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Learning From Showdowns | ‘The Hand Reading Lab’ Part 1 | Podcast #64


Sky Matsuhashi

on May 17, 2016

I teach you why paying attention to showdowns is absolutely vital in gaining reads on your opponents and improving your hand reading skills.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


The Hand Reading Lab


Learning from Showdowns

Podcast Mission (8:40)

My mission for today is to teach you the importance of hand reading and to discuss the what, the why and the how of hand reading.  And I’ll dive into why paying attention to showdowns is vitally important in developing your hand reading skills.  Take the time right now to answer these questions for yourself before we get to the meat of the today’s podcast:

  1. What’s so important about hand reading?
  2. How can showdowns help?

What's so important about hand reading? (9:15)

Hand reading is the skill of deducing what our opponent has, and we use this info to exploit our opponent. 

There’s a common misconception about hand reading, that it’s about putting our opponent on a single hand.  That’s not the case at all, it’s about putting him in a range of hands.  A range of hands is a set of hands that your opponent could be holding based on his actions up to this point.  Your job is to narrow that range as the hand progresses, assess the overall strength of the range in relation to the board, and choose plays that exploit this range.

Hand reading forces you to pay attention to the action. 

Basic hand reading starts like this: at the pre-flop stage, you assign a range of hands based on your opponent’s actions.  So of course, an open limper will have a much weaker and wider range than a 3bettor pre-flop.  You take this range of hands to the flop, and based on the board and the opp’s actions, you can lop some hands off that range, thereby narrowing it.  As a quick example, you raised pre and the opponent just called.  The flop comes AKQr and the opponent check-calls your cbet here.  What hands can we remove from his range?  Assuming he’s not capable of an OOP float, I think we can safely remove pp’s below 9’s and all the baby suited connectors and gappers as well.  Next we do this on the turn and ultimately the river, removing hands from the range based on the opp’s actions, and hopefully making exploitive plays along the way based on our reads.

An important aspect of hand reading is that you’ll often be incorrect when doing it, but don’t let this discourage you.  The reason you’ll be incorrect a lot is because we start the hand reading process by putting our opponent on a pre-flop range based on a set of assumptions about our opponent.

One of the great things about hand reading is that it’s a skill you can practice off the table, and the more off-the-table practice you put in the better you’ll become at it.  I found that after completing SplitSuit’s course, and doing lots of off-the-table practice, my mind just naturally goes into hand reading mode whether I’m involved in a hand or not.  I’ve found that I’m a much more logical and deliberate player because of it.

Ultimately, poker is a game of incomplete information.  We fill these gaps in information by logically deducing what cards our opponent is most likely to have, and we use that info to exploit them.  This is why hand reading is so important.

How can showdowns help? (11:50)

In the 4th video of the Hand Reading Lab, SplitSuit makes a comment on the importance of showdowns and how his eyes are always glued to the table at every one b/c he uses these to learn as much as possible about his opp’s tendencies.

Every SD is our chance to confirm our pre-flop and street by street range assumptions. By showdown, let's say we narrow our opponent's range down to TT+, AJ+ and KQ. If his showdown hand was AQ, then great, we ranged correctly. His final hand fell within the range we assigned him. But what if he ended up having K9o?
Remember that I said our hand reading will often be incorrect due to some assumptions we make. But knowing what our opponent is capable of by seeing exactly what they had at SD, that will help us in future hands vs this opponent. Now that we’ve seen K9o, we can maybe widen the pre-flop range we assign, or allow him to continue with weaker hands vs post-flop action.

There are 5 areas where SD’s help us get a read on our opp’s and they are:

  1. Player mentality
    • Showdowns tell us how loose or tight and how passive or aggressive a player is. For example, it’s important to know if player A raised on the flop w/ a gs and one overcard, we know he’s capable of semi-bluffing and aggressive play.  Or, if player B shows up w/AA after just calling a 3bet pre-flop, we know he likes to slow-play and trap his opponents.  And if player C just called pre-flop w/KQ, then called down each street w/TP, we know he’s on the more passive side.  If he ever wakes up with aggression we know he has a really strong hand.
  2. Actions on each street
    • Showdowns allow us to see exactly what the opponent had when they made the play they did on each street. This helps us range the opponent in future hands b/c we saw what he was capable of doing based on his hand strength at the time.
  3. Sequence of actions
    • A sequence of actions is the combination of plays we make as the hand plays out street by street. Maybe it’s check, check, bet; or maybe check, check/raise, donk lead, or even flop cbet, check-back the turn, then river bet.  By seeing how he responded or acted street by street, we can get an idea of how he'll play future hands in similar situations.
  4. Bet sizing
    • SD’s give us plenty of insight into what bet sizing meant on the prior streets. Bet sizing tells can let us know when an opponent is bluffing or going for value.  When we see a showdown, and look back at the bet sizing used in conjunction with the hand strength at that time, we get a good idea of how to judge future bet sizings.
  5. Opponent’s understanding of position
    • SD’s can show us how our opp views position. Some players rely on position to allow them to attempt more bluffs when their opponent’s show weakness, other players play the same pre-flop range regardless of position (either very loose or very tight).

Now, seeing the showdown is one thing, but paying attention to the street by street action and using a SD to analyze the action is another.  Online players have it easy b/c of the built in hand-replayer that the software has, but LIVE players will have to practice this.

I can just hear some of you now, “I can never remember the pre-flop action when it finally gets to SD.”

Your first step is getting away from this kind of negative scripting.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when you say crap like this.  Don’t say to yourself, “I can’t remember the street by street action.”  Instead, say to yourself with each hand dealt, “Now it’s time for me to practice my street by street analysis of my opponents.”  Using positive affirmations like this will subconsciously work its way into your thoughts and you’ll slowly change your outlook on your abilities.

To improve my skills, I used street by street narration of the hand like I was Mike Sexton.

“Seat 5 opened, BTN call, seat 5 cbet 1/2pot, BTN raised and seat 5 re-shoved.  At showdown seat 5 had a set of 5’s and played it for value, the BTN had top 2 on the flop w/J9o and thought he was playing for value as well.”

This kind of narration helps you remember the action.  A couple player notes I could make to help with future hand reading is “seat 5 vbet 1/2pot w/flopped set” and “BTN called pre w/J8o.”

Showdowns are the best way for us to confirm our pre-flop and street by street assumptions of the opponent’s range.  Pay attention to every showdown and let the showdowns paired with their actions inform the way you view your opponent.  Take notes on what your opponents are capable of, and use these notes to exploit them as you range them down the streets in the future.

Podcast Challenge (23:00)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Pay attention to every showdown you see in your next session and for the rest of the week. Your goal is to learn at least one thing from each showdown about how your opponents play their hands, and to take a note each time. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get at remembering the street by street action and using what you learn to exploit your opponents in future hands.

Purchase the Hand Reading Lab with my affiliate offer code

I got the Hand Reading Lab and it’s the best poker course I’ve ever experienced and I truly feel it’s worth every penny.

The course contains everything you need to master the skill and art of hand reading:

  • 27 videos
  • Powerful Guides and Exercises
  • A 2-hour Hand Reading Webinar
  • A Hand Reading LIVE Tags video from Red Chip Poker
  • A Flopzilla License
  • A set of custom Flopzilla Ranges to help you hand read opponents and use Flopzilla successfully
  • Plus a special bonus from me

Click here and use my affiliate offer code “smart” at checkout to get the Hand Reading Lab course and these two additional bonuses:

  1. Splitsuit's popular ‘Playing 3bet Pots' video series
  2. Entry into my Hand Reading Webinar on July 9th at 10am Pacific (just send me your HRL purchase confirmation)

Up Next…

In podcast #65, I'll answer 3 listener Q’s from YOU!  And next week, in episode #66, I’ll continue the ‘Hand Reading Lab' series and discuss using %-form in hand reading.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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