A Beginner's Guide to Hand Reading

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Hand reading is a poker skill that basically allows you to predict and correctly assign a range of hands  that your opponents might have at the poker table.

This is a very important skill which helps you make better decisions, and of course, make more money in the game.

Given the fact that it such an important aspect of poker, hand reading is a complex topic which players keep working at throughout their career.

In this post, we'll try and simplify this topic for people new to the game.

A word of caution - like everything in poker, hand reading is extremely player dependent. If you have played with an opponent for a long time and know his common tendencies, then go with that read. But if you are playing against an unknown, or you are unsure about a spot, then revert back to these basics.

1. Pre Flop Action

Entering the pot pre flop by raising, instead of limping is a proven profitable strategy.

If your opponent deviates from this by limping in, what does this tell you?

It tells you that they don't have premium hands like AA, KK, QQ or strong aces like AK or AQ. 

What do they have instead?

Suited connectors and gappers, broadways, weak Aces, Kings and Queens, sometimes even complete garbage - hands that they want to see a cheap flop with.

Essentially, this tells us that their range is wide and is devoid of the topmost hand categories.

Caveat: However, some tricky players might like to trap with premium hands pre-flop. More often than not, they are hoping that someone raises over their limp, and then they can reraise when the action comes back to them.

2. Bet Sizing

Weak players give away the strength of their hand based on their bet size. Their bet size is directly proportional to the strength of their hand.

The way to exploit this strategy is by folding more when they bet bigger, and calling/raising more when they bet smaller. To ensure that we don't make the same mistake, our bet size should be based on the range of hands that we can have, and not on our exact hand.  

There is also a segment of players who employ a complete opposite strategy - betting small when they are strong, and betting big when they are weak.

This is not a strategy we would ever recommend,because what you are doing here is essentially making less money when you have a strong hand and losing more when you bluff. 

3. Timing Tells

The amount of time a player takes to call a bet is a reliable source of information.

If a player calls a bet quickly, this means that they have a hand which doesn't require too much thinking - medium strength hands (like second pairs) and draws.

Think about it this way, if you had a very strong or very weak hand, you would at least take a few seconds to consider whether to raise or not (either to extract value or bluff out better hands).

When your opponents snap call your bets, it allows you to exploit them by applying pressure on some turns and rivers and forcing them to fold their medium strength hands.

4. Player Type

The hands a player can have in a spot changes based on his type.

  • Loose-Passive - They play a lot of hands by calling instead of raising. This makes their range wide and allows us to value bet more hands.
  • Loose-Aggressive - They play a lot of hands by raising. Their range is still wide and we can bluff-catch and trap with more hands. They'll make more betting mistakes than calling mistakes.
  • Tight-Aggressive - This is the default play of a good player. Their range is narrow and we have to be careful with the hands that we chose to play because they will regularly apply pressure and will show up with the goods quite often.
  • Tight-Passive or Nits - They play very few hands and do so by calling instead of raising. We should bluff-catch less and value bet only strong portions of our range.

5. Meta-Game

Good player not only play a good strategy, they also try to get into the head of their opponents.

  • Level 1 thinking - what do I have.
  • Level 2 thinking - what does my opponent have.
  • Level 3 - what does my opponent think I have.
  • And so on.....

We always want to be one level ahead of our opponents. Against most players, Level 3 is a good place to be. If we are facing a good thinking player, we might have to go further into this meta-game. 

Hand reading is an ever evolving topic that cannot be covered in a single post.

What I have given you here are some of the basics that should come in handy.

If you find this useful and feel that you are making better decisions, let us know in the comments below. And maybe we'll do a series of these. 

Cheers,

Mayank

This article was written by Mayank Jain. Mayank is a writer who plays poker for a living. He writes at http://mayankja.in/ on mindfulness, travel and art, among other things.