Sklanksy starting hands, as percentages

by ~ January 20th, 2009. Filed under: General poker strategy, Micro level poker, Poker theory.

* Modified June 15th, 2010 *

If you use a stats display program such as PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager you will see numbers that represent things such as the percentage of hands that a player puts money in to see a flop (by limping, completing from the small blind, raising or by calling a raise) or the percentage of times a player raises.

Obviously if a player puts money in to see a flop 30% of the time he’s doing so with more hands than a player who does so 20% of the time. Assuming that you have a statistically relevant number of hands, then the player who pays to see more flops is playing a wider range of hands than a player with a lower percentage.

But what do those percentages translate into in terms of actual hands? Here’s a chart, built using percentages punched into PokerStove. I set the percentage in the right hand column, and the other columns show the lowest hand of each type that make up that percentage.

In other words if a player is putting money into the pot 20% of the time, his range might be pairs down to 66, suited Aces down to A4, unsuited Aces down to A9, suited Kings down to K8, and so on.

The other statistic is the preflop raise percentage. If this same player raises 6% of his hands preflop, his preflop range might be something like pairs down to 88, suited Aces down to AT, ect.

Plus, if he has open limped in a particular hand, you can likely subtract the 6% raising range from his 20% paying to see the flop percentage, so he probably does not hold AA/KK and the other cards in the 6% raising range. Now you’ve further narrowed down his likely holding.

This assumes that this is not a tournament situation where the blinds have increased as people will, or should, change their ranges as the blinds become a larger portion of everyones stack.

After making this chart, I looked at it and thought that a lot of players are afraid to work with medium and low pairs, so having 6% include down to 88 seems unrealistic. I think players tend to like big cards more than low pairs so I looked for the Sklansky hand ranking.

There are various modifications of Sklansky’s original hand rankings as apparently he designed it for limit hold’em. No limit became more popular after the book was published. Here’s one version translated into percentages.

So what does 20% paid to see flop percentage mean in terms of actual hand range? I think that both of these charts give a general idea, but like I said, people tend to like big cards, and some love suited cards and would play 96 or T4 suited before 22.

I’ve mentioned big cards, overvaluing suitedness and changes when the blinds increase. The other consideration is position and the actions ahead. Some, maybe even most players know that they should adjust their actions based on their position at the table. Play only better hands from early position. But even those that know better don’t always take this into enough consideration. So a player who plays 20% of his hands may well play those same hands from anywhere, or, he may play 18% from early, 20% from mid and 22% from late. This is far to narrow of a positional adjustment but probably more realistic than an optimal adjustment. So take position into consideration when judging a players actions, but not too much unless you have reason to believe that the player is making a more optimal adjustment. The same applies to their raising range, and consequently to their limping after subtracting their raising range.

Also, at low levels people tend to either be hesitant to raise limpers ahead, or, overaggressive raising limpers. Most tend to be on the hesitant side so where they might raise first in, they might not raise with limpers ahead and just call behind. In this case you can’t subtract all of ther raising range from from their playing range when they just call behind limpers.

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