The ability to figure out what poker hands your opponent could be holding, also known as hand reading, is one of the key aspects of your game. The best poker players in the world are using solvers to train this process and understand ranges in different situations.
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However, I am aware that not everyone enjoys using solvers and analyzing the difficult math, so I have compiled 5 tips that you can use to make better predictions without complicated tools.
There are many misconceptions about the hand reading process especially among new players, so it's important to introduce the term “range”. This refers to all the possible hands a player can have in a certain situation.
If you want to play good poker, you should be looking to determine your opponents’ ranges, not their particular hands. In fact, putting your opponent on a single hand is usually a bad idea.
1. Think in Terms of Ranges
All too often, live poker players will say something like: “I put you on Ace-King.”
In reality, these players are usually just hoping that you have that particular hand while completely neglecting all the other hands you have in your range.
If you want to play sound poker, you will always want to assign your opponent a number of different possible holdings.
You can construct your opponent’s preflop range based on several factors, all of them adding or removing hands from their range. Consider things like their position, how they entered the pot, their player type and what you've seen them do in the past.
For instance, an aggressive player who decided not to re-raise before the flop will rarely have pocket aces. Likewise, an early position opener should not be holding a weak off suite hand all that often.
Thinking in terms of ranges and how your hand plays against it will get you better results in the long run and will train you to think about poker in the right way, even if you do make some mistakes while learning.
Avoid these 4 common ranging mistakes (video coming soon):
2. Mind the Bet Sizing
If you are often playing against the same opponents, you will see them betting in different situations. So, be sure to take good notes on how big they bet when they have the value part of their range versus how big they bet with their bluffs. Paying attention to bet sizing gives you valuable information.
Some bet sizing tells can also be used on the entire population in a particular poker game like Texas Holdem. While all bet sizes should be well balanced in theory, most poker players don’t do a very good job of it.
If you are playing against weaker opponents, you should learn a lot from bet sizes alone.
3. Actions Shrink Ranges
When thinking about your opponents' ranges, you should remember that every action they make changes their range in a significant way.
Let's say a player opened from an early position, and we decided to call on the button. If this player is a thinking player, we know we can assign them a fairly tight opening range from EP.
Now, as different flops, turns, and rivers are dealt out, this player will have to take action, whether he is deciding to bet or check on different streets.
Combined with the board texture, these actions can help you shrink their range and take hands out of it. The thing to remember is that their range can never expand, so never start thinking about them having a hand that you already excluded from their range on an earlier street.
Whenever your opponent checks, bets, or raises, you should think about what hands they may be doing this with and which hands you can now take completely out of their range.
4. Beware of Your Opponent
A very important thing to consider, especially when playing in lower stakes and generally weaker games, is who you are playing against.
For instance, an early position raise from a good player will never be 98 off suite, while many bad players will raise this hand even from UTG on a regular basis.
When playing, you should try to construct a range based on your opponent’s specific tendencies whenever possible.
Dealing with the extremely wide ranges of some weak players can be difficult. But, if you can hone in on their tendencies it can also be very profitable.
5. Turn Off Your Emotions
This one may be easier said than done, but may just be the most important part of the entire process. When trying to figure out what the other player has, you can’t let your emotions control you. Have you ever caught yourself in one of these situations:
- You know you are beat but you call.
- You're seeking revenge against a player for an earlier hand.
- You think a particular player is always bluffing.
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you might want to turn things around. Using a logical and steady hand elimination process and range construction is a much better way than simply hoping to be right this time.
Don’t get too stuck on the off chance that your opponent is bluffing you, even if occasionally they may be. If the spot is such that they have more value than bluffs, it may be the time to fold.
The fact is that if you play poker, you will get bluffed out of your hands, and you will miss earning value in some spots, and that's completely fine.
As long as you are sticking to rational and math-based decisions, you will be fine.
Here's my challenge to you: Write down the 5 tips on a sticky note and attach it to your monitor. In your next 3 play sessions, actively try to assign each of your opponents a preflop range of hands and narrow that range through the streets based on the 5 tips. Make reads on the strength of their range and make plays that exploit your reads. Good luck!
Now it's your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
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