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NLHE Foundations #04: Putting Opponents on Pre-Flop Ranges (Part 1)

NLHE Foundations #04: Putting Opponents on Pre-Flop Ranges (Part 1)


This is part four in the NLHE Foundations Series. I’ve designed this series to give players a clear path from the beginner to intermediate levels in no-limit hold’em. There’s a lot more to this series than these posts because there’s private content and lots of instructive hands with analysis posted in the many threads for this series. If you want to get in on this, then sign up in the main thread for this series by posting and letting me know you want in. If you’re late getting to this, then it’s no big deal at all – I specifically designed this course to be friendly to people studying at their own pace.

With that having been said, we’re going to start working on putting players on ranges pre-flop in this lesson.

The Foundation for Hand Reading

If you expect to be able to read hands or put your opponents on ranges in any way, shape or form, then it all has to start before the flop. The goal for this week is to simply be able to understand the types of hands that your opponents are likely to have based on their pre-flop actions and a few basic stats.

This is part 1 of multiple parts on reading hands pre-flop. This part is going to start off a little more general, and then we’re going to work towards being more specific with our reads.

A Note on HUDs

There are some people who believe that you shouldn’t be playing micro stakes and small stakes with a HUD. I am not one of those people, and I think it’s incredibly stupid and arrogant to put yourself at that particular disadvantage on purpose in today’s online poker environment if you have access to a HUD. It’s basically a try-hard attempt at looking smart for the sake of looking smart, and it’s a good way to stay stuck at the same level forever without ever improving enough to get through small stakes.

However, I also think that some people are going to have tendencies to use their HUDs with too many stats that give them a lot of information that they can’t really act on. That’s why we’re only going to discuss a few basic stats here and what they mean for pre-flop hand-reading.

The Basic Setup

There are three stats that you can use as the basis of a lot of your pre-flop hand reading: VPIP, PFR and ATS. Here’s a quick breakdown of what these three stats mean:

  • VPIP is the percentage of hands where the player put money into the pot pre-flop that wasn’t a blind or ante.
  • PFR is the percentage of hands where the player put in at least one raise before the flop.
  • ATS is attempt to steal, and this might just be called a steal percentage depending on your particular HUD. This is how often a player open raises after it folds to them in late position pre-flop (CO/BU/SB combined).

While these stats individually can give you a rough idea of what a player’s range probably looks like, their real power for hand reading comes from using them in combination with each other. Looking at how two of these three stats compare can tell you a wealth of information about a player’s understanding of poker and play style in general.

Statistic Combinations

If the VPIP is too high relative to the PFR (eg: 28/14 in 6-max, 20/11 in full-ring), it means the player is limping pre-flop or calling raises a disproportionate percentage of the time. This is one of the tell-tale signs of a loose/passive player.

If the VPIP and PFR are close together (eg: 21/17 in 6-max, 15/13 in full-ring), it means the player isn’t limping much pre-flop and is calling raises a limited amount of the time. This is one of the main characteristics of a tight/aggressive player.

When the ATS is too close to the PFR, it means that the player isn’t very positionally aware pre-flop, and their early position ranges will be closer to their late position ranges than what you’d typically expect from a good player. In full-ring, for example, you might see someone who is 15/13 with an ATS of 35 percent with a tight-aggressive player. However, you might see something like 20/11 with a 15 percent ATS from a loose/passive who isn’t very positionally aware.

Two Other Statistics

There are two other statistics that we can use to get a good idea of how our opponents are playing pre-flop. The first is the 3-bet pre-flop percentage (not to be confused with the plain 3-bet stat, which is for all streets combined), and that’s how often our opponent puts in a 3-bet before the flop when given the chance to do so. We also want to know how often our opponent folds in the blinds to steals. We’ll do more with these stats later.

Our Method of Study

This is a very important concept that’s really the center of what I want people to learn with this lesson, so pay very close attention:

You cannot and should not expect to be able to put people on super-specific, detailed ranges while you’re in the middle of playing. Instead, you should put people on super-detailed ranges during your study so that you build up a feel for what these ranges are like, and that feel will guide you during your play.

In short, we want to work with very specific ranges in our study so that we learn this stuff on an unconscious level for application at the tables.

Your Homework

We’re not going to get super-specific with our discussion of these ranges until future lessons, but I am going to give you some homework that will help to get you started in that direction:

Part 1: If you do not have a poker database program and HUD, then get the PokerTracker 30-day trial or the Hold’em Manager 30-day trial. Don’t get both at the same time. Instead, use one for 30 days, and then use the other for 30 days. Hopefully by then, you will have made the $60 you need to purchase the small stakes NLHE version of one of these.

Note that this is not optional. If you don’t do this, then you aren’t taking this course seriously, and you’re not taking my time seriously. If you have trouble getting set up, then post in the threads for this course, and I’ll make sure that you get the help you need.

Part 2: This is the real homework. Find two players that you have a lot of hands on. Sort for all of the hands that you have on each of those players that have went to showdown so that you can see what the player was holding in different situations. Run a filter for what that player was stealing the blinds with, and try to get a good understanding of what that person’s stealing range looks like in general. Post the player’s VPIP, PFR, ATS, Fold Blind to Steal and 3-bet Pre-flop Stats along with what you think they’re stealing with most of the time. Do not post the player’s screen name for any reason.

Post your answers and discussion in this forum thread.

Jesse Eddleman is a gambling writer with over ten years of experience in the industry, and he has written for and many other top online portals. You can learn more about him at

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