You may find the article on thin value useful as a primer for this range merging article.
Range merging or “merging your range” is something that you will run in to every now and then on poker forums and in training videos. It's quite an advanced topic, so I'm going to need your full attention for this one.
As a word of warning, range merging was something that took me some time to fully get my head around. Explaining this principle is likely going to be harder for me than it is for you to understand it.
So prepare yourself to either learn everything there is to know about range merging or to sit back and watch my teaching skills fly out of the window.
What is range merging?
Range merging is when you bet with a medium-strength hand on the river, where the board makes your opponent believe that you can only be betting with either the nuts or bluffing with nothing at all (most likely bluffing).
Opponents will often call with weak hands as they are confident that they will be able to catch you out on your bluff. These hands that opponents call with are therefore known as “bluffcatchers”.
However, our medium-strength hand actually beats their weak bluffcatcher that they thought they were catching us out with, so we take the pot with that little extra value.
Range merging diagram.
I know, I know, it's impressively confusing on first glance. However, I've got a lot more explaining to do first so bare with me. I need to go in to some more detail about those bluffcatchers first...
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What are bluffcatchers?
Bluffatchers are hands that you wouldn't bet with because they are not strong enough, but you will more than happily call a bet with them if you have the suspicion that your opponent is going for a bluff on the river.
We are heads up against an opponent on the flop and first to act with 9 T. The flop comes A 9 7. We bet the size of the pot and our opponent calls.
The turn is A. We check and our opponent checks behind us.
The river is J. We check and our opponent bets ½ the size of the pot. The action is back on us.
We call with our pair of 9s. Our opponent turns over K T for a busted flush draw and we win the pot.
Bluffcatcher example evaluation.
In this situation we do not expect our opponent to bet with a hand like a pair of Js, 9s, or 7s. This is because they know that they only expect to get called by hands like a higher pair, Ax or better. Therefore it is the safer option for them to check and take down the pot rather than risking more money unnecessarily.
It is very unlikely that our opponent would bet with a mediocre hand on the river.
Therefore, because our opponent is not betting with a mediocre hand, they are either betting with a very strong hand or they are bluffing with air (this is described as having a “polarized” range). Seeing as our opponent didn't bet the turn or raise on the flop, we can safely assume that our opponent is more likely to be bluffing as opposed to betting with a strong hand like Ax or better.
So, whilst we do not have a hand strong enough for us to want to bet out with, we are more than happy to call this strange looking bet to catch our opponent's bluff. Hence the term “bluff catcher”.
This article involves a lot of level 3 thinking. See multiple level thinking for more information on that.
The aim of range merging is to take advantage of the logic behind what we just did.
Explanation of range merging.
To get to grips with range merging, we're going to have to turn the situation around and look at it from the opposite angle.
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of our opponent. However, this time we have a better hand like Q Q. Let's forget about the weakly played turn and assume that we are on the river in the same situation as before.
Our hand: Q Q
Board: A 9 7 A J
Many players will be tempted to check and take down the pot on a board of A 9 7 A J. After all, the last thing we want is to get caught out by an opponent that holds an Ace. However, this is a great board to merge our range and take advantage of the player that is willing to call with their bluffcatcher.
By merging our range (i.e. betting with hands in between the nuts and nothing at all), our opponent is very likely going to call with a weaker hand like a pair of 9s, 7s or Js in an attempt to catch us out on a bluff. We are get more value from the hand by merging our range, simply because we are confident that our mediocre hand beats theirs when they think we would only bet with the nuts or nothing at all.
Our opponent is only expecting us to bet out when we are bluffing. Betting with a mediocre hand doesn't seem to make too much sense to them.
The added value of range merging is that our opponent is probably going to call value bets later on down the line when we have the nuts. This is all going to be thanks to our range merging in previous pots.
One thing to remember about range merging.
If you merge your range frequently, opponents will get wise to your game and start slowplaying strong hands as they expect you to continue betting. Therefore, if the example hand above was repeated, the second time around our opponent may well check with an Ace because they will be expecting us to bet with a mediocre hand on the river.
This is more of a metagame problem more than anything, so I'm not going to go in to the ins and outs of what your opponent thinks and how they are going to react to your plays. Just be aware of how range merging will affect the way your opponents play against you.
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Evaluation of range merging.
Range merging is simply taking advantage of players who are trying to catch you out when they think you are bluffing. This article was quite meaty, but I can split it up in to two main sections of learning:
- Figuring out what a bluffcatcher is and when we use it.
- Learning how to take advantage of players using bluffcatchers.
If you think of it like that, it might be easier to break down the article and understand the strategy.
If I'm being honest, this principle took absolutely ages for me to get my head around, even after having it explained to me a handful of times. So if you didn't get it on the first read through, try again today or come back and give it a go tomorrow.
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