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This is probably my favorite topic so I’m happy to be starting the thread this week. I’ll try not to get too tl;dr.
Why and What
Hand reading is important because it allows us to make better (and thus more profitable) decisions – LDO. It’s a combination of figuring out what type of hand a person is likely to hold and how they will react with it. The better you are able to determine these two things (by better I mean the more narrowly you can determine their range of hands and actions) the better poker player you will be and the more money you will make.
How it works
On every street – preflop, flop, turn, and river – a player has
a range of hands they will play. We use things like VPIP and position to have a base starting point, a preflop range of hands from which we scale their range down progressively on each street. What I mean by this is that preflop, their range is widest and as the action takes place, we remove more and more hands from that starting range until we finally have just a few hands remaining.
Let me put it another way: If someone cannot have a hand in their range on a previous street, they cannot suddenly have it on this street. For example, a tight ABC player raises UTG and on the turn the board is 2456. You know he is very unlikely to have any sort of 3 (or 78) in his range preflop, so on the turn it obviously makes no sense to be afraid that he has a made straight. This is a pretty simple example, but this idea should help you when facing bets that make no sense.
VPIP and PFR are great stats to start with to assign a preflop range and starting point. c-bet% and fold to c-bet% are also useful to have in your HUD. Logically, you know that if someone is c-betting more often, their range is weaker, and similarly, if someone is folding to c-bets more often, their range is much stronger when they actually call. I don’t like putting much stock in stats like turn c-bet% because they take a while to converge.
Get used to profiling players until you have a more in-depth read on them. What I mean is that different player types tend to play their hands in a similar fashion. You can use VPIP and PFR to very quickly figure out what type of player someone
is. Though you cannot really determine a concrete range over a small sample, you can reasonably assume that someone playing 30/0 is a passive fish and that someone playing 20/20 is aggressive, even if the sample size is only over 20 hands.
Always always always always be taking notes on your opponents. I would recommend avoiding logical and obvious notes like “limp reraises aces” and instead look for things out of the ordinary, like “check raised air on dry flop” or something like that. Anything that doesn’t line up with their player profile is good to know. Notes and reads trump stats, IMO. Stats
are not the be all end all. It’s especially useful to note what someone’s stack-off range is, if you happen to see them in an all-in pot.
As an add on to the last section, if your note taking skill is solid, then playing without a HUD is totally doable (in fact, several of the biggest mid and high stakes winners don’t use
a HUD, if I’m not mistaken). HUDs just allow you to play more tables. If you’re playing HUDless though – and I’d recommend having a HUDless session once a week just to work on hand reading – play fewer tables and assume players are playing straightforward until you can start profiling them. “He’s limped every hand this orbit, he’s probably passive and we should ISO him often.” “He hasn’t played a hand in the first 3 orbits, and now he just reraised from the BB, he’s probably pretty tight.” EZ game.
This doesn’t apply heavily in most cases at micro stakes but you should be thinking about it nonetheless if you want to improve your hand reading skills. It’s important to determine what level a player is thinking on. Different sources label them differently but for purposes of discussion, let’s say
Level 1 = What is my hand?
Level 2 = What does my opponent have?
Level 3 = What does my opponent think I have?
And so on. It’s usually good enough (at micro stakes) to assume someone is playing their hand and not thinking about how it plays against your range. But it’s important to be at least aware of this idea, because otherwise you could be making some very costly mistakes. The most common (and quoted everywhere) is “never bluff a fish.” Why? They don’t fold. Why? They’re thinking on level 1. They’re not putting you on a range and figuring out how their hand plays against it. You need only think on one level higher than your opponents to beat them.
Always be looking for patterns and similarities in player types and how they play different strength hands. This will help you to narrow ranges down on further streets. You’ll have to do the grunt work for yourself, this kind of thing takes time and observation, but in general, people are way more likely to call with a worse hand than they are to raise with a worse hand. Don’t be the guy (aka me) who calls river raises too often because “they might be bluffing me this time.”
Using aggression for value and hand reading
AKA, postflop poker. The good stuff. The place where money is made and real players eek out thin value when they don’t have the nuts. How are they different that the guy nut pedaling or the guy folding a pair because it’s not the nuts? Aggression. “Wait I thought this was a COTW on hand reading.” It is. Post flop poker is a balance of aggression for value, bluffs, and dead money. Most villains you face have a very concrete range for their actions – calling, checking, and raising. This means that we get to play very optimally with marginal holdings.
To be more specific, most players want to showdown with medium hands, want to raise big hands for value, and want to either fold or bluff their air. Say you have AK on a board of A67hh and OOP vs a passive fishy player. The turn is a 4h, oh noes!!! Check fold cuz he hit his draw??? No. Bet for value 100%. Players typically want to showdown their medium hands. They don’t want to turn one pair no draw into a bluff. He’ll let you know if you’re beat. But keep in mind ranges. If he can’t have a hand you can bet for value against on the flop, he can’t have it on the turn.
Tips for better hand reading
– Trust your reads and go with them! You will never get better at hand reading if you don’t try and fail sometimes. You will never learn to trust your reads if you never go with them and find out you were right. Look at failure as an opportunity to improve yourself (in this context, your hand reading).
– Use PokerStove. Do you actually know what 10% of hands looks like or the various ways that 10% can be made?
– Use your tracking software for review. To quote Sounded Simple (hope it’s okay, if not I will take it out, but it’s just from last week’s COTW anyway):
Originally Posted by Sounded Simple
(3) Hand Reading
Turn and river hand reading is 100x more complex than pre- flop or flop hand reading so the players who know opponents ranges will simply have an unassailable advantage.
Recently I have been using a new technique to get a grip on hand ranges;
– Open HEM/PT3 and filter for
> Single Raised Pots
> Final pot >180bb (shorter stacks are easy to play anyway) > You are OOP (because this is tougher)
> You cbet and are called HU
> You saw a showdown
Then add these filters in turn: > You got called
> You got raised
For both “Got Called” and “Got Raised” Manually or in excel note the
> Player Type
> Flop SPR
> Board / Board Type > Positions
> Villains hand
Your hand or who won is not relevant, now look at the info you have on what player types are doing on the turn with what holdings.
You may want to get more specific with the filters once you see patterns emerge.
I won’t pre-empt results, if anyone wants to know what I have found then post yours here or PM me and I will tell you if they correspond to what I have found
In other words…. Do some work you lazy bums.
*Don’t forget that you will need to do this analysis as you move up and/or games change over time.
It should be pretty obvious why hand reading is important. If you get better at hand reading, you will make more money.
Ok and let’s get the discussion going!