How to Crush $2/$5 No Limit Hold’em (In 8 Weeks)

In this blog post, I’m going to share with you a case study from my client James who went from losing at $1/$3 No limit, to crushing at $2/$5, profiting over $40 per hour, in just 8 weeks.

Most importantly, I’m going to share with you the key strategy we used during our consulting, which can help you do the same.

You’re going to learn how to figure out precisely what your opponents are holding using a process I invented called a ‘Hand Range Funnel’, an easy to follow system for hand reading in poker.

During my time with James we worked on a lot of things. From his preflop fundamentals and mastering the nuances of preflop play to the math, pot odds, equities and counting combos in real time, to bet sizing for both preflop and post flop play.

Of course, we can’t cover everything in this post, but I want to focus on one core concept, hand reading, which I believe will make the biggest impact in your poker game.

Keep in mind, the system I’m going to teach you is a prime example of something that takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.

Be patient with the process.

The core strategy James used to achieve those results was my Hand Range Funnel. I’ll show you exactly how to use it in a minute, using a real hand example that James sent to me, but first, I want to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In order to use the funnel, you need to be familiar with the concept of a hand range.

A hand range is simply all the possible hands a player can hold at any given time.

For example, let’s imagine your tight, solid opponent raises under the gun to $15 in a $2/$5 cash game, we can assume his hand range to be the following:

  • Strong pocket pairs, such as two eights or better.
  • Broadway and connected suited cards, like Jack-Ten suited, Queen-Jack suited and King-Queen suited.
  • Ace-Ten suited or better.
  • Ace-King and Ace Queen offsuit.
  • Maybe a few bluffs, such as Ace-Four or Ace Five suited or a mid-suited connector like 98s.

It’s important to keep in mind that opinions will differ when identifying an opponent’s hand range. That’s totally normal. However, try your best not to get caught up on that when I’m making assumptions in this blog, but instead, let us focus on the process.

Now, I’d like to introduce you to the concept of a Hand Range Funnel, a system I invented by distilling my own process I use to hand read, and that I now share with clients to help them master this art.

First off, I call it a Hand Range Funnel because a funnel is the perfect visual image to help you understand how ranges change as the hand progresses. In short, a hand range will start wide (such as when an opponent opens preflop) and progressively get narrower throughout the hand, just like a funnel. Hence, the Hand Range Funnel.

A Hand Range Funnel follows three key principles.

  1. A hand ranges always get narrower, and they can never get wider. This makes intuitive sense. A player cannot have a hand on the river which he cannot also have preflop.
  2. A hand that’s eliminated from your opponent’s range is gone forever. This may sound obvious, but many people overlook this step-in practice by falsely assuming their opponents can have hands which they would not have played that way on a previous street. I’ll show you a common example of how players get this wrong in a minute.
  3. Funnels come in all shapes. There’s no law that says your opponent’s hand range must get narrower on every street, and the way they change depends on the action your opponent takes.

Sometimes a hand range will get dramatically narrower, for example if your opponent check-raises all in on the river.

Other times they hardly change at all, say when your opponent makes a continuation bet after the flop on an innocuous board.

For a complete guide on Hand Range Funnels, how they work, along with examples of how to implement this process in practice during your next poker session, download my Intro to Hand Reading.

With the blinds at $1/$2, middle position opens to $10. The cutoff, button and small blind all call. James looks down at King-Seven of spades in the Big Blind, and, after working together to help him defend more liberally to realize his equity when getting a great price, he opts to call, closing the action.

We go five ways, to the flop.

The flop comes down 7h 3s 2h. The small blind checks, and James decides to bet out $35, both to protect his hand against draws and get value from smaller pairs or weaker sevens. It’s a play I like. The logic is simple: he’s going to call a bet anyway, why risk giving a free card when his hand is so vulnerable to over cards in a multi way pot?

Only the Cutoff calls.

It’s here where the hand range funnel comes in handy. The question you want to ask yourself in real time is, ‘What is my opponent’s hand range?’

Get in the habit of doing this each time your opponent takes a new action. The Hand Range Funnel helps you determine this in an easy and accurate way.

Remember, your approximation of your opponent’s hand is just that, an approximation. We can’t expect it to be 100% accurate, but isn’t our best guess really all we have?
That’s poker guys.

Over time, the better you get at understanding situations, your opponents, and the nuances of the game, the better you’ll become at accurately deducing ranges.

Before we go any further, one question I get asked all the time is, ‘how does this concept of identifying hand ranges apply to my games where people seem to play any two cards?’ A common objection I hear is, ‘I get how that works at the high stakes games you play, but you can’t even begin to these players on a range!’

I understand where you’re coming from, and realize the potential challenges of identifying ranges against loose cannons. That said, I’m confident Hand Range Funnel works, even for those crazy players. In fact, it’s against them where this process is most important, and James’ opponent was one of these opponents.

I think we can all agree that even against crazy loose players, certain hands can still be eliminated from their range with relative certainty, simply based on the action they take.

For example, our opponent called a $10 raise preflop in the cutoff. Right there we can narrow down his range quite substantially, eliminating hands on both ends of the spectrum.

The fact he didn’t 3-bet means we can be almost certain he cannot have aces or kings, and he’s also unlikely to have queens, jacks and ace king as well. Again, it may not be 100%, it never is, but I believe in most cases, it’s a fair assumption. And if you’re estimation is right 90% of the time, it’s worth betting on, right?

Second, the fact our opponent called a raise means we can be equally certain he doesn’t have complete garbage like ten-four offsuit or Jack-three offsuit. It’s important to realize these hands account for most of the deck.

In fact, even the loosest players who call with hands they should be folding to a raise, still only have some 25% of hands. Look at the screenshot below to see just how wide 25% of the deck actually is.

That means he’s calling with hands as wide as 53s and JTo, and even still, against these super loose players, we can eliminate 75% of the deck from their range simply because they called a single raise preflop.

This process of logically narrowing down your opponent’s range is how you use the Hand Range Funnel to your advantage. And that same process can also be applied to the postflop play as well. Let’s take a look.

After James bet out, the cutoff called a $35 bet on a 7h 3s 2h board. Again, we can rule out quite a few hands on both ends of the spectrum based on the fact that he called a sizeable bet with several players behind him.

If he had a super premium hand, like a set, he almost certainly would have raised to protect his it, especially with a flush draw on board.

Likewise, if he had complete garbage that didn’t connect with this board, like Jack-Ten of diamonds, he would fold.

Therefore, once again, we’re only keeping the hands in his range which are in the middle of the spectrum, namely, strong but not extremely premium hands, which connected with this board.

Many people ask how you implement reads or what you know about your opponent while deducing their hand range. It’s actually quite simple. The fact we know our opponent to be a loose player will directly translate into the range we put him on.

In practicality, it means we can assume he’ll call this flop wider than he should. Therefore, his range will contain not only any flush or straight draw, but any pair and even some ace high hands.

Remember when I mentioned before that a hand that’s eliminated from your opponent’s range is gone forever? Postflop is where many people get this step wrong. In short, the hands we include in his flop range must also be in his preflop range.

For example, we can rule out 73s because he wouldn’t call preflop with that hand. We can also rule out hands like A4 and A5 offsuit for the same reason. Even though these hands, if he had them, would call a bet on the flop, we can rule them out because he wouldn’t call a $10 raise preflop with them.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, let’s not get caught up with specifics. Maybe he will call a raise with Ace-Five offsuit and I’m wrong to assume he can’t have that hand. I’m making these assumptions based on having no reads and what most players will do.

If I get information to the contrary, I can adjust my Hand Range Funnel for that player in a future hand.

Now, just to recap, we’ve narrowed down our opponent’s range by deducing the hands he will call preflop, and on the flop with. Hands that would have raised or folded preflop or on the flop were eliminated.

We can broadly assume our opponent’s range at this point is as follows: any pair, any flush draw or any straight draw and some ace high holdings.

If we took this one step further and entered this into a poker equity calculator, which I show you how to use in this blog post, it would look like this.

You can see here our equity vs. that range is roughly 60% (middle of the screenshot at the top under ‘Equity’). I worked with James to help him better understand how his hand interacts with his opponent’s range to develop the right game plan for each individual situation he will face.

Written out, our opponent’s hand range would look like this: TT-88, 66-44, A7s, A3s-A2s, AsQs-AsTs, As5s-As4s, AhQh-Ah8h, Ah6h, Ac5c-Ac4c, Ad5d-Ad4d, Kh9h+, Qh9h+, Jh8h+, T7s, Th8h+, 97s, 9h8h, 87s, 75s+, 65s, 54s

At this point, even against a super loose player like the one identified above, his hand range now contains a mere 8% of hands (upper right corner of the screenshot in red), meaning that using the Hand Range Funnel, we’ve already eliminated 92% the deck from his possible holdings.

The turn comes a 9 of clubs and James decides to lead out for $65 into a pot of $120. In reviewing this hand, I encouraged him to bet bigger here when out of position, but I agree that betting is better than checking.

Not only is James still a favorite to have the best hand at this point, but he can get value from worse pairs as well as continue to charge draws.

You can see in this screenshot below, his equity actually increased slightly, from 60% to 63%.

After James bet out, once again, his opponent calls.

Now, let’s the Hand Range Funnel to figure out what types of hands our opponent has.

Using the same logic we applied on the flop, we can safely assume he doesn’t have a big hand, like two pair or a set because he would have either raised the flop or turn with those. Therefore, we can eliminate hands like 97 and 99 from his range.

I believe at this point we can also remove some of his weaker holdings, like gutshots or ace highs, as most players won’t call a bet with these hands with one card to come. Lastly, some of his weaker pairs will fold, like pocket fours, fives or sixes.

Therefore, our opponent’s range at this point is comprised of the the pairs he called the flop with, the flush draws, and maybe an opened ended straight draw, like five-four suited.

Visually, it will look like this:

Written out, it will look like this: TT, 88, A7s, A3s-A2s, AhQh-Ah8h, Ah6h, Kh9h+, Qh9h+, Jh8h+, T7s, Th8h+, 9h8h, 87s, 75s+, 6h5h, 54s

At this point, we’re down to a mere 5% of the deck (see upper right of screenshot in red), meaning we’ve eliminated 95% of our opponent’s potential holdings.

The river comes down a Jack of diamonds. James now checks, hoping to win at showdown. His opponent goes all in. Here’s the fun part!

Before we get to the results, I’d like you to think about what you would do here, and why? Again, the question to ask yourself is simple. ‘What is my opponent’s hand range?’

When doing this process, my clients find it helps to break up their range into two categories: Hands you beat and hands you don’t. In other words, your goal is to identify which types of hands your opponent is betting for value (hands that beat you), and which hands he’s bluffing with (hands that you beat).

Priming yourself with these questions will help you in real time to have a better idea of where you’re at in the hand.

Before we jump in, you’ll remember from the principles of Hand Ranges we discussed earlier, that our opponent’s hand range on the river must only be comprised of the hands he could have on all previous streets. In other words, we’re only looking at which hands from his turn calling range will now shove the river.

First, there’s two pair, like Jack-Nine, but that would have to specifically be Jh9h. For those of you whom are slightly more advanced, you may be aware there’s only one combination of that hand, meaning it’s very unlikely. I talk more about how to use combinations in the Membership at Conscious Poker.

He could also potentially have J7s, but we’d have to go back to preflop to determine if that’s potentially in his range. Would he really call a $10 raise preflop with Jack-Seven? Some players will, most won’t. When unsure, I always aim to be conservative and include hands in my opponent’s range that beat me. We’ll include Jack-Seven suited just to be safe.

Our opponent may have also backdoored a straight, but only with specifically Ten-Eight of hearts (remember, his other Ten-Eight holdings wouldn’t call the flop, therefore he cannot have them on the river).

If he’s good at hand reading, he may also shove with some top pairs for value, but keep in mind the only hands he can have which contain a Jack are once again those which called both the flop and the turn. Therefore, they would have to be hands that contained hearts in them, like Ace-Jack, King-Jack, Queen-Jack or Jack-Ten of hearts.

It’s questionable whether or not he would shove the river with a mere top pair given the action (especially the weaker top pairs), as some players will simply check and hope to win at showdown. Again, when doing this exercise, we’ll be conservative and assume he’ll shove all of his top pairs to plan for our worst-case scenario.

As for value hands, that’s it. Remember, he cannot have other two pairs (like nine-seven suited), or any of the sets, because he would have raised with them on a previous street, and therefore we’ve already eliminated them from his range.

His shoving range on the river is as follows:
Jh9h (1 combo)
J7s (2 combos)
Th8h (1 combo)
AhJh (1 combo)
KhJh (1 combo)
QhJh (1 combo)
JhTh (1 combo)

Total Combos: 8

Now let’s take a look at the bluffs. Well, he can have plenty of those, all missed flush draws, 54s and, depending on the player, perhaps he’s even turning a hand like Ace-Three suited into a bluff.

To plan for my worst-case scenario, let’s keep his bluffs to a minimum and only include the obvious missed flush and straight draws.

Missed Draws: AhQh, AhTh, Ah8h, Ah6h, Ah5h, Ah4h, KhQh, KhTh, QhTh, 6h5h, 6h4h

Total Combos: 14

Now that we have his range figured out, what do we do? How do we make this decision in real time, without the convenience of a calculator?

Well, during our time together, I helped James implement the systems to make these decisions while playing. I walked him through how to easily add up the possibilities (known as combinations) of our opponent’s bluffs and weigh that against his value hands.

Once he had that information, he was then able to determine the probability that he had the best hand, or in other words, calculate his equity in real time.

Here is the process:

Step 1: Count opponent’s bluffs
Step 2: Count his value hands
Step 3: Determine the probability opponent is bluffing by weighing ratio of bluffs to value hands.
Step 4: Determine if you’re getting the right price based on pot odds.

I talk more about my Four Step Process for making decisions here.

Using my combo counting worksheet, (think a multiplication table for memorizing basic combos), James was able to do this quickly while at the table. Then, he weighed his equity against the pot odds he was getting and put that all together to make the most profitable decision. With practice, this all happens in under 30 seconds.

He determined that conservatively his equity was about 60% given the range of hands he gave his opponent.

Notice how here we’ve narrowed our opponent’s range, even that loose player, down to a mere 2% of the deck.

Ultimately, James used this information and called, winning the hand when his opponent turned over a missed flush draw for a bluff. Remember, you won’t get this right every time.

That’s part of the game. What you can do is ensure you’re putting in money in the pot when you’re likely to show a return on your investment. Over time, making winning decisions will show a long-term profit, and that’s my goal for you.

And that’s exactly what James has done.

In the end, James called and doubled up when his opponent turned over a missed flush draw.

This is just one example of how to use the Hand Range Funnel in practice. If you’d like further study and implement this powerful system into your own game, here are three ways which you can do so.

1. Subscribe to download my free Intro to Hand Reading. You’ll get access to a seven page PDF that walks you through how to use the Hand Range Funnel in more detail. You’ll also get access to a blank hand range funnel, so you can do this exercise on your own following your sessions to improve your hand reading ability.

2. Check out our Membership at Conscious Poker.

Our membership is for those who want a supportive community as well as my guidance to help them reach that next level in poker.

You’ll get access to a database of 100+ videos on all aspects of poker strategy, mini courses on various poker subjects such as hand reading and mastering poker math, along with a private Facebook community where I personally respond to your questions and review your hands, along with a group coaching call led by myself where you can interact with me and other members, and get answers to your poker questions.

3. For those who want to fast track their results and have me personally oversee their poker journey, you can apply to work with me either in person or virtually by clicking here.

Before you go, be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts to let me know if this video helped you so I can produce more content like this.

Thanks for your attention.