How To Read Hands In Poker.

There are three techniques for reading hands in Texas hold ’em.

  1. You analyze the meaning of an opponent’s check, bet, or raise.
  2. You look at the exposed cards and try to judge from them what his entire hand might be.
  3. 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 opponents’ 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 before the flop and then raises again when only small cards appear on the flop may have a big pair in the hole, but he also may have just overcards or a draw and is trying for a free card. Drawing a narrow, irreversible conclusion early can lead to costly mistakes later, either because you fold the best hand or because you stay when you shouldn’t. What you should do is to put an opponent on a variety of hands at the start of play, and as the play progresses, eliminate some of those hands based on his later play and on the cards that appear on the board. 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 two suited cards appear on the flop and an opponent raises after there has been a bet and a couple of callers, but then checks on the turn when a blank hit. It is now very likely that he is on a flush draw and was buying a free card. If the flush card hits on the end, you usually should fold unless you can beat a flush. If a flush card does not hit, you may want to check and call in hopes that you can induce a bluff. However, if you were also on a flush draw, you may want to bet, since a reasonable chance exists that you can pick up the pot.

At the end of the 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 chance 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 mediocre hand, a good hand, or a great hand. Let’s say your opponent bets on the end. Usually when a person bets the river, it represents either a bluff, a good hand, or a great hand, but not a mediocre hand. If your opponent had a mediocre 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 in relation to the pot odds. We have seen that in hold ’em, 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 these possibilities as the hand develops. A complementary way to read hands is to work backward. For instance, if the last card is a 4 and an opponent who has just been calling suddenly bets, you think back on his play in earlier rounds. Since it does not seem possible that he would have called this far with only 44, he is either bluffing or has something other than a set 4s.



The first player bets and the second player raises. A third person, who is also in an early position and is a solid but not overly aggressive player, raises again. Also, suppose that several other opponents remain to act behind the reraiser and that this reraiser had just called before the flop.

What is his hand?

  1. He is not likely to be on a draw trying for a free card since he would not want to shut out the players behind him or the initial bettor.
  2. We can rule out a set. The reraiser most likely would have raised before the flop with KK or QQ but would not play 33 from such an early position.
  3. It is unlikely that he has AKs, AK, or KQs, as he probably would have raised before the flop with these hands.
  4. He would not make it three bets with a hand like KJs, KJ, K10s, or K10. (It is also doubtful that he would play KJ or K10 since they are not suited.)
  5. This leaves just one possibility: KQ. If his hand is not suited, he most likely would call with it from an early position but would still be willing to make it three bets on the flop if he flopped top two pair.


Six people limp in before the flop, the pot is then raised by a strong player, and the person on the button cold calls. Everyone else calls.


Everyone checks to the button, who bets. Three people call, including the strong player (who raised before the flop).


Everyone checks and the button bets again. There are two callers, including the strong player. Let’s try to figure out the strong player’s hand.

  1. For him to raise so many people before the flop, he must have a hand of value in a multiway pot.
  2. For him to call on both the flop and the turn, the pot must be offering him correct odds.
  3. There is only one hand that makes sense to be played this way. It is J10 suited. Because of the high implied odds before the flop, it would be correct to raise with this hand. On the flop, the pot would be large enough to make it correct to call with just a gutshot, and the 9h on the turn would produce an open-end straight draw, which would make it correct to call again.

Let us now look at another technique. When you can’t put a person on a hand but have reduced his possible holdings to a limited number, you try to use mathematics to determine the chance 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 chance that an opponent has one hand or another. After deciding on the kinds of hands your opponent would be betting in a situation, you determine the probability of your opponent holding each of those hands. Then you compare the probabilities.


An early-position opponent call and then reraises. You read him as the type of player who will initially call and then reraise only with AA, KK, AKs, or AK, and you know this is the only way he will play these hands from an early position. The probability that a player will be dealt AA on the first two cards is 0.45%. The probability of him getting KK is also 0.45%. So, he will get AA or KK 0.9% of the time on average. The probability that he will be dealt AKs or AK is 1.2%. By comparing these two probabilities – 1.2% and 0.9%, you deduce that the chance is 4-to-3 that your opponent does not hold a pair.

Knowing it is slightly more likely that your opponent holds AKs or AK rather than a big pair does not in itself tell you how you should proceed in the play of the hand. Nevertheless, the more you know about the chance of an opponent having one hand rather than another when he bets or raises, the easier it is for you to decide whether to fold, call, or raise.


You hold:


Your opponent bets. If you think your opponent is equally likely to bet a 10 (probably K10 or Q10) as an ace, you should at least call. If the turn card is another ace and your opponent bets again, your play is to raise if you know this opponent would still bet if he had only a 10. This is because it is now much more mathematically likely that you have the best hand, and your raise may save you from losing to a fifth-street K or Q. (If reraised, you usually should throw away your hand.) Finally, you need to complement mathematical conclusions with what you know about a player.


Some players almost always will call in an early position with AA, KK, or AKs, but usually will raise with AK. In this case, if the player calls and then reraises, he is three times more likely to have a pair than AKs.

Another factor in reading hands and deciding how to play your own hand is the number of players in the pot. Any time that someone bets and someone else calls, you are in a much different position than when it is only left up to you to call. In general, a caller ahead of you makes it necessary for you to tighten up significantly because you no longer have the extra equity that the bettor may be bluffing. Therefore, when your hand is barely worth a call in a heads-up situation, such as when you hold two overcards and are trying to catch a bluff, it is not worth a call when someone else has called ahead of you.

Similar thinking must be employed when you have a minimum or near-minimum raising hand and the player to your right, who has similar standards to yours, raises ahead of you. This means that his hand is probably better than yours, and the correct play is usually to fold.

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