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Reading every opponent not realistic

Sep 15, 2015 3:00 AM

Sure, it’s a good idea to try to “read” your opponents’ hands. What do you think each is calling/betting/raising with?

A column in a poker magazine got me to thinking about the concept of putting opponents on a range of hands. Based on the cards on the board, his betting position, playing traits and pattern, and how he has been playing this hand, you guess what range of hands each opponent might be holding. It could be a very wide range – likely to change as the hand is played.

Is it feasible?

At a full table, you have eight opponents. Is it feasible to read each opponent in the pot? Consider: The average hold’em hand is played, from start to finish, in about two minutes. Just two short minutes! Do you have time to assign a range for each opponent? And, then, change that range when the next card is dealt out and, then, after another round of betting – even if the range narrows as you gain more information?

Simultaneously, you are focused on your own hand. How many outs do I have? What are my card odds and the pot odds? Should I try for a bluff? And, meanwhile, you are looking for tells that can give you valuable clues about each opponent’s hand…all while the clock ticks away without hesitating!

The columnist described a hand in which all opponents except the Small Blind (SB), folded on the turn when he bet his top two-pair. Before that, he had put the SB on a wide range of hands.

Then, on the river, when the SB opened with a bet, he changed the range of hands somewhat, using some vague rationale explaining his decision.

An alternative?

But wouldn’t it serve him just as well – perhaps even better – to simply have waited to ask himself what hands might the SB most likely be betting after just calling (no raises) all the way to the river?

The columnist didn’t say, so let’s assume the SB is a typical conservative player – not a deceptive one. Give him credit for connecting with a good hand on the river. Since he stayed in the pot all the way until the end, he must have had lots of good outs.

Wouldn’t that brief analysis serve just as well as trying to guess his opponent’s range of hands each step of the way? What if three – or more – opponents had called to the showdown – as the clock ticks on. Tempus fugit. How much more time would you need?

As the columnist acknowledges, while putting your opponent on a range of hands, to make the best decision, you must calculate your Expected Value (EV) for this range, making some assumptions. Do that while reading your opponents! Do you have the time – assuming you know how? Hurry up! Don’t delay the game! My, oh my.

Furthermore, when you are fighting time, you are bound to be harried.

Result: With all that extra pressure, your decisions may suffer.

My way

So, my question is: How many skilled poker players actually go through all the necessary machinations to settle on a range of hands for each of their opponents, and then make good use of that supposition? The idea is great, but is it realistic?

I do it a bit differently to arrive at basically the same conclusion and make my best decision.

Call it a “small read.” As the hand is played out, I (silently) ask myself what hands might my opponent most likely hold when he calls a bet, opens the betting, or raises – considering what type of player he is.

On that basis, I can make my decision as to how best to play this hand. For example, if I know my opponent is deceptive and I saw him take a deep breath (a tell), I’ll call his bet if I estimate my hand is good, say, one out of five hands – and the pot odds are well above that figure. On the other hand, if he is a tight player and has check/called all the way to the river, I will be much more cautious – and likely muck my hand.

What’s your opinion?

We invite your comments. Email to [email protected].

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