Poker hand reading: a powerful skill to develop

We’re going to assume you’re not psychic or clairvoyant, and you don’t have ESP or a crystal ball, or some sort of superpower. If you do, congratulations, no doubt you’re always winning lotteries and poker games. But we think not. 

Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran poker player, there’s a skill you should develop if you want to improve your poker strategy and have that win rate go up: hand reading.

Hand reading is the key to mastering poker. The pros are great at it. Basically, hand reading in poker means that you can have a good idea of your opponent’s hand every time. It’s a very important skill because it means you can play near-perfect poker with correct bets, raises and folds. 

If we’re reading your mind correctly right now, you want to know more.

Tip # 1: Read the range, read your opponent 

Hand reading is hard, especially online, but do-able. There’s a ton of information to consider very quickly, and every bit affects your opponent’s range. Think of each piece of information as an important key to reading your opponent’s hand. A few examples include your and your opponent’s table position, his or her bet size, and their playing style.

But there’s more! There’s so much going on in a poker game or poker tournament. Decisions happen at a lightning pace, even the best players can’t compute everything. 

Good poker players watch how an opponent plays over a series of hands, note the history (yeah, take notes… no one can see you online) and make assumptions about how he or she will play as the game progresses. They use that information to deduce their opponent’s actions and make a calculated guess about what might be or not be in their hand. Understand that these assumptions are not givens. The more precise you are in figuring out your opponent’s play, the more effective your results.

3 Key assumptions you can make

Here are some basic assumptions that describe an opponent’s play and what they could mean in your hand reading process.

  1. Assume your opponent will bet strong. He or she will be confident that they hold the best hand and presume you’ll call with a lesser hand before they value bet. We can’t put an exact number on a strong or thin-value bet, but the shyer your opponent, the more effective your hand reading will be.
  2. Assume your opponent will not bluff a made hand. If they believe they have a shot at winning the showdown, they will try to get there on the cheap instead of moving you off your hand. When he or she bluffs, it’s because they think they have little or no chance of winning.
  3. Assume your opponent will not chase a draw with obvious bad odds. If he or she is counting on implied odds or a chance of driving you out by bluffing later, they will not call a pot-sized turn bet for a third of the stack and no showdown value.

Only you can decide if these assumptions will apply to any given opponent in the poker games that you play. But they work pretty well in online no-limit hold ’em… At least well enough to make your hand-reading process work!

Tip # 2: Classify your opponents’ hands

Brokos’ simplified hand-reading method tells us not to try to guess an opponent’s exact hand or two-card combination.

1.Big-win hands – Your opponent wants to play for a big pot. Meaning he or she won’t bet or raise every chance they get. They’re confident about having the best hand and believe there are worse hands that will pay well.

2.Head-to-head hands – Your opponent thinks he or she has the winning hand, but they won’t attempt to build the pot. They will opt to apply pot control, checking when possible and calling when necessary. Some players use small bets or raises to block or test the waters.

3.Draw/bluff hands – Hands that need to improve or bluff have a pretty good probability of winning the pot. We’re not talking about evident draws like four to a flush, but to any hand that has little or no showdown value.

Again, these are not absolutes. There are no clear measures for a thin value bet or how strong hands should be bluffs. The more your opponent aligns with these categories (most do), the closer you can come to “guessing” his or her hand. These simple yet common categories can guide your playing decisions. Eradicating just one of these hand types from your opponent’s range can change a river decision from call to fold.

Typical hand-reading mistakes

The more you know about your opponents, the more precise your hand reading will be. Exploiting your opponents by using the knowledge you gained from their gameplay will give you the edge. It’s one of the most essential methods you can learn to maximize your wins.

Keep in mind that this system is not foolproof, but there are some common mistakes you should avoid:

Not re-evaluating your assumptions – By disregarding hands from your opponents’ ranges on previous hands, you are either removing them or giving them a lower chance. Your opponents are able to hand-read and make deceptive plays, too. Always be ready to re-evaluate assumptions you’ve made. 

Trying to determine exactly what your opponent is holding – Amateur move by players who have not developed any hand-reading skills. A player makes a ridiculous call, like with a low pair in a large pot. Then they assume that their opponent holds something like ace-king high and never reconsider. That’s not hand reading. That’s just guessing.

Assuming when you know the range, you know the best play – Never get fooled into believing that once you know your opponent’s range, you can always determine the best play. Not true. Knowing your opponent’s range and basing your best move on that is not going to achieve what you want.

There are no smoke and mirrors

Sure, guessing your opponent’s cards is a head-spinning trick that can intimidate your opponents and win you some enormous pots. But it’s not critical to making the right decisions against most poker players. If you learn to classify your opponents’ potential holdings – reading the range and reading the hands – you won’t believe how fast your decision-making will improve.

Ready to hit the tables and try it out? Download our Ignition poker software and get in on the action !