Introduction to Poker Hand Reading
Poker hand reading is an intuitive, logical process of narrowing your opponents range down as much as you can with the information available. It’s about reading your opponent’s cards without physically seeing them. Believe it or not, many professionals can do this with relative ease against certain types of opponents.
Daniel Negreanu has made a career from promoting his poker hand reading ability. Whilst he is unquestionably gifted at it, many a professional can do likewise but aren’t afforded the same stage to advertise this skill, or, choose to stay quiet and rake in the money instead.
Narrowing an Opponent’s Hand Range
Poker hand reading is a process of elimination, not guess work. It involves ruling out as many hands a possible to arrive at your opponents likely holding. The way you narrow an opponent’s range of hands is by looking at the context of the situation, their position, their history, their table image and the actions they are taking in the hand to make informed, logical conclusions.
For instance, in a full ring table, with a tight player opening from under the gun, we can eliminate the vast majority of hands available to a list consisting of pocket 5s and up, any big suited ace and KQs. This information is invaluable as we can almost play any two cards in a deep stacked game against this type of opponent, cherry picking boards to take the pots away.
Remember That There are 4 Rounds of Betting
The key thing to poker hand reading is remembering that as each round of betting is completed, more information is being given to you by your opponent. This means by the time you reach the river; you should be confident putting your opponent on some likely hands, based on how the hand has developed.
There’s a lot to poker hand reading, its more complex than other forms of gambling where it’s mostly chance. If this is more your bag then look online for the best payout casinos. Reading your opponent takes experience, critical thinking and poker instinct.
Example of How to Hand Read in Poker
It is a cash game with $1-$2 blinds. Player A has $350 and you have $420.
Player A is a small ball type player, keen to attack a lot of pots but doesn’t get too involved or generate big pots unless he is very strong. You have a solid image.
It folds to Player A who opens to $7 on button, you make the call from the SB with:
The flop comes:
You check, and he checks.
We now have some useful information. He raised before the flop when folded to him on the button. This is not very helpful; we know he will probably raise many hands here so nothing valuable here. On the flop however he has checked back on this board heads up. The fact he has not bet this flop heads up is unusual.
A small baller will often continuation bet heads up to take down the pot or extract value. By checking back, we can reasonably assume he has neither a monster hand like two pair, overpair or three of a kind but he probably doesn’t have completely nothing either. If he had nothing, he would be more inclined to continuation bet. This leads me to think he could have a big ace which missed, an 8, a 4 or a pocket pair between 4 and 9 that he is pot controlling.
The turn comes:
We check again and he bets $10.
This is an interesting spot. What hands can we put our opponent on here? I would say he has played his hand like an 8 at this point. It’s possible he checked back the flop with a 7 9s type hand and now has a 7 and 5-6 is possible, although unlikely as I would expect him to bet the flop with that hand.
At this point, with our nut flush draw, I anticipate people will often call the turn here, check the river and our opponent will check back for showdown value.
We could consider a check raise? By check raising, we give ourself a good chance to win the pot now or make our hand on the river. We also are likely to get hands like 5-5/6-6, a 7 and an an 8 to fold. After all, we have shown immense strength by check raising the turn here and it’s entirely plausible we have three of a kind or a AJ type hand here.
We actually call.
The river comes:
We check and he checks.
Before he turns over his hand, we can feel pretty confident he is going to show a hand like 8-10/7-9/Pocket 5s or Pocket 6s. How do we know this? What other hands is he likely to have that will check back flop, bet turn for protection/value and check back river?
He mucks and you win the pot.
Poker Hand Reading Considerations
The most important things when poker hand reading is knowing your opponents tendencies, knowing the types of hands they play and having an awareness of how they perceive you. By combining these factors, you can often arrive at a likely range of hands your opponent will hold. When you couple this with bet sizing and pot odds, it becomes even simpler. Remember, you can’t become an expert over night. It takes experience and hard work but it will be worth it.