Other Skills

Reading Hands

There are three techniques for reading hands in seven card stud. Most commonly, you analyze the meaning of an opponent’s check, bet, or raise, and you look at the exposed cards and try to judge from them what his entire hand might be. You then combine the plays he has made throughout the hand with the exposed cards and come to a determination about his most likely hand.

In other words, you use logic to read hands. You interpret your oddonent’s plays on each round and note the cards that appear on the board, paying close attention to the order in which they appear. You then put these two pieces of evidence together the plays and the cards on the board to draw a conclusion about an opponent’s most likely hand.

Sometimes you can put an opponent on a specific hand quite early. However, in general, it’s a mistake to do this and then stick to your initial conclusion no matter how things develop. A player who raises on third poker street with a small upcard and then raises again after catching only small cards may have a big pair in the hole, but he also may be on a draw and is trying for a free card. Drawing a narrow, irreversible conclusion early, can lead to costly mistakes later (because you either give that fere crd or bet when your opponent makes his hand).

What you should do is put an opponent on a variety of hands at the start of play, and as play progresses, eliminate some of those hands based on his later play and on the cards he catches. Through this process of elimination, you should have a good idea of what that opponent has (or is drawing to) when the last card is dealt.

Suppose, for instance, that on third street an opponent calls after you raise. On fourth street he catches a small suited card and raises after you bet, but when you check to him on fifth street, he also checks after catching a blank. It is now very likely that he is on a flush draw and was buying a free card. If he catches a flush card on sixth street, you should not bet into him. If he catches a blank on sixth street, you should bet and then probably check on the river, unless you think he also has made a pair and will call with it. However, if you were also on a flush draw and have missed it, you may now want to bet, since a reasonable chance exists that you can pick up the pot.

At the end of hand, it becomes especially crucial to have a good idea of what your opponent has. The more accurately you can read hands on the end, the better you can determine your chances of having your opponent beat. This, of course, helps you in deciding how to play your own hand.

In practice, most players at least try to determine whether an opponent has a bad hand, a good hand, or a great hand. Let’s say you opponent bets on the end. Usually when a person bets, it represents either a bluff, a good hand, or a great hand, he probably would check. if you have only a mediocre hand, you must determine what the chances are that your opponent is bluffing and whether those chances warrant a call in relation to the pot odds. For example, most players will not bet two small pair on the end. This is the mediocre type hand that they hope will win the pot in a showdown.

We have see that one way to read hands is to start by considering a variety of possible hands an opponent might have and then to eliminate some of those possibilities as the hand develops. A complimentary way to read hands is to work backward. For instance, someone with a small card up cold calls a raise and a reraige by a king and an ace. He catches nothing special on fourth, fifth, and sixth streets, but raises on sixth street. Now you think back on his play in earlier rounds. Since it does not seem possible that he would have called this far with something like a three-flushes or a small pair, you have to suspect that he is rolled up.

Here is another example. Suppose on sixth street, a player who called a raise on third street has


Someone with a king in the door and a small pair on board bets, another player who has caught an ace on sixth street raises, and now this person calls the raise. What is his hand?

First, notice that it is not likely that this person just has queens or even queens up (even though it is likely that he started with two queens). Given the small pair showing to go along with the probable pair of kings, plus the raise from the other player who has just caught an ace, he would have little chance of winning with queens up, as he is likely to be against aces up at best. This means that even though the player in question probably started with a pair of queens and may now in fact have queens up, he also figures to have a flush draw. Expect to find the Q, plus some other club, in the hole.

Here’s a third example. On third street, suppose several people limp in and the pot is then raised by a strong player with the 6 up. On fourth poker street, the strong player catches another diamond, but one of the original limpers in an early position catches an ace, bets, and gets several callers between him and the third-street raiser. If the third-street raiser now raises again, there is a good chance that he had three to a straight flush or at least a high three-flush to start with and now has a four-flush with three cards to come. This would be especially true if the fourth-street bettor is not the type of player who would reraise to eliminate those between him and the strong player. On the other hand, if the initial fourth-street bettor had caught a high card below an ace, it would be conceivable for the strong player to be raising with bigger pair in the hole.

Let us now look at another technique. When you can’t actually put a person on a hand, but have reduced his possible holdings to a limited number, you try to use mathematics to determine the chances of his having certain hands rather than others. Then you decide what kind of hand you must have to continue playing.

Sometimes you can use a mathematical procedure based on Bayes’ Theorem to determine the chances that an opponent has one or another hand. After deciding on the kinds of hands your opponent would be betting in a particular situation, you determine the probability of your opponent holding each of those hands. Then you compare those probabilities.

Here’s an example. Suppose an opponent, who is a tight player, starts with a medium card up and catches a third suited upcard on sixth street that is also an ace. Now he bets. You hold a hidden three-of-a-kind and are trying to determine whether you should raise or just call. If many of that suit already were exposed, especially on third street meaning that it would be unlikely for your opponent to have a flussh you should raise when he bets, since it is much more probable that you are against aces up rather than a flush. Conversely, if the flush possibilities are live and you think this is a possible hand for your opponent to have been trying to make, you should just call and raise only if you make a full house or better on the rivier.

Knowing that it is slightly more likely that your opponent has one kind of holding versus another does not in itself tell you how you should proceed in the play of the hand. (You may still be right in playing the hand as if he has the less likely holding. This in playing the hand as if he has the less likely holding. This concept is discussed in greater detail in Getting the Best of It by David Sklansky.) Nevertheless, the more you know about the chances of an opponent having one hand rather than another when he bets or raises, the easier it is for you to decide whether to flod, call, or raise.

Here’s another example. Suppose on third street you have


You raise, and an opponent behind you reraises with an eight up. On fourth street, both you and your opponent pair your door chards, and he bets. It you think your oponent is about equally likely to have a pair in the hole (which is very unlikely to be aces) as another eight, you should at least call. If you now catch an eight on fifth street and your opponent bets again, your play is to raise if you know this opponent would still bet if he had only two pair. This is because is now much more (mathematically) likely that you have the best hand, since you see another eight.

Finally, as this last example shows, you need to complement mathematical conclusions with what you know about a player. For example, some players almost will just call with a hidden big pair in the hole, especially if it is live, and try to raise you a later street. In this case, if the player calls and then raises on fourth or fifth street. In this case, if the player calls and then raises on fourth or fifth street after catching blanks, he is to be rolled up. This is particularly true if the raise comes on fourth street.

Another important factor in reading hands and deciding how to play your own hand is the number of players in the pot. Players tend to play their hands much more stright forwardly in multiway poker pots. This is also true if there are several players yet to act. So if a player bets (especially with a non-threatening board) in either of these situations, you can be quite sure he’s got a real hand. (We only devote one paragraph to this concept because it is so simply stated, not because it isn’t critical.)