Reading opponents a key component of poker

In his Upswing Poker website, poker guru Doug Polk recently offered advice on reading your opponents: What range of hands is each most likely to be holding. The more accurate your read, the better your chance of winning the pot. This applies to all varieties of poker.

“Pay close attention to what your opponents are doing, especially in a live setting,” he says. “They will often times give away a lot of information.” Focus your attention on the game and the players — even after you have already folded. The more you study your opponents and their actions, the better chance you have of getting an accurate read and more likely to win the pot.

In general, I do appreciate Doug’s advice. But there is one thing he suggests that needs more thought, especially in a low/middle-limit game where the bets are doubled on the turn and river. That’s the game most of us recreational players prefer, so let’s stick to it. High-limit and no-limit games require further consideration.

As an example, he uses a hold’em hand where you raise preflop and an opponent calls from the Big Blind. On that basis, he explains you can rule out that the BB has a made hand like A-A, K-K, or Q-Q within his range “because they almost certainly would have 3-bet these hands preflop.”

Here is my question: Is a reraise (a 3-bet) always the wise move with a big pocket pair? It’s more complicated than Doug suggests.

In this case, holding pocket Aces, the BB might indeed be inclined to make a 3-bet; it is only natural.

“It is almost always better to fast-play your strongest hands before the flop,” Doug says. But is that always the best decision? A sharp player realizes that his goal is to win as big a pot as possible. Holding pocket Aces, for example, and considering the probabilities (the card odds and the pot odds), the optimum is to play against three or four (at most) opponents. If BB’s reraise were to force out several opponents, he may not be able to achieve that objective. How do you decide?

My advice? Consider your opponents’ traits — tight, loose, passive or aggressive. If there are several tight players at your table, your 3-bet is likely to get them to muck their hole cards. Is that to your advantage? Yes, that will

certainly give your hand a better chance to hold up; but your goal is to win as many chips as possible.

Is he a calling-station? Once he has invested preflop, is he bound to stay all the way to the showdown? Is he a “maniac” who loves to raise and reraise?

In those cases, your 3-bet won’t force him out; but what about the others? Even if your 3-bet is called, your opponents are bound to be more cautious on the turn and river — and less likely to further contribute to building the pot.

Before making a 3-bet, ask yourself how many opponents still remain in the pot? If there are only one or two, your reraise may do more harm than good. In that case, just limp along. Call any bets preflop.

But what if there is a raise and several callers? Then you might make it a check-raise by 3-betting when the action gets back to you in the Big Blind. Those opponents who had already called, along with the raiser, are bound to call your reraise — multiplying the size of the pot you expect to win.

Otherwise, plan to play deceptively starting with the turn. Remember that, in this case, your goal is to build the pot as big as possible. Check from the Big Blind; an opponent opens the betting and gets called by several others. Now is the time to make your check-raise to further build the pot. If you are called, consider the type of player he is. If he is tight, be cautious; he could have your pocket Aces beat.