Received an email overnight from a reader who asked a question about hand ranges. He wrote me that his Hold'em Manager 2 (HM2) HUD program had automatically marked a villain as "ABC," and he was wondering what specifically this meant in terms of ranges. This was a general enough question that it made sense to expand it a bit and answer it via a full blog post instead of just an email reply.
While I can't speak directly to what HM2 defines as ABC, I can give some general thoughts about what "ABC Poker" means and how to play against it.
The classic definition of an ABC player is one who plays solid, patient, straightforward poker.
Uh, okay. What does this mean?
In simple terms, ABC players employ a style that emphasizes position and caution. Tight, but aggressive, this player mostly bets for value, and only bluffs occasionally (and then only when the situation is ideal). They fully embrace Sklansky's Gap Concept, and in fact usually follow a starting hand chart for pre-flop selection. There's nothing fancy or flashy about ABC poker, and the chief advantage is it limits the times where you find yourself in a dodgy situation chasing a hand or caught making crazy bluffs.
ABC poker is indeed a winning formula, but it's not ideal nor optimal by any stretch of the imagination. An ABC poker player can make a respectable earn rate at the lower stakes, but will be out of his or her depth at a mid-stakes or above game, where 3- and 4-bet bluffing is rampant, villains are paying close attention and don't make the common low-stakes mistakes that can be so easily exploited. ABC poker players are, by definition, consistent and straightforward, which is another way to say exploitable. As noted poker authority Ed Miller wrote in his excellent Playing the Player: "Stick an ABC player in a [high stakes] online 6-max game with five sharp opponents, and it will be a bloodbath."
That said, ABC poker is in fact a great style for beginning players to start with and build upon, as it emphasizes pre-flop play, position, selective aggression, and value betting. Once a student masters these fundamentals, they can start adding in post-flop "play the player" REDi poker to their arsenal, adding in more bluffs, opening up starting hand ranges, 3- and 4-betting more, and generally playing their opponents' hand ranges more than their own two cards.
Okay, but this doesn't answer the email's original question about hand ranges. Here's what I define as pretty typical nitty ABC opening* hand ranges for full-ring early, middle, and late position:
Sometimes you'll see more pocket pairs added in from the earlier seats, even as loose as 55+ in early seats, and/or all pairs by MP, but for the most part ABC players follow a tight chart like this pretty much to the letter.
The key thing about ABC players is that their opening ranges are predictable. For example, if they're raising from EP, then they almost certainly have a premium hand (99+, AQ+). This means that you should be folding RIO hands like KQ, KJ, and AT against them, but also trying to see flops (when effective stacks are deep enough, of course) with big IO hands like small pairs and suited connectors. Similarly, if they're open raising from the button, then their range is quite wide and may not be able to stand a 3bet re-steal from you with pretty much any two cards.
All-in for now…
*Opening Range: the range of hands that you should open for a raise if the action folds to you preflop. When facing an upstream raise, this range will get noticeably tighter from most ABC players who understand the Gap Concept.