There are definitely parts of playing poker that seem impossible for some players, becoming a better poker player shouldn’t be one of them. If you’ve never sat down and played a poker game, putting a player on a hand is going to be a very alien concept. You’ve seen players do it in the past, of course – they seem like magicians, but they’re simply playing above your level. What they’re not doing, though, is what everyone has told you to do – figuring out the two card being held by the other players.
The truth is that, while it’s pretty neat, being able to call out your opponent’s hole cards isn’t actually all that useful. It would certainly put a new player off of his poker game, of course, but it’s not going to be a very big part of your poker strategy. If you’re playing in a Texas Hold’em poker tournament, in fact, you’re probably not going to be able to do it at all. So you just need to learn to become a better poker player.
If you really care about trying to get a player put on a hand, you’re going to care more about reading your opponent than on your opponent’s cards. This means figuring out how the opponent plays – and that, in turn, means taking a look at the player’s general playing tendencies. You’re going to be getting deep into the mechanics of how the other party thinks and how the other party presents himself or herself, but doing so is the only thing that keeps the other player’s hand from being a mystery.
Substance Over Style to Become a Better Poker Player
Playing Texas Hold’em poker means constantly adjusting to how the other players are playing. As you might imagine this is going to mean not only spending some time reading other players, but also trying to abandon ideas of having the sort of style that will make you a ‘unique’ player a better poker player. While this might go against what you’ve been taught – and maybe even what’s brought you limited success – it pays off in the end. This is the type of skill that will allow you to win with virtually any poker hand and the type of poker strategy that is going to keep your chips firmly in your own pile.
Being a better poker player isn’t about having your own style. It’s about knowing how to adapt to your opponents. If you can learn how to adapt, you’re going to walk away a winner more times than not, even when the odds don’t seem like they’re in your favor. In short, you’re going to actually understand how to play poker, to become a better poker player – something that’s a lot less common at the table than you might think.
So, what does this make you as a player? It makes you the kind of player who is infinitely adaptable. You are going to read the other players and adapt your style. Sometimes you’ll be tight, sometimes you’ll be loose. Sometimes you’ll play defensively, while you’ll be aggressive other times. What’s important is that you’re going to be the kind of player that makes other players uncomfortable, and that means that you’re going to make them prone to losing even when they ought to win.
Learning to Read Hands to Be a Better Poker Player
Now that you know why you need to do this, you’ve got to learn how. You’ll need to start with the basic principles, and nothing’s more basic than this – the earlier a player’s betting position, the fewer hands he or she can possibly hold.
So, let’s look at the possibilities. If a player in one of the early positions decides that he’s going to bet before the flop even goes out, there’s a good chance that he or she has something good – working on a set, a pair, or a couple of strong cards. Later players, though, might have a number of other options available, just because they might be reacting. It’s hard to put a later player on a hand, but it’s not impossible.
If you want to take some of the mystery out of poker, you start with the admission that players don’t have a lot of choices at the table. So, what do you do if no one is betting? You have the usual two options – you can check if you aren’t confident, or you can put up some money you feel like you’ve got something good. If someone has chosen to bet, you can fold, raise, or call. That’s it – just a small handful of options.
Become a Better Poker Player On the Range
If your opponent bets, you can put him or her on a hand. You won’t know what’s there, but you can start working on an educated guess. Formulating a hypothesis is a core part of reading a hand and putting a player on a hand.
Your first stab at figuring out the other player’s hand is known as the range. This is a big guess because it represents every possible hand a player could hold that would cause him or her to make a specific move. If a player is coming after the blind and raises, you can make an educated guess that the player probably has something better than a pair of fives – not a killer hand, but something that’s going to work regardless.
So, what do you know from here? You can formulate poker odds. If you probably have something better, raise. You have something much worse, fold. If you are dead even, call. Don’t bother with the long-shots unless it’s going to cover the odds, but keep paying attention to what your opponent’s doing as he moves the game along.
This is absolutely the simplest way of looking at things, though. You’ve still got to factor in the player’s particular style, as well as his or her particular play-style weaknesses. You may very well want to keep playing, but be aware that you’ll need to keep looking at the odds as you go along.
Understanding the Player
Putting a player on a hand is really all about putting yourself in the player’s shoes. You’re looking to figure out why a player would make a particular move. While there are plenty of players who turn to math and logic here, the truth is that this is where people get tripped up. You need to look at how the opponent plays, not how you would play.
Don’t make the mistake of imagining that your opponent would do exactly what you would do. He or she might be tighter or looser, defensive or more aggressive. He or she might be reading you as well, which means that he or she is making moves based on anticipating what you’re doing.
Simply put, this is why poker can be hard to figure out. If you are playing against a good player, you’re both trying to outmaneuver one another at the same time. You could both be feinting, positioning, and working to put the other off their poker games – or you could both just be playing the cards as you see them. Your job is to continually try to figure out what your opponent will do next based on what he’s just done.
The good news is that this process isn’t nearly as complicated as it seems. Yes, you will sometimes encounter a true pro that will cause your head to spin. In reality, you’re generally just going to encounter regular players who have a bit of skill. This means that you can stop over-thinking until you’ve got a good reason to do so, and go on assuming that you can go with the simple explanations when possible.
Become a Better Poker Player By Targeting Weaknesses
Since you now know that playstyle plays a role in putting a player on a hand, it’s a good idea to start figuring out how to determine that style. The best way to get an idea of how someone plays is when he or she has a reasonably good pair with a top kicker. This isn’t a terribly uncommon hand, after all, and it tends to make most players reckless enough that they’ll show their true tendencies.
Your best case scenario will reveal an opponent who goes all-in whenever there’s a board that looks at all favorable. If you find this player, make sure to make a mental note so that you can take him for all he is worth in a few hands. You can nickel and dime him off the table or go all in, but you’re eventually going to eliminate this player with some clever play.
The next step is to look at how a player goes after a flush draw or a straight. Whether a player goes the cheap route or expensively matters, as does figuring out how he reacts to the number of players still in or the other cards he might be holding. Some raise with all of their draws, while others stay quiet. It’s often worth it to lose a little bit of money just so you can see how the hand plays out.
Learning Even More About Hand Reading
You’re going to start by creating a false version of your opponent, and you’re going to chip away at that false version until you get real information. You need to keep a few things in mind so that you can start to build a real profile. Things you need to remember, for example, that your opponent probably knows how to play poker. You should probably remember that your opponent is probably smart enough to have a strategy. Most importantly, you need to remember that the other player always has a reason for betting in a particular way, even if you don’t understand it.
You’re also going to need to grapple with fear. Some players are always fearful, afraid to lose money and overestimating opponents. This is a great way to lose because you’re going to be too paralyzed with indecision to make a move. The truth is that you have to get okay with losing, even if you’re a good player. Sometimes the cards aren’t in your favor, and you can’t be afraid of playing. You need to understand that the vast majority of the time, you’re going to be able to figure out how to make something out of what’s on the table.
The opposite is just as bad, though. Some players assume they’ll always win. They put players on a hand with the assumption that things will work out, which generally leads to certain doom. Your goal here is to deal with reality, not with your ideal fantasy. It’s not easy, but it’s going to help you win.
In reality, you need to find a middle ground. One of the poker rules you need to know is that people lose money because they overestimate and underestimate instead of being smart and estimating.
Your goal is to learn how to put players on hands, and that means learning how to apply a number of different skills. You need to pay attention to everything that’s happening at the table and put those factors together to narrow down your opponent’s likely actions. Once you have a profile down, you have to be willing to risk some money to test out your conclusions.
You’re going to lose money sometimes, but that’s ultimately fine – you’ll make it back once you become a better poker player and maybe even a WSOP superstar.
Better Poker Player – FAQs
A: Practice and play more often. When you do play, patience is the #1 priority. Ego and Greed are your biggest enemies, not your opponents.
A: There are many things you can do, but if you truly want to improve, be patient and fold more often. It’s really that simple.
A: Right now you feel like you don’t deserve to win and/or you’re getting bored. You can solve both problems by buying-in 2-3 hours late and skip first few rounds and you’ll be fresh.
A: You’re probably playing too many hands and when you do play, you’re probably not raising, you’re just limping in. Play tighter, and when you do get involved, open-raise from middle to late position.
Subscribe to Poker Journal on YouTube