Polarized vs Merged Ranges
Take a moment to look at the hand distribution matrices above. How would you characterize them? In what way are they the same, and in what way are they different?
Remember, a large part of exploiting our opponents based on their ranges is done by figuring out their frequencies, or how often they are likely to do a certain action if given the chance. While this is an important place to start, it doesn’t give us the whole picture.
Let’s say we’re playing against someone who 3-bets about 4% of hands from the button. But we need to ask ourselves: what exactly does that 4% contain? We can be certain that it has nutted hands like AA and KK, but we’re left wondering about the bottom of their range.
This is why we need to understand polarized and merged ranges.
A polarized range contains hands that sit at two poles: nuts, and hands that are either low equity or complete air. In our pre-flop 4% scenario, the top of the range is QQ+ and AK while the bottom is 22,33, A2s, and A3s. While the exact composition of this range can vary from player to player and spot to spot, all polarized ranges have this same basic principle in common.
In this situation, we’re betting the top of the range for value and betting the bottom as a bluff with decent chunks of equity, meaning that even if someone calls our 3-bet with 22, we can spike a deuce on the flop and get paid with a well-disguised hand. However, our primary purpose here is to mix bluffs into our 3-bet range to vary our play and to exploit players who fold too often.
That’s why we want to lean on a polarized range against tighter players—they’re more likely to fold to our aggression, and this makes the bottom of our range more profitable. Of course, we also find polarized ranges on every street, all the way down to the river, but we recommend trying to first implement this type of thinking in your pre-flop play.
The other type of range you’ll see is a merged range. When we construct ranges in this way, we de-polarized our range, bring it all to the top end, and play a wider range of value hands.
Going back to our pre-flop 4% example, we might construct that merged range to include JJ+, AJs+, AKo, and KQs. Notice the difference between the 4% of hands in our merged range compared to our polarized range.
When would we want to merge our range or expect to play against a merged range? Merged ranges are most commonly employed when players expect to be called, especially by weaker hands. If someone at your table can’t find the fold button, then merging your range will increase your EV because you have more high equity hands for them to call.