Have you ever fancied taking your poker game to the next level but being put off by the mystical and deliberately misleading advice from your friends or fellow players? If you have, you’re not alone, poker is a game that is full of myths, secrets and sometimes, downright lies.
Being good at poker, like being good at many things, boils down to hard work and dedication. There is no ‘silver bullet’for winning big and the psychology of the game is often overstated by players, pundits and fans.
People that portray poker as a game of luck and psychology are either lying to excuse their lack of understanding about the game, or lying to make their skill and knowledge seem like some sort of mystical power.
Apart from bluffing, hand reading in poker is one of the most overegged and mythicized techniques in the game. In this article we not only bust the myth about hand reading, but we’ll also explain it and show you how to use it effectively.
What Is Hand Reading?
Successful players would have you believe that they have the power to telepathically work out the exact hand that their opponent is holding. Obviously that is not the case, otherwise they would win every single game of poker they played.
However the most important part of that lie is that a player claims to be know the exact hand of their opponent. The vast majority of the time it is nigh on impossible to know the exact hand of an opponent, rather it is possible to know what hands they may or may not have.
Essentially hand reading is the ability to deduce from all the available information – such as what cards have already been dealt – a range of possible hands that your opponent may be sitting on.
More often than not, your powers of deduction will leave you with little more than an inclination as to a possible hand. Only in very unique circumstances will hand reading give you a concrete idea of an exact hand.
How To Hand Read
In the introduction to this article we touched upon the two most important characteristics of a successful poker player – hard work and dedication.
There is no better example of those two traits when it comes to the process of hand reading. Before any action has taken place in a Texas Hold ‘em game there are 1,326 possible combinations of hole cards that a player could receive.
Your chances of successfully predicting that would be roughly 0.08% as you would be relying on nothing more than blind luck. Hand reading truly comes into place after the pre-flop betting round.
If a player were to open raise before the flop then logically we could deduce that they held less than 15% of the 1,326 possible hole combinations. If they merely check, then our chances of guessing their hand begin to lessen.
After the flop you have to ask yourself one important question; which cards would I have folded on?
Once you have the answer to this question you can begin to apply it to your opponents and start ruling out the hole cards that they definitely do not have. Then you will be left with a range of cards that would keep you interested in playing on, which you could reasonably deduce your opponent to have.
Of course there will be situations were these options are slightly more nuanced and you will have to consider a range of variables such as…
-Is my opponent more optimistic than me?
-Are they a reckless player?
Usually, the answers to these questions will be helpful, but not as helpful as…
At this point any player that knows their cards will have stepped aside if they are in possession of a particularly weak hand. Based on the cards in front of us we are then able to narrow our opponents hand down to 50 combinations or less.
To help in our deductions it is useful to think of the best and worst case scenarios. What is the best combination of cards that they could have? What is their nightmare scenario?
Tells & Bets
With all the cards on the table we have every possible piece of information that we need to make a pretty good guess as to the hand of our opponent. When we are in possession of the best possible cards then there is no reason to worry or speculate as to the hand of our fellow players.
However, when we don’t, we have to then look to their betting actions and tells to work out what our edge is. The first indicator to look for is our opponents betting patterns. Are they raising at a quick rate? If so, what does that tell us about their confidence in their own hand?
Are they nervously pushing their chips into the middle? Are their eyes darting back and forth across the table?
In observing these actions we will be able to gauge fairly confidently what hand they hold. As a rule of thumb, quick and confident raises are a sign of a good, strong hand whereas procrastination and uneasy reluctance are tell-tale signs of a player in over their head.
Is Hand Reading Fool Proof?
Absolutely not. Everything detailed thus far in this article is not enough to ever be 100% confident of the cards in your opponent’s hands. Rather, that information is intended to be used as a guide to help you make the right decisions as a game enters its final stages.
Your chances of knowing your fellow players hands are slim to none, but by having a firm understanding of possible outcomes and combinations, you can make educated guesses.
Being able to use hand reading to your advantage will take time for practice and hard work when it comes to swatting up on the various winning combinations of every flop and river.
There’s no mysticism and magic to hand reading, just knowledge and logic. Check out some Poker tips.