Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poker hand reading

I guess its reasonably obvious that hand reading is your ability to deduce what hand or hands your opponent may be holding based on betting patterns and your understanding of their skill level.

I must confess its taken me a long time to get this concept, and how to put it into practice, but as I play more hands, it actually comes a bit more naturally.

For some reason I was under the impression initially that when people talked about hand reading you were putting people on an exact hand .. eg AdKs. Whilst it is actually possible to do this occasionally (or even rarely), what is far more important is putting your opponent on a particular range of hands, and then working out where you sit against that range.

You then use that read to adjust your play, and then refine that read further based on the action happening on every street.

For example, say you are sitting on the button with AJ and middle position has raised first in. What do you do? Well, the answer is ... it depends.

Against any LAG/TAG opponent my default is to reraise because a) i'm probably in front and b) my reraise will often isolate by getting the blinds to both fold. However, if that raise comes from a tight or loose but very passive fish, then often I would fold - particularly if they have stats that read 30/1/.2/30. In that situation a PFR of 1% would indicate that they only raise the most premium of premium hands - ie AA, KK ... and just maybe AK or QQ. If they have any of those holdings you are completely dominated and either losing a little post flop if you miss .. or losing a lot if you hit a decent piece of the flop which is still not good enough. Of course you might hit your 3 outer v KK or QQ and win ... but most times you're basically in trouble.

As a second example I might steal one of Adam's hands and modify it a little.
  • Full ring, you are in the BB with 87o.
  • UTG+1 limps in, and its then folded to the cut off who raises.
  • UTG+1 is fairly fishy and quite passive (as hinted at by the open limp) and CO is your averageTAG.
  • So at this point in time the range you put on UTG+1 is extremely broad - pocket pairs under JJ, suited connectors or even suited crap, weak aces or kings, QT, probably unsuited connectors as well.
  • The TAG is likely isolating but still should have a big pair say 99+, AK-A9, KQ-KT, QJ. Probably doesn't have a small pair as he probably would have overlimped.
  • You decide to make a call which is a little loose, but are confident it won't get raised behind
  • UTG+1 calls and 3 of you see a flop of 875r
  • Based on those ranges you are now miles in front of the TAG, with him having virtually no chance of being in front. If the TAG has a big pair, he's drawing to only 5 outs on the turn and possibly 8 outs on the river
  • Against the fish, you are a long way in front of his range, as only 55 is actually in front and T9 or 66 or 65s has a nice draw but is behind by a long way. So you now know you need to maximise value on the flop
  • Since the tag raised, he will most likely cbet if you both check. Fish checks, you check, TAG raises on queue, and you check/raise. Call, call.
  • The calls don't really narrow their range much, but i'd suspect the TAG has either a big pair or A9.
  • Turn is a Jc, which now puts two clubs on the board
  • Not a brilliant card for you as it puts the flush draw on the board. It only completes T9 though so your position is still strong, which you do have outs against.
  • Overall against both players range's you are still winning far more often than losing.
  • You have to bet out for value here to make anyone pay for draws (and also since your c/r on the flop represents strength you should keep up that representation).
  • Any club except the 7c could be an out against you now, and KT or QT now has a gutshot. You will be happy if both opponents fold to a bet, and if you get reraised ... well ... i'd still call
  • Both players call
  • That rules out 55 which definitely would have reraised there and T9 as well who wouldn't want the flush to draw free. Also rules out JJ. TAG could still be on a big pair, and there's a fair chance fish is on a draw.
  • River is an extremely ugly 9c - completing both the flush draw and a gutshot for anyone with a T, as well as a straight if the fish had 65.
  • Into two opponents now you're in a bit of trouble although i'd be fairly confident i'm in front of the TAG (except for TT and 99), so i'd probably check/call.
  • You could still be in front, in which case you're hoping an opponent bluffs.
  • I suspect the pot is now too big to fold, although i'm sure some people would argue bet/fold is the optimal river play.
  • If you check and are facing two to call, its definitely a fold, as you can then adjust your read based on that action towards the fish holding a straight or flush. A TAG (unless very aggro) wouldn't normally bet with only trips here on a board this dangerous, so that should also be taken into account.
  • It gets checked round
  • Fish showsdown JTo for the straight.
  • In this case you'd have lost, but given he was chasing a gutshot, and then had a couple more outs on the river, you are correct in betting all streets to make them pay to draw out on you. You were correctly in front on the flop and turn.

How long does it take to go through this thought process? Preflop a second or two between folding and calling. Flop about half a second to know to checkraise. Turn about half a second when my check raise doesnt get reraised. River maybe a second or two.

So I guess my key points on hand reading are - take a stab at putting your opponents on a range - dont worry about getting to an exact hand, and then value bet relentlessly if you are in front of that range. (Although listen to the betting/raising that come back at you to narrow their range).

Often defining a narrow range can be tricky with passive fish. It took me a while to actually work it out but its really simple in the end. Put them on a very broad range (DUH!!), then value bet constantly with even 2nd pair. Often they will have 2nd pair no kicker, third pair and a kicker, or complete air. Of course they will sometimes have a good hand, or some ugly two pair or hit a miracle runner runner draw, but for every time that happens there will be two other times they just call down and pay you off.

I didnt actually play last night so no change to the bankroll.


The blindman said...

Nice post. I must confess to not thinking about ranges consistently (at least not explicitly). In the example you give, my thought process is basically:
-Preflop I have good odds if I'm sure UTG won't 3-bet.
-On the flop I have a big hand that's somewhat vulnerable to a counterfeit. I will probably checkraise and bet the turn, but may consider check-calling and checkraising the turn if the CO C-bets the turn very frequently (~90%). One reason for this is that there are probably only a few cards which beat me on the turn, but more on the river.
-On the river I just cry and check-call one bet.

Gavin said...

Could you please explain the
30/1/.2/30 as I have seen this on a few blogs but am not sure on the meaning.
Apologies if this is majorly novicey but it would certainly help me and an understanding of where you would find the stats would be good as well



parttimebonuschaser said...

in my blog:
30: VPIP .. how often the player sees flop. In 6max 30 is tightish

1: preflop raise %. 6max normal TAG is around 20%. 1% rarely raising preflop, so when they do, watch out.

.2: Aggression factor. 2 is a TAG so 0.2 is only betting when he has a hand, and calling or folding if he doesn't

30: went to showdown % ... 30% is kinda low, so you could bluff him off a hand, but if he's going to showdown he probably has something.

Ukgatsby said...

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parttimebonuschaser said...

am now :)

Gavin said...

Thanks for the reply

havin_a_laff said...

Nice post.

I like playing guys with something like 24/2/1, 22/5/2 etc. Their range is generally easier to pin down than someone playing 30/x or 45/x.

parttimebonuschaser said...

true .. somewhat easier to pin down, but also you're not going to make as much from them as they're only playing half decent hands.

I think it makes it tougher to beat the rake at the end of the day, so i generally dont want many of those on my table.