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Polarized Ranges vs Linear (Merged) Ranges Explained

If you’ve been around poker for a little while, you have probably heard the terms “polarized” and “linear” when referring to ranges.

These are key concepts to know for those who want to crush poker. In this article, you will learn the answers to the following questions:

  • What is a “Range”?
  • What is a Polarized Range?
  • What is a Linear (or Merged) Range?
  • When Should Your Range be Polarized?
  • When Should Your Range be Linear?

Whether you’re a new player who needs a basic introduction or an experienced player looking for a refresher, I bet you will learn something valuable in this 5-minute read.

Note that I will cover preflop briefly, but the primary focus will be on how these types of ranges are used postflop.

Before I dive into the two types of ranges, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page by defining what a “range” is in poker.

Editor’s note: Parts of this article are quite advanced, so be sure to ask questions in the comments if anything doesn’t click for you!

What is a “Range”?

A range is the totality of hands that a player can have in a certain scenario.

For example, let’s say extremely tight player 4-bets before the flop. You know this particular player well enough to say he has a very premium hand: queens, kings or aces.

That bold list of hands is the tight player’s range. This can be written in shorthand as “QQ+” or “AA, KK, QQ”.

Thinking in terms of ranges, rather than trying to put your opponent on a specific hand, is how professionals approach poker.

Related article: How to Range Your Poker Opponents with Accuracy.

What is a Polarized (Polar) Range?

A polarized range is a range that contains strong hands and relatively weak hands, without any medium-strength hands.

Here’s a visualized example of a polarized preflop range:

polarized preflop range

Red = Raise | Blue = Not in Range

As you can see, this range contains two polar opposite hand types: the very strong hands (JJ+, AK) and relatively weak hands (A2s-A5s).

Note: Learn step-by-step how to become the best player at the table when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Winning poker pros have been adding new content every week for the past seven years, and you get all of it when you join. Learn more now!

What is a Linear (Merged) Range?

A linear range is a one that contains strong, medium-strength and weak hands. Also known as merged or condensed ranges, linear ranges appear condensed to one corner of the hand matrix when visualized.

Let’s take a look at an example. Here’s the cutoff open-raising range from the Advanced Solver Ranges in the Upswing Lab:

linear merged range

Red = Raise | Blue = Fold

No polarization here! As you can see, this range contains:

  • Strong hands (like AA or AQs)
  • Medium-strength hands (like 88 or KJs)
  • Relatively weak, more speculative hands (like 22, 65s and K5s).

Note: Want to know how to play every hand in every common preflop situation? Get instant access to extensive preflop charts and lessons (for cash games, heads-up and tournaments) when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Lock your seat now!

advanced solver ranges demo

The Advanced Solver Ranges for cash games — one of five sets of preflop charts in the Upswing Lab.

The Two Types of Ranges Postflop

Let’s take a flop to exemplify the two types of ranges in action postflop. Suppose that you raised from the cutoff with the range just above and the flop came…

Q♠ 9♣ 6

Now, let’s divide all of your hands into three categories:

  • Strong hands: good top pairs, two pairs and sets (QQ, 99, 66, Q9, AQ, etc.)
  • Medium-strength hands: medium top pairs, medium pairs and bottom pairs (QT, A9, T9, 86, etc.)
  • Weak hands: draws, ace-high and any lower-ranked hands (JT, T8, 75, A5, etc.)

If you were to bet on this flop with a polarized range, then you’d only bet with hands from the strong and weak categories.

If you were to bet with a merged range, then you’d bet with (at least some) hands from each of the three categories.

When Should Your Range be Polarized?

In general, your betting range should be polar on the turn and river.

Most strategies on these later streets trend this way because the stack-to-pot ratio is high. Thus, in order to extract maximum value with your strongest hands, you will need to use large bet sizes.

When you use a large bet size, your opponent should (in theory) fold more often with hands in the middle and bottom of his range. This is why betting large with medium-strength hands is counter-productive. Simply put, if you bet huge with a medium-strength hand, you will often run into a stronger hand when called.

(Editor’s note: Large bets and polarized ranges often go hand-in-hand, but not always. There are situations in which betting small with a polarized range is best, just as there are situations in which its best to bet big with a linear range.)

Polarized ranges are king on the river. Unlike on previous streets, where your bluffs/semi-bluffs still have a chance to improve, there is no middle ground when betting on the river. You are either betting for value or as a bluff.

Let’s take an example board of:

Q♠ 9♣ 6 7 4

Suppose you’ve c-bet on the flop, double-barreled on the turn and now you’re considering what to do with your range on the river.

The value betting part of your range would include hands that will be called by worse over 50% of the time. Some obvious hands that come to mind are QQ, 99, 66, Q9, AQ, KK and AA.

Now, the bluffs. Great candidates would be hands such as KJ, KT, JT. These hands are good bluffs because they have no showdown value and block some of your opponent’s likely calling hands (KQ, QJ and QT). Learn more about considering blockers when bluffing here.

If trying to play optimally, you would want to balance your range so you have the appropriate ratio of value bets to bluffs. The details of range balancing are outside the scope of this article (see: How to Win More Chips with Your Bluff-to-Value Ratios).

I’ve already offered a lot of extra reading, but if you’d like to learn more about river bluffing, check out my article 3 River Bluffing Tips That Will Help You Smash Cash Games.

When Should Your Range be Linear/Merged?

The flop is the street on which ranges tend to be most merged, depending on the board texture and stack-to-pot ratio.

On the flop, there isn’t such a clear distinction between value hands and bluffing hands. With two more cards to come, your value hands can easily be outdrawn and your bluffs still have chances to improve.

This key difference can be visualized with equity distribution graphs, which show how equity is distributed across different parts of a range. Flop equities will run linearly, while river equities will run diametrically.

Here’s one for the flop:

linear equity distribution

An example equity distribution graph on the flop. The Y-axis (vertical) displays the equity of each part of the range.

Notice how it’s a fairly smooth distribution. The weakest hands (bottom of range) have around 25% equity, and that gradually increases as you move along the X-axis until it reaches the strongest hands (top of range), which have around 90% equity.

Now, here’s an equity distribution graph for the river:

An example equity distribution graph on the river. The Y-axis (vertical) displays the equity of each part of the range.

This time, the bottom of the range has almost 0% equity and, after a huge gap, the top of the range has upwards of 95% equity.

These graphs demonstrate why, for the vast majority of situations, flop strategies tend to be more linear and river strategies are polar.

If you want to learn more about this aspect of poker strategy, check out one or more of these pieces of content:

Wrapping Up

You are now much better equipped to understand more advanced poker concepts. Always remember to keep an open mind regarding how postflop ranges look like because it’s not always black and white.

This was a lot to cover in one article. If any of this was new information to you, I suggest you bookmark/save this page so you can reference it later. After all, understanding polarized and linear ranges will always be important!

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed it and, as usual, if you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comment section down below!

Til’ next time, good luck, grinders!

Note: Learn step-by-step how to become the best player at the table when you join the Upswing Lab training course. Winning poker pros have been adding new content every week for the past seven years, and you get all of it when you join. Learn more now!


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About the Author
Dan B.

Dan B.

Online grinder aspiring to reach the highest stakes and crush the toughest games. I'm available for quick strategy questions and hourly coaching -- reach out to me at [email protected].

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