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Hand Reading in Poker

Hand reading is often times made out to be ridiculously tough. The fact of the matter is, however, that hand reading is not all that different than putting together a puzzle. If you able to effectively use context clues and some educated guesses, you should not have any trouble putting your opponents on very specific hands.

This is how hand reading could be summed up, but it is much more in depth than how I just explained it. You will need to work at it and really practice if you want to get an edge on your opponents. There are certain limits where hand reading is an absolute requirement, but there are other games where it hardly matters at all.

You are always going to be using hand reading to one extent or another, it is merely a matter of whether it is going to make or break your decisions. A decision as simple as when to c-bet could very well be formulated based upon your hand reading, but it is not going to either make or lose you a lot of money.

On the other end of the spectrum, deciding to call off your stack with nothing more than a bluff catcher is going to depend entirely on how precise your reads are. There are a lot of poker players on TV who seem to have supernatural powers when it comes to hand reading, but it was really just the product of a lot of trial and error. After you play enough hands, eventually you know what to look for and how to make accurate reads with minimal effort.

It Starts Preflop

Putting another player on a hand by the river is a process that actually starts with preflop play. The action that occurs pre flop is going to lay the framework for everything else that happens in a hand. For example, a raise implies strength, a re raise implies even more strength, and so on and so forth.

If you know that a player probably had a pretty good hand pre flop, it would be relatively safe to assume that they were holding a strong pocket pair or bigger face cards. If another decided to limp into a pot pre flop, you could instantly put them on something like a small pair or a suited connector.

If you pick up on what a player does preflop, you will have a much better idea what they hold based on how they react to the board. A player who reraises preflop and bets out hard on a low flop is very likely to have a big pocket pair. If a player who limped reraises on a flop of 679, you know that they could have flopped two pair or a straight.

Putting your opponent on a range of hands is the best way to make an accurate read. Pre flop assessments are not going to pinpoint a hand by the time the river is dealt - the action will help with that, but they will make it much easier to determine where you are on the flop. The key is to always take everything one step (or street) at a time.

Reading the Action

By reading and analyzing the action in a hand, you will be able to piece together a sound read. You need to couple what you already know with what you think you know. The action in a hand is information that you already know (assuming you are paying attention) and it is freely given to you. The value in breaking down the action is unmatched by any other element of a hand. How much a player raises and what position they are in are important and worth noting, but they won’t tell you as much as the general action. For example, a re raise on the flop or turn implies a whole lot more than the fact that a player acted in early position.

Once you take a close look at the action in a hand, you should then revert to the pre flop play. The final step is to combine what you already know happened throughout the hand in regards to action with what you had predetermined with any action preflop. When the cards are dealt and the pre flop betting occurs, you should always try to form a preliminary read on the other players. You can then use that information in conjunction with the action and the board to come up with an accurate read. There isn’t much more to it than this. Natural instinct won’t hurt you in hand reading, but the real skill is I clear and critical thinking.

More General Poker Strategy
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