactly what your opponent has, unless he’s kind enough to turn his cards face up for you. The best you can do is to construct a range of possible hands he could be holding, based on what he has done on each street in the hand. As we get deeper into the hand, you should be able to narrow down this range significantly, so that by the river you have a very good idea of what he may have.
A capped range in no limit holdem is a situation where a player’s possible hands include no very strong holdings, based on their actions so far in the hand. The transparent lines which people take in various situations can make it quite apparent to a good player that they are very unlikely to have strong hands in their range, allowing them to bluff with the right frequency when they themselves have weak hands, and to size their value bets correctly so as to get paid off by their opponent’s weak range.
Examples of Capped Ranges
Imagine you are in the first level (25/50 blinds) of a NLHE tournament and a tight player with whom you are very familiar raises to 3 times the big blind under the gun. These ‘Harrington on Holdem’-type players will have pairs from Tens upwards and AQ and AK almost always here. Now let’s say you call on the button with a speculative hand like 89s, because you are in position 100 big blinds deep and you feel your implied odds are very good.
The flop comes down 4d5h7c and your opponent bets 300 into the 375 chip. You can immediately narrow his range down to hands that are of medium strength on this board, specifically over-pairs and continuation bets with missed broadways. You on the other hand, can have all sorts of extremely strong hands: all of the sets on the board, 45 or and maybe even 57 suited for two pair, as well as 86 suited for the nut straight.
Even though your range is un-capped where his is, you still have to make a decision on how best to take advantage of this situation. Just because his range is capped doesn’t mean that he will fold if you try to bluff him. For example, if you raise the flop here a lot of players will convince themselves that you have a weaker over-pair most of the time and happily go all-in. Against such players it will be better to wait until the turn falls and then shove over their bet on the turn.
Capped Ranges and Bluff-Catching
Another example of a capped range happens quite often in aggressive 6-max cash games where there is a lot of blind stealing going on and pre-flop ranges are very wide. Imagine you’re on the cutoff and you open 9cTc and are called by a very aggressive player in the big blind.
The flop comes down 956 with two spades and the big blind checks to you. A lot of players in this situation would decide to check it back, opting for a pot-control line in the hopes of avoiding being check-raised, and to induce bluffs on later streets. However in doing so, they are announcing to their opponent that they do not have any strong hands in their range. Nobody would check back 55, 66, 99, 56, 78 or a strong over-pair in this situation, so your opponent can discount them from your range straight away, but you don’t have the same luxury as he could easily have been shooting for a check-raise with ALL of these holdings.
Against players who like to take these pot control, bluff-catching lines, betting the turn and then over-betting the river is an extremely successful way of making them change their plan and fold the river, because their hand range when they check this flop is simply not strong enough to call a turn bet and a river over-bet. Just remember when employing this strategy however, that you must balance it by over-betting the river for value sometimes too.
Recognizing capped ranges is a great skill to have when playing no limit holdem and it allows you to make very good decisions, once you know how to apply the information in terms of bluffing frequencies and bet-sizing. If you actively seek out situations where your opponents range is capped, you’ll see your win-rate sky rocket as a result!