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Reading Opponents Hands

Poker Strategy: Reading Opponents Hands
By Loki Luchs of

Being a passionate poker player has taken a lot of the fun out of watching poker on television with my friends. It’s probably the way that a football player who retires feels when he’s watching ball with the boys on Sunday. I cringe every single time I hear someone babble on about “How could he not realize the guy’s got nothing? He’s obviously bluffing!”  This is the same guy that bitches that Tom Brady didn’t hit a 60 yard triple covered receiver. Obvious? Really? What part of the play might have indicated that? Was it his facial ticks? His betting patterns? The verbal cues in his banter? Perhaps the fact that we can see the cards???

Reading an opponent’s hand is based on many different factors. Each opponent plays differently, depending on their personal styles and experiences. Furthermore, they’ll change their play depending on how long they’ve been at the table, whether they’re on their A game or D game, and what kind of a mood they’re in. The easiest way to understand how they play normally is to watch what their betting patterns are like; are they always throwing money in hand after hand, calling down? Is the player constantly bullying the table? Or are they afraid to touch their chips, because they might lose a hand if they don’t have a full house? Once you understand the four general styles of play, you can easily tell by their body language what kind of a mood they’re in! Are they berating players? Are they drinking heavily? Are they carefully stacking their chips? These small body tells go a long way in being able to know if an opponent is playing a solid game or starting to tilt.


Once you have a general understanding of how they play normally, as well as how they’re playing currently, then you start to have an idea of what kinds of hands they’re playing. In the beginning, you don’t need to know exactly what your opponent has; in order to be a winning player, you need to have an idea if they’re strong or weak. You’ve already got a bead on how they play the game psychologically, so you now have the advantage! If your opponent is a maniac who is bullying the table or on tilt, you can assume that on any given hand your medium strength hand is in the lead. Staggered flops that are bet hard will be big cashes for you. If the opponent almost never is in the hand without the nuts, then you want to avoid being against them without a good pot-odds to draw to a better hand!

When you see Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, or Sammy Farha calling their opponents hands, it’s because they’ve analyzed the hand psychologically, added in their information that they’ve collected from tells, and added up all of the pieces. Aside from the fact that ESPN doesn’t show the times that they’re wrong on a read, it’s important to realize that they’ve done these reads ten-thousand times. They can see the most likely hands that their opponents have. Big slick gets played pretty much the same way at a $2/4 table as it does at a $200/400 table. There are three ways to play aces (all of them are wrong). When the greats first started out, they found themselves getting only this general read of strength and won their early bankrolls on that alone. In the end, most players you face are not sophisticated enough to diversify their play on a constant basis. Get an understanding of your opponent and then follow your read.


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