How to play a capped range

It’s easy to get exploited when you can’t have the nuts on certain boards, but there are still better ways to play when you have a capped range.

Dara O’Kearney

I was recently asked an excellent question from a student whom I am teaching GTO principles. GTO is all about playing in such a way that you don’t get exploited and he asked if I thought it was easier to play against a bad tight player or a bad gambler who plays any two cards? His argument was that it was easier to play against a bad tight player because you usually have a better idea of where they are in the hand.

It’s a really good question. They are both making a mistake. I agreed, it is easier to play against the nit because their range is defined and unprotected. There are just so many boards where they can’t have more than a pair which is super easy to exploit.

A bad nit first of all does not understand board coverage. When they raise or 3-bet, they really only do so with the top end of their range. So medium to high pairs and big Broadway/Aces. Let’s say they have a range of 88+, KQs and AT+. If the board comes 6-6-2 you know they can never have hit the nutted part of that board. 

Bad nits will often cap their ranges too. For example, if they raise and call a 3-bet. You can usually discount hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK from their range because they predictably always 4-bet those when they have the chance. 

So when a player is predictably tight, you can discount the low cards and in some cases the premium hands, leaving a medium strength middle which is very hard to play. 

How to play a capped range

Dara O Kearney
It’s easy to get exploited when there are boards you never hit

In spots where you have a capped range there are still ways to play correctly, which is by mixing up the times you call and fold. If somebody bets pot for example you can recognise you have to call half the time to avoid being exploited. Your calling range would be based on blockers and hand strength. Blockers are more important. 

I coached a player recently where blockers came into play with a capped range. The action was a tight player opened mid position, a loose player flatted the button and he defended in the Big Blind with KT. The flop came T92 with two spades and the tight player bet small and both players called. The turn was another T, so he hit trips. He decided to lead, the tight player folded and the loose player called. The river was the worst possible river, it was the 8s, so QJ gets there and the flush gets there. He checked and the Button overbet and he called. 

Now my analysis was my student’s range was capped because he probably doesn’t bet his draws on the turn that way. It was probably a good card for the Button to bluff, but what are we worried about him having? QJ or a flush. So having a spade in our hand would be lovely (he didn’t) and QT or JT would be better calls than KT, because it blocks QJ. So Villain is betting really polarised because he either beats all the Tens anyway so our kicker doesn’t really matter or he is bluffing. From a purely GTO perspective if Villain is balanced we want to call with all our spade blockers or QT or JT, and the technically stronger KT with no spade would be a fold. 

So going back to the question. It’s the fact that we can have the nuts on most boards that prevents us being exploited. Unsophisticated opponents may not be aware we have protected our range. Some opponents have an idea about balance and that certain low boards may favour them, but if you are playing balanced against these players they will exploit themselves by being overly aggressive. Then when you are playing against the super good players it’s really important to play protected.

You can get advice like this every month in Dara’s free strategy newsletter (with a current focus on PKOs) which you can join right here

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