Having a perfect preflop strategy isn’t nearly as important as most people think. This is because postflop is where the large majority of the real money is won or lost. But everything starts before the flop, and if you don’t have a solid strategy for what to do, the mistakes will be compounded later on in the hand. So it is definitely worth spending a good amount of time talking about this street.
Something that I want to briefly mention first however is this idea of a “range.” I have used this word a few times so far in this book already and you will no doubt notice it many more times. A range is simply a rough approximation of every single hand that you think your opponent can have in a certain situation.
Since it is very difficult to ever put somebody on an exact hand, it is best to discuss a poker situation based on the number of possible hands that they could be holding. And we can break it down even further and talk about the bottom or top of their range. I will use a simple analogy with numbers to make sure that this is all clear.
Imagine that there are 100 ping pong balls labelled 1 through 100. And further assume that the higher the number on the ball, the more value it has. I have all the ping pong balls numbered 50-60.
So my range is 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59 and 60. The absolute bottom of my range is the number 50 ball. The absolute top of my range is the number 60 ball. Similarly in poker we should always think about our opponent’s likely holdings as a range, not a specific hand. The actual hand that they will show up with at showdown will be a random hand within that range.
Just as a quick side note. People often talk about “running bad” or “running good.” And this basically just refers to the short term whimsical luck element that I already discussed earlier. But really what they are saying if they are running bad is that their opponents keep showing up with the top end of their range. And vice versa if they are running good. As difficult or easy as it can be at times, depending on how you are running, you must always remember that your decisions in poker should be based on your opponent’s entire range, not any one part of it.
Perhaps there are a dozen different hands that you think your opponent can have in a particular situation and only a couple of them beat you. Just because he shows up with the very top of his range this time does not mean that you played the hand improperly. And the reverse is true as well.
A great free tool that I recommend for analyzing hands and getting you thinking more in terms of ranges is Pokerstove. This program will allow you to plug in the exact hands that you put your opponent on and find your percentage to win (equity) over an enormous sample. Here is a very simple example of that.
In this very simplistic example, if 66+ and AQo+ was your opponent’s exact range, and you got all the money in preflop, you should be pretty happy with that decision given your edge in equity (57% vs his 43%). You need to remember that he can show up with any hand in that range though. Just because he has AA this time does not mean that you played the hand poorly. And conversely just because he shows up with 66 next time does not mean that you somehow played the hand better.
The equity numbers are the only variables that matter. The result is just a detail. The result in this particular instance is just a part of the short term madness. In the long run, your play here was good against that range. And that is all that matters.