The Hand Reading in Poker
Hand reading is a very complex topic to talk about given everything that goes into hand reading well. Oftentimes it is experience that makes a player a very solid hand reader. Exposure to the game and logical actions and frequencies of the player types in the game will improve hand reading. This article aims to give some basic advice on improving this essential skill.
- It's in the ranges. We are not trying to guess our opponent's exact hand. Very often we would just never know their exact holding. Instead, we care about putting our opponent on a range of logical hands. For tighter players this range is usually easier to deduce. For looser and more erratic players, this range can be very difficult to figure out.
- Always start from the beginning. Whenever we are hand reading we start from the beginning. If our opponent raises from early position and he has an early position preflop raises (EPPFR) of 7% and we call in position, we can assume his range is 22+/AK. If we open a pot and an opponent with a 3b% of 2% 3-bets us, and we call, we can assume his range on the flop is QQ+/some AK. Many players forget to start at the beginning which makes hand reading almost impossible. When we are figuring out a range we start with a range (made from his preflop actions) and then that range gets smaller and smaller based upon his postflop actions. We never want to treat a range like a bag that we just randomly throw hands into. Instead we use a logical progression of range elimination based upon actions.
- Actions indicate ranges. Most players take particular actions with certain hands, and we can use this to our advantage. If we know a player would always check-raise the flop with a set, but he check/called the flop, we can heavily discount sets (considering hand combinations) from his range. Regulars in the micros tend to take the same lines over and over with certain hand strengths. So if we know this, and see them take a particular line, we can more accurately figure out their range and take correct actions later in the hand. Erratic players can make this difficult, but they still tend to be passive with mediocre hands and aggressive with bluffs and nuts. Any information helps, so make sure to take notes on the lines our opponents take and with which hands.
- Allocate for idiocy. The dumber an opponent is, the more we need to allocate a percentage of his range to unknown stuff. Usually, the more aggressive and dumb a player is, the more of a percentage we should allocate for them. Maybe we say that 10% of their range is idiotic (random bluffs, turning bottom pair into a bluff, etc.) which could be the deciding factor in making a call or fold. Usually the tighter, and more normalized, a player is the less of a percentage we would allocate. If we are playing against a nit, we can just assume he would rarely do anything idiotic enough for us to allocate a percentage of his range to it.
- Blind spots. There are times when we have blind spots to our opponent's range, and we rely almost entirely on their actions and board textures to figure out our line. Take a spot where we steal with TT, a player resteals with a 12% range, and we call. We think his range of restealing is JJ+/AQ+/KQ and bluffs. This means almost half of his range is bluffs, which could mean hands like 22, A5s or J7o. So half of his range is a blind spot to us. We need to read his postflop action based on the board texture to have a better idea of what to do. While it is frustrating dealing with these blind spots, they are standard when dealing with aggressive players who 3b/4b/5b/CR/raise aggressively.
- Bet sizes can contort ranges. As we've talked about quite a bit already, and will continue to talk about, our bet sizes can change our opponent's ranges. If we bet smaller, we expect our opponent to continue with a wider range of hands. If we bet bigger, we expect our opponent to continue with a stronger range of hands. So if we have been betting pot sized bets in a hand, we can expect our opponent's range is going to be incredibly strong as we get deeper and deeper in the hand. Subsequently, if we bet smaller on every street, we can expect more hands to continue. Again, the actions tweak the way our opponent's ranges contort in a hand.