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READING HANDS

Reading your opponent’s hands is both an art and a science. It is a hard-to-learn skill that combines logic and even after you have learned how to do it, you then need experience to make it work. Lots of experience. And of course, that I can’t give you.

As you gain Poker experience, your logical thought processes will come together more quickly. With some mileage under your belt, you’ll also be better able to make more accurate guesses (intuition) about your opponents’ hands.

Your guesses, tournament intuitive calls are, I believe, nothing more than your subconscious collecting information and feeding it your conscious mind as strong feelings. Some players call this process “getting a feel for the game.”  Pay attention to them but don’t rely on them until your experience tells you they are trustworthy. Meanwhile, stay mostly with logic.

The main ingredient you’ll need in reading Hands is knowledge of your opponents

Such reading is difficult, if not impossible, without that knowledge. The two are intertwined. Different opponents play differently in the same situation. You need to know how your current opponent plays the situation.

It is easier to read good players because they tend to be in the pot with stronger hands (hands of specific value)  than weak players who could be in with almost anything. Therefore, realize that it will be easier to read your opponents at the $ 5-$ 10 and $ 10-$ 20 medium limits than at the low limits such as $ 1-$ 4.

That’s why it is easier to beat the medium limits than the low limits –another good reason to develop your poker skills and move up. The best time to study your opponents is when you are out of a hand and not financially or emotionally involved. Never mind the game on TV or trimming your toenails.

Stay alert to the poker game and observe all. Study your opponents while they are playing and while they are not playing. Then you’ll have a basis for example, you might notice a player begins taking short, quick puffs on his cigarette during a hand.

But what you didn’t notice is that he also periodically takes several short, quick puffs when he is out of a hand. The best time to get a read on what hands and cards your opponent will start with at third street is after the hand is over at seventh street, the showdown. Here you will have an opportunity to see his entire hand.

When he gets his last, facedown card, watch to see where he places it among his other two downcards. If it goes on top of the other two cards and it stays there, his two starting cards will be on the top when he turns over the three cards at the showdown.

Easy. If he places it on the bottom and it stays there, the opposite is true. If he places in the middle, between the other two downcards, and it stays there, the two outside cards will have been among his starting cards. If he shuffles the three together, you can’t use this method, but you can tell, logically.

For a simple example, if your opponent has raised on third street showing a four, you can logically figure that he didn’t raise with a split pair of fours. But you want to know what he did raise with. At the showdown, he turns over two queens and a six.

You can logically assume that he started with two queens in the hole with his four upcard, and not a queen and a six in the hole with his four up. If a player makes a flush with exactly five of his seven cards, and if three of his suit are turned over at the showdown, you know that he is willing to stay and pay to the end with a drawing poker hand.

When you’re doing this seventh street read, don’t look at the first Hand being turned over like everyone else will be doing.

Instead, listen while you concentrate on the hand not yet shown. The dealer will announce the first hand turned over. Listen for that, as you watch the other player’s hand. If he sees that he is beaten, he will most likely throw away his hand without showing it.

But he might inadvertently flash the hand, or show it quickly to a neighbor, and you may get a glimpse. Then you can turn your eyes to the winning hand, which will still be laying there. When a new player sits down in your game, you’ll also want to get all of the information about him that you can, as quickly as you can.

Begin observing immediately. What does he do with his chips after he buys in?  A player who puts his chips in a sloppy pile, sort of stacked and sort of not stacked, is usually a loose player with no organization, no plan, just playing.

The player who stacks his chips very neatly, even lining up the colors on the edges, is more likely to be a conservative player. He probably has a plan for playing, rather than playing randomly or on a whim. He is an organized person and probably plays in an organized way with some kind of strategy.

It will be easier to determine his poker strategythan that of the player who has no plan. After all, if he doesn’t know what he’s doing, how are you going to figure it out? Notice also when he does the neat-stacking of his chips. He’ll do it while he is out of a hand, of course.

But that means that while he is busy stacking his chips into pretty piles, he isn’t observing the other players. In that regard he’s the same as the player who watches the ball game on.

Something I love to see is an opponent who is playing half a dozen Keno tickets, has wagers on a couple of horses, and is watching two games on TV on which he also has bets. What he’s not doing is playing poker.

Here are a few quick tips on reading hands:

  • A player pairing his fourth street card is more likely to have two pair than trips.

  • A player who makes a flush is most likely to make it in the suit of his doorcard.

  • A player cannot have a full house at fifth or sixth streets without showing at least one pair. The same is true of four of a kind at fifth and sixth. But be aware that at seventh street, it is possible for an opponent to have a full house, or even four of a kind, with no pair showing on his board.

  • For a player to have a straight flush on seventh street, he must be showing at least two of its cards on his board at fifth and sixth poker streets, at least three.

Suppose that after getting his seventh-street card, a player looks at his three downcards, and then at his upcards, and then at his downcards, and then at his upcards. Why?  He’s trying to figure out if he has made a straight. Even a novice can see a flush at a glance. But for many players, a straight has to be figured out and put in order.

Here’s another interesting read that not many players know about: A player bets on the end and doesn’t get called. If he takes another look at his hand, kind of a quick-peek before tossing it in, he has made something big. He looks again because his hand is “pretty.”  He wants to see it one more time before giving it up it is probably a flush.

He wouldn’t be as likely to take a last peek at a straight because a straight is not as pretty as a flush or a full house. A betting pattern to watch for in spread-limit games, where players can choose the size of their wagers, is known as The Milk Route. Most players who use it do so regularly, almost as a habit, without thinking about it. In a $ 1-$ 5 game, a milk route player bets $ 2 at fourth street.

At fifth street his bet is $ 3. His sixth-street bet is $ 4. Seventh street brings the maximum $ 5 bet. Milk-route bets are made in comparable amounts in bigger spread-limit games such as $ 2-$ 10. This player has what he believes to be a big hand and wants to milk it to keep you in the pot.

He wants you to be thinking, “It’s only $ 2. I’ll look at another card.” And so on. If your opponent had a marginal hand, he either wouldn’t bet at all, or he would bet the maximum to get you out. He doesn’t, so he wants you in. A $ 1 or $ 2 bet doesn’t always mean that your opponent is on the milk route. But otherwise, what does each bet size mean?  That’s what you have to determine from observing and remembering.

The meaning of a bet will be different in different opponents. A $ 1 or $ 2 bet might mean that he is just timid, not much of a gambler, and wants to bet but not “a lot.” Many players will make a small bet at fourth poker street when they have a four flush. Their logic is that they want to get some money into the pot in case they make the flush, but don’t want to bet much in case they miss.

Only thorough observation will get you this kind of knowledge of your opponents. An opponent’s maximum bet might mean that he wants you out of the pot because he has a medium-value hand that he would like to win with right now without taking any further risk. Or it could mean that he has strength enough to beat you, but he believes that you have enough of a hand to call his maximum bet.

Players who raise at third street at the low and medium limits almost always have what they are representing, which is usually a big pair.

Most players want to limp in if they have a three-straight or three-flush so as to get the proper odds to draw to the hand. Or if they don’t understand those odds, they just want to play the starting hand as cheaply s possible until it turns into a complete hand. Some will raise with big cards in their straight or flush starts, so a raise from an ace doesn’t always mean a pair of aces.

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