Find 'tells' in your poker foe's behavior

Jul 7, 2009 5:06 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

If you always knew what hands your opponents held, you would consistently win big. You’d know when to fold – saving chips – when to bet for value and when to raise to gain even more chips.

But, unless your opponents actually disclose their hole cards, you can only make a guess – an educated guess. The better your guess, the more success you will enjoy.

You may be "reading" your opponent’s hand without consciously attempting to do so. When he raises, you are bound to ask yourself: What is he raising with? It would be better to focus on "reading" your opponents’ hands from the start to make the best guess you can make.

Reading hands is not science; there is no magic formula like our Hold’em Algorithm to help you decide whether to stay to see the flop. It’s really an art – a talent that you can develop.

How to Read Your Opponents’ Hands

Start by assessing each foe. Tight or loose? Passive or aggressive? Does he play too many hands? A player who consistently calls pre-flop more than one out of three hands is loose – a Poker Pigeon.

Tight players are more selective, staying in with strong hands, especially in early position. They include made hands – A-A, K-K, Q-Q; quasi-made hands – J-J down to 8-8; and premium drawing hands: A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q.

Loose players call with a wide range of hands, including any ace, even A-rag off-suit. It’s easier to read the tight players; and more difficult to put a loose player on a hand.

Observe opponents’ hands at showdown. What kind of hands does he call or raise with?

Look for tells – actions that may give you a clue to his hand. For example, put him on a strong hand if he looks at his hole cards as they are dealt to him, and seems to get excited: he sits up in his chair; glances at his chips; moves his hand to his chips. Now, if he comes out betting or raising, you can read his hand fairly well.

So, pre-flop you have made an initial "read" of each opponent’s hand. Actually it’s a range of possible hands. Then, as the hand progresses, refine your "read" based on how he bets or raises, always keeping in mind what type of player he is.

Changing Gears

We are all creatures of habit. That’s part of human nature. We develop patterns based on our character, education and experience. The same is true in poker.

Observing play patterns helps in evaluating your opponents, and is important in reading their hands. Astute players will change their playing patterns during a session. Changing gears keeps opponents from being accurate in reading hands. You too should change gears on occasion.

You started playing tight-selectively aggressive. After a while, your opponents realize this pattern and will adapt. Changing gears to play more loosely would be prudent. But keep in mind that your opponents may do the same; adjust your read of their hands accordingly.