Hand Reading

Hand reading is a tool that will serve as a part of the foundation for your success. If you are unable to effectively hand read, you will have a very difficult time making the correct decisions at the poker table. Think about the last time that you were stuck in a very difficult spot, you didn’t know whether your opponent was holding a really strong had or absolutely nothing. When I am playing online poker I will often find that my reads were spot on, it was simply a matter of me acting on them. You knew that you were either way ahead or way behind in the hand, but had no clue how to determine which one it was. If you were a solid hand read your decision would have been simplified. This is probably obvious, however.

Daniel Negreanu

The real question is how do you learn how to read hands in poker? The answer is simple and yet complex at the same time. You won’t be a master at hand reading overnight, but you can learn how to effectively make reads by analyzing three important aspects of any hand: the history you have with your opponent, the board, and the action that preceded the spot that you are in.

History

The history that you have with any given poker player will be able to help you hand read more effectively. If you saw someone bluff ten times in a row, you would know that they have a tendency to make bets with weaker hands. If, however, you never saw a certain player showdown anything less than the nuts, you would know that you should be very careful when getting involved in a pot with this player. These are very basic examples of how your history will help make future decisions easier. Don’t assume that history is bound to repeat itself when it comes to a player’s actions in poker, just know that history makes certain moves more likely than others.

The Board

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The board, in conjunction with the action in a hand, will help you when trying to make a read on a player. If you are able to correlate the action in a hand with the board, you will be able to make better, more thought out, decisions. The community cards in any given hand should speak for themselves, but they will mean relatively little if you don’t know how to assess the action that corresponds with the cards. This is why it is important to take note of the board, but is also why the board means relatively little in and of itself.

The Action

The action in a hand of poker will often be indicative of what someone is holding. Sometimes it will be blatantly obvious that someone has a flush, and you will be able to pick up on these things just by looking at the action in front of you. If someone check calls two streets on a draw heavy board (be it a straight or a flush, maybe even both) and then fires out a pot bet on the river when the draw hits, shouldn’t it be clear that they have made their hand? Some players will look for any reason to identify the bet as a bluff, but it should be easy to hand read your opponent, just as if you were reading poker strategy ebooks. Don’t take for granted how obvious a play might be, sometimes the obvious read is the correct one, you might be surprised how often players will play their hands in a completely transparent manner.