Mastering the Art of Hand Reading in Poker

Mastering the Art of Hand Reading in Poker

In this in depth blog post we’re going to cover hand reading in poker, hand ranges, what they are, how to use them, and why there crucial to you success. And most importantly, how to master the art of hand reading by learning to put your opponents on a hand range.

But first, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page so I’m going to give you a quick overview of hand ranges, how to think about them and how modern poker theory developed.

Hang tight, cause I’ll even give you a simple tool you can use to help you hand read like a pro!

What is Hand Reading in Poker?

Hand reading in poker simply means to identify the most likely hands your opponent is holding.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all doing this to some extent in every hand of poker we play. And truth be told, insofar that we can reduce the objective of poker down to its simplest form, it would be ‘hand reading’.

That’s because poker is a game of incomplete information and your objective is to figure out what your opponent is holding.

In short, your objective in poker is to read your opponent’s hand. It’s no surprise that it’s arguably the single most important skill in poker you can develop.

Hand Reading in Poker

What is a Hand Range in Poker?

From the time Texas Hold’em was invented in the early 1900s until just recently, poker players, even professionals, used to hand read by aiming to put their opponents on a single hand.

When facing a large bet on the river on a K7242 board, they may opt to fold KQ citing something like ‘I put him on Ace-King’.

You may have even heard people say this at the poker table.

Then, in 2007, everything changed. When Cole South released the revolutionary book, ‘Let There Be Range!‘, (which cost ~$1,500), he introduced a concept which took the poker world by storm: a hand range.

Who could imagine that simple idea would change the way we think about poker forever?

South, who came up with me in the online poker boom and also crushed high stakes online poker for millions of dollars, advocated that instead of putting your opponent on a single hand, you put them on a range of hands.

This would give you a more complete picture of the types of hands your opponent could hold at any given time.

Using the concept of hand ranges to hand read in poker makes complete sense. Of course, except in rare circumstances, you can’t know for certain exactly what two cards your opponents are holding.

Take the example above with a final board of K7242. If your opponent could have Ace-King, couldn’t he also have two aces? The two hands have almost identical value and almost everyone would play them the same.

Aside from merely guessing, how could one ever distinguish between the two?

As you can see from this trivial example, using hand ranges for hand reading in poker makes the most sense, and it’s imperative you become familiar with this concept if you want to improve your game.

How to Put Your Opponents on a Hand Range

How to Hand Read in Poker Using Ranges

The first step toward using hand ranges to hand read in poker is to begin by assigning your opponent a range of hands in every situation you face.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Your opponent raises preflop, bets the whole way, and you’re facing his third barrel on a final board of Jc Td 5s 4s 2d.

To improve your hand reading in poker, you want to move away from thinking ‘I put him on Ace-Jack’ to acknowledging that while Ace-Jack is a possibility, there are inevitably other hands your opponent can have.

If he can have Ace-Jack, he can also certainly have QQ, KK, and AA, right?
Or sets, like TT and JJ.

Depending on the type of player, there are most likely some bluffs in his range as well. Hands like King-Queen, Ace-King, Ace-Queen, and backdoor spades come to mind. (Of course, his exact bluffing and value betting range will depend on the individual player).

As you can see, the old school way of thinking about poker – putting your opponent on a specific hand – is incomplete, and therefore inaccurate. It fails to paint the entire picture of the situation you’re facing.

The new school approach of using hand ranges gives one a much more accurate portrayal of what your opponent can be holding at any given time.

Now that you understand the concept of hand ranges, how they work and how to use them to hand read in poker, it’s time to learn how to put it into practice on the felt.

Before we proceed, I would like to tell you about our upcoming mastermind, Alec’s Academy.

If you are an intermediate or advanced poker player looking to refine your skillsets signing up for Alec’s Academy is the best and easiest way to do it.

Mastering Poker Hand Ranges in Cash Games

How to Practice Hand Reading in Poker

To practice hand reading in poker and help you become proficient in this process, I’ve put together a tool that’s simple to use, foolproof and accurate. It’s the best way I’ve ever encountered to correctly put your opponent on a hand range.

It’s called a Hand Range Funnel.

The reason being that ranges follow the shape of funnels in that they progressively get narrower throughout the hand.

Think about it.

Each time your opponent takes an action their range changes in some way. The ‘Hand Range Funnel’ guides you through the process of systematically and easily narrowing down your opponent’s hand range until you arrive at their most likely holding.

‘The Hand Range Funnel’ is the product of my years of coaching, and being forced to distill my thought process down into something that anyone could follow.

I needed a system I could teach to anyone, regardless of their skill level, that would produce immediate results. And while this used to be something I only shared with my private clients, I realized it was simply too effective to be kept a secret, so I turned it into a guide which I’ve made available to everyone, for free.

I know what you’re thinking.

If this system is really so good, why would you give it away free?

Here I’m supposed to give you some answer like, ‘because I love helping others improve at poker,’ and while that is definitely true, I do it because I’m also selling poker strategy, and the best way to gain your trust is to demonstrate I can actually help you before asking you for a commitment, like joining the Conscious Poker Membership.

I believe that when you see the impact my free content has on your game, you’ll be compelled to try our premium stuff as well.

In short, I believe by putting my reader’s interests first, everyone benefits.

So there it is, in plain English. No fluff, no bullshit. You can download the exact system I use to make decisions, for free, simply by entering your name and email below. It’s the best way I know for how to practice hand reading in poker.

How to Improve Hand Reading Skills in Poker

If you want some tips on how to improve your hand reading skills in poker, you can simply use the Hand Range Funnel to evaluate each interesting hand of poker you play.

Simply download the blank ‘Hand Range Funnel’ and fill it out to best determine what types of hands your opponent most likely has in any situation.

Just like anything, hand reading in poker will take some practice to become proficient at, but it’s just like riding a bike. Once you get the hang of it you can do it without thinking.

But knowing how to put your opponent’s on a hand range is just one piece of the puzzle. In order to consistently make winning decisions in poker, you need to have a system.

And that’s exactly what I’d like to share with you today, the Four Step Process I use to hand read in poker.

The Four Steps to Hand Reading in Poker

This content comes right out of a lesson I had with one of my private clients, Anthony from NYC, which I then expanded and turned into a video course, “Hand Reading Foundation” (more on that in a minute).

Anthony, like so many others, was looking for a systematic approach he could use to hand read in poker and make winning decisions. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a simple process that you could fall back on whenever you’re faced with a decision at the poker table?

Something that worked whether you were in position or out of position:
Against loose or tight players?
Against pros or amateurs?
In any situation you faced?

Well, that’s exactly what I’ve created and today I’m going to show you how that works.

How to Correctly Play Your Hand Range in Poker

Step 1: Identify Your Opponent’s Hand Range

As we already discussed, a hand range is simply all the possible hands your opponent could be holding at any given time.

Correctly putting your opponent on a hand is the single most important tactical skill in poker. After all, if you can successfully do this the sky is the limit. That’s why it’s the first step toward making any good decision.

To begin narrowing down your opponent’s range, you’ll use the ‘Hand Range Funnel’ I discussed above.

Here’s how it works in practice.

Imagine a funnel, and at the top is all the possible hands your opponent could be dealt. This represents 100% of hands; since, theoretically you can be dealt any two cards.

Hand Reading Like the Pros

Now let’s imagine you’re playing a $2/$5 NL cash game, and your opponent makes a raise preflop from under the gun to $15. We can safely assume he no longer has 100% of hands, since nobody in his right mind would raise with any two cards from under the gun.

Therefore, his hand range has narrowed, and the process of funneling has begun.

What is his range exactly? Well, this depends on many factors such as his personality, his playing style, his overall record, his stack size, his mood, and so on.

But let’s assume his hand range to be something standard: pocket sevens or better, suited broadways and big aces.

We can write this out like this: 77+, JTs+ and AQo+

You call on the button with 99. Now the flop comes down 872 rainbow. With a pot of $37, our opponent makes a continuation bet of $20, and we call.

What’s his hand range now?

How to Hand Read in Poker

Again, that depends. Does he continuation bet 100% of the time? If so, then it hasn’t changed at all, and it’s the exact same as it was preflop.

If he doesn’t continuation bet 100% of the time (most people don’t), then his range got narrower in some fashion.

Perhaps he’s going to c-bet with any pair, straight draw, and AK, but check (and plan on folding to a bet) with his air like QJs and KQs.

Therefore, his hand range has narrowed and is now 77+, JTs, AK.

You can already start to see why I’ve called this a ‘Hand Range Funnel’, because hand ranges follow the shape of a funnel in that they always get narrower and can never get wider. The only exception to this rule is when your opponent would play every hand in his range the same way—c-betting the flop with 100% of his range, for example. In these rare circumstances, one’s hand range will not shrink but stay the exact same size.

Once a hand is eliminated from your opponent’s range, it can never get put back in. For example, we can safely eliminate sets of 2s and 3s from our Villain’s range because we assumed he wouldn’t raise preflop with those hands; therefore, he cannot have them on the flop.

Now the turn comes down a 6, and he bets $50. You call once more.

The river brings an Ace, and he fires a third bullet of $50. What do you do?

Making Sense of Hand Ranges in Poker

If you’re like most people, you’ll be quick to answer fold. But let’s use the hand range funnel to take a further look at this situation.

After we call the flop and our opponent fires again on a 6 turn, we can safely assume he no longer has Ace high (if he did, he would probably check).

His one straight draw (Jack-Ten) will surely continue bluffing in an attempt to take down the pot, and his over-pairs (99-AA) will surely bet again as well.

But once the river brings an Ace, he will no longer bet the majority of his pairs (TT-KK) for fear that he’s beat, and he can’t get called by worse.

The only real hands he’s betting on the river are sets and bluffs.

Therefore, his river range is precisely 77, 88, AA and JTs.

Hand Range Funnel Example

Hand Reading in Poker

Step 2: Categorize His Hands

Once you’ve identified your opponent’s hand range, you’ll want to divide it into two categories:
hands you beat and hands you don’t. This gives you an immediate snapshot of where you’re at and whether you’re likely to be ahead or behind.

Hands You Beat: JTs
Hands You Don’t: 77, 88, AA

Second, you’ll want to count the combos of his holdings to get a ratio of the time you have the best hand.

Jack-Ten suited has 4 combos (spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts) and each set has 3 combos for a total of 9.

Therefore, he has 4 combos you beat and 9 combos of hands you don’t, so you’ll have the best hand 4/13 times or roughly 30%.

Step 3: Determine Your Pot Odds and Breakeven Point

It’s here where you’ll have to do some basic poker math. How big is the pot? How big is the bet? Determine your pot odds accordingly and then convert this fraction to a percentage.

Well, the pot on the river is $177, and your opponent bets $50, so your pot odds are:
$177 (pot + bet) to $50 (bet)
= $227:$50
= ~ 4.5:1

To convert this to a percentage is simple, you simply take 1/(4.5+1) = 1/5.5 = ~18%.
This 18% represents your breakeven point.

For a quick way to determine your breakeven point in real time, check out this comprehensive blog on How to Calculate Poker Pot Odds‘.

Understanding Pot Odds, Implied Odds and Reverse Implied Odds

Step 4: Make the Most Profitable Decision

Now that you have your breakeven point (18%), you simply determine if you have greater than an 18% chance of winning (otherwise referred to as equity) against your opponent’s range.

Since you determined you’ll have the best hand 4/13 times, or 30%, then your equity is 30%. Since your 30% equity is greater than your breakeven point of 18%, you should call.

In short, anytime you find yourself in a situation where your equity is greater than your pot odds, you should continue playing the hand.

And that’s it.

This is a summary of the exact process I use to put my opponent’s on a hand range and hand read in poker. If you’d like a more advanced walkthrough of how I use this four-step process to make winning decisions in poker, including exclusive video content that I don’t share anywhere else, check out the Mini-Course: Hand Reading Foundation, which you’ll get access to as part of the Conscious Poker Membership Program.

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I look forward to continuing to help you on your poker journey.

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Alec Torelli
Welcome! I'm Alec Torelli, founder of Conscious Poker, a training site dedicated to transforming good players into great ones by providing the best poker strategy and mindset content. I've been a professional poker player for 15 years and have over $1,500,000 in tournament winnings and millions more in both live and online cash games. On this site, I share the lessons I learned during my poker career to help you crush the games, optimize your bankroll, make winning decisions and achieve your poker goals.

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