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A breakdown of poker hand ranges: Polarised, Capped, Condensed, Linear

A breakdown of poker hand ranges: Polarised, Capped, Condensed, Linear

The poker jargon you’ll hear at your local home game is easy for even the greenest beginners to understand. After all, “I’m all in”, “I call”, “I have the nuts”, and “GAHHHHH what the #$@&%*! were you thinking?” are all rather self-explanatory.

But when you’re watching the BBZ Stream Team go to battle in high stakes games on Twitch against some of the best players in the business, it’s likely there will be some more advanced poker terms bandied around that you’re unfamiliar with.

Thankfully, BBZ Poker’s team of coaches is on hand to break down anything you’re unsure of. For example, the terms that high-level players use when discussing either their own range of hands and the range of their opponents.

In this article we’re going to break down the differences between the types of ranges a player can have in poker, with the help of BBZ coach, streamer and high stakes crusher Jon “apestyles” Van Fleet.

These include

  • Polarized ranges
  • Capped ranges
  • Condensed ranges
  • Linear ranges

First up: why do we need these terms?

We’ve all seen players like Daniel Negreanu call out an opponent’s hand during a game and be right, but the truth is, poker today is less about putting your opponent on an exact holding and more about defining their range so you can find the best way to play versus a variety of hands.

“What these terms are meant to do is describe the equity distribution of someone’s range based on their actions pre- and post-flop,” says Jon “apestyles” Van Fleet in his “Back to Basics” webinar series for BBZ Poker.

Essentially, they allow you to rule out certain hands and hone in on potential hands your opponent can have.

Here’s how we might look at a hand range. The different colours represent what the game theory optimal play with each hand should be.
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What is a polarized range?

A polarized range is when a player can either have the best possible high-equity hands (the nuts) or nothing at all (low-equity bluffs). This is referred to as having the top and bottom of their range.

“A polarized three-bet range pre-flop includes value hands that can get all-in as well as bluffs that can fold to a four-bet,” apestyles explains.

For the most part, a three-betting range is always polarized as a player would likely opt to just call with their middling hands, such as medium pocket pairs.

“Generally, the more polarized we are, the bigger we want to bet,” says apestyles. “This is especially true post-flop.”

Why? Because it means we get max-value when we have a great hand, and it also applies max-pressure when we’re bluffing.

“An example would be when someone has chosen to check-raise a paired board, bet huge on the turn, then shove on the river,” says apestyles. “Usually that’s trips or better for value.”


What is a capped range?

A capped range has the top removed from the range (ie. they can’t have the nutted, high-equity hands due to their actions pre- and post-flop).

“This is when you remove the raising range,” apestyles explains. “Or they have chosen to check or bet small. All of those things make a range capped.”

When you can identify a player with a capped range, you can apply maximum pressure with your bluffs as when you’re polarized and they’re capped, you can have all of the best possible hands, whereas they simply can’t.


What is a condensed range?

A condensed range is the exact opposite of a polarized range, in that the top and bottom hands are removed.

“An example would be when a villain has raised pre-flop, we call, the flop comes K73-rainbow–a spot where most people would continuation bet 100% with their bluffs–but the villain has chosen to check,” says apestyles. “For the most part, this means they have showdown value with stuff like ace-high, pocket Queens, pocket eights even, and bad kings.”

These are not concrete rules, however. The villain could still have traps with their sets and two pairs, so always consider every option.

“Remember: a condensed range is always capped, but a capped range isn’t necessarily condensed.”


What is a linear range?

Arguably the most difficult range to define is a linear range. It includes just about everything!

“Linear ranges are a straight line,” apestyles explains. “They do not exclude hands between the strongest and weakest hands in the range.”

This means that the range is less about bluffs and value, and more about playing hands with middling equity aggressively. This range of hands tends to play well post-flop when we get called.

Unlike a polarized range, a linear range includes hands that can call a four-bet. This is why players tend to play a linear range the deeper stacked they are, as they have more chips and therefore more room to manoeuvre.

The next time you’re playing, take all of your opponents’ actions into consideration and use that information to construct the range of hands they might be playing.


To learn more about how to construct ranges, check out the “Back to Basics” webinar series by Jon “apestyles” Van Fleet for BBZ Poker.

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