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Q&A: Hand Reading to Build Poker Math Skills


Sky Matsuhashi

on April 13, 2022

I answer 3 questions about poker math and hand reading, and I give you a strategy for learning both skills simultaneously.

Listen to the podcast as you follow along below:

Q1: How to Learn Any Poker Math Concept

From: Vincent

Q: Hi Sky.  I would like to improve my knowledge of poker math. For example: what are the various equations I should be using and when should they be used during play?


Poker is just one big math problem.  And don’t be all freaked out over that.  Poker math is all addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  It’s simple, but it does take some practice.

Here's a 3-step math improvement process:

Step 1: take notes on the math involved

When you’re studying any type of math, take notes on the equations and the situations where you can use them.  If you're studying profitable calling, the formula you’ll learn is the break-even formula.  This is simply the amount of your call divided by the total pot after your call goes in.  You’ll write this formula down in your notes with at least one example.

Calling Break-even Formula: Amount of Call / (Pot + Amount of Call)

Example: your opponent bet $2 in a $2 pot.  Your $2 call makes the total pot $6.  So, you need to have a superior hand or hit a better hand at least 33% of the time to break-even ($2/$6).

Step 2: practice the math in your studies

Look at your database and review some hands where you made a river call.  For each call, calculate the break-even %.  Next, estimate the frequency that you’re winning the pot.  If you estimate you’re winning more frequently than the break-even %, you made a good call.  If less, it was a bad call.

Step 3: practice the math in-game

Over your next few play sessions, focus on the break-even % for calls.  They don’t have to be your calls either.  Just watch the action and every time somebody faces a bet, run the math in your head for their calling break-even %.

Example: a player bets $3 into a $6.50 pot.  The calling break-even percentage is 3/$12.50.  This is tough to calculate exactly, but you don't have to be exact.  Estimate instead.  $12.50 is very close to $12, so 3/12 = 25%.

For specific math-focused episodes just click on your choice below to be taken directly to the show notes:

Mark Warner recently published a great article on poker math call “The Shocking Truth About Poker Math” on  I recommend you check it out.


Q2: Poker Math and Hand Reading

From: David Blundred

Q: I think one poker skill I need to work on would be learning the math side of things.  Also, I need to improve my hand reading skills.


I figured I’d answer this question and kind of combine both the math and hand reading.  Superior poker math skills along with hand reading skills with make you a +EV machine.

In order to develop your hand readings skills, you’ve got to learn how to do it and you’ve got to practice it daily.  Please check out my 66 Days of Hand Reading videos on YouTube.

In these videos I show you how to hand read the villain’s range, the hero’s range and both ranges simultaneously.  Next, you need to commit to doing your own hand reading challenge for at least a month.  This off the felt work will ingrain these skills into your unconscious competence and will improve your intuition for it to help you hand read on the felt.

In the prior question from Vincent, I gave a 3-step math improvement process.  Now, here's a 4th step for practicing math and hand reading at the same time:

Step 4: choose a hand to review that demonstrates the math you’re working on.

For example, if you're working on making profitable calls with outs and odds math, choose a hand to review where you have some sort of draw on the flop and face a bet.

Start the hand reading like usual where you put your opponent on a range of hands and enter in your hand in Flopzilla.  Enter the board cards and before you narrow your opponent’s range, run the calling math and calculate the odds you’ll hit your draw.  If the math is in your favor, you made a good call.  Now, narrow your opponent’s range on the flop.  Enter the turn card.  If your opponent bets again and you didn’t hit your draw, run the math again.  Repeat this process through the streets in an effort to drill the math and the ranging practice in your noggin.

And think about your options other than calling and that math.  What if you raised instead?  How often does your raise need to work to break-even?  Is your opponent folding often enough?  What size would you need to make it to get him to fold?

One hand history can give you lots of different math to work on and because you’re considering your opponent’s range, it should be pretty easy to figure out how often he’s folding or re-raising or calling.



Q3: Hand Reading LIVE Unknown Players

From: Jordan Schiller

Q: One area I am finding difficulty is when it comes to establishing hand ranges for opponents at LIVE games. Due to minimal cards seen, time at the table, and people coming and going, establishing their hand ranges has been a real struggle. Assigning them a hand strength based on bet sizing is much easier because people tend to be much more consistent with their betting at a $3/$5 table. Any tips, though, for increasing LIVE game hand reading techniques would be appreciated.


Doing off the felt hand reading is how you'll develop an intuition for it on the felt.

Continue to do the bet ranging you do.  Many LIVE players tell you what they have with their bet sizing, so this is a great exploit.

But, here's one thing you can do to incorporate hand reading along with bet ranging against “unknown” players.  Spend some time thinking about 5 actual players you play with, people who you know the names of.  One should be a Nit, another a TAG, and the others LAG's, Maniacs, Whales.

If Bob is the Whale (plays passively, too many hands preflop, calling station post-flop), create ranges for his open-raising, 2bet calling, 3betting and 3bet calling.  These are hands that you believe Bob will play depending on how he enters the hand.  Do this for the other 4 players you have in mind.

These are your Default Player Type Ranges

Now, treat these ranges as default for any other player who fits one of the types.  If you've been at a table with Jerry for only 3 rounds, but he seems to be as loose and stationy as Bob (maybe lots of limp/calling and you've seen a 3rd pair showdown that he called 2 streets with), then consider Bob's range as Jerry's.  Same for any other players who are playing like one of the people you have in mind.

Once you have a range in mind, actively think about their range as you play.  This is easiest done in hands that you're not involved in, but you should practice both ways.

One last thing, if the player you're up against is a complete unknown, like it's his first hand and he called your CO open from the BB, treat one of the ranges you create as your population average.  You've made 2bet calling ranges for Nits, LAG's, TAG's, Maniacs and Whales.  Which of these represents your average player?  This is your “population range”.




Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:   Practice your poker math!  I know there’s some kind of math that’s causing an issue for you.  Maybe it’s calling with draws, improving your river calls, understanding percentage form or HUD stat percentages, or something else.  Figure out the math you want to work on then follow the 4 steps I outlined today.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Support the Show

Thank you to Greg Thompson, Craig Hanlon, Richard Manas, Trey Boone, Mario Resendiz, Dale Silver, Matt Thoreson, Charles Laubach, Nikolaos Kazakos, Carlos Contreras, Michael Scott, Paul Roberts, Wayne Altomare, Antoniu Ionescu, Werner Taschner, John Adamek, Rob Craven, Todd Caton, Mark Wyckoff, Robbie Moore and Tom Prost for purchasing the Online Poker Hand Reading Workbook. This is the workbook you’ve been looking for to learn critical hand reading strategies and get loads of practice to finally learn this valuable skill.


Sky Matsuhashi

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