Saturday, February 21, 2009

How To Become A Better Poker Player

Hand Reading

No, this is not about reading palms to predict the future. It is about reading your opponent and the strength of his hole cards.

Hand reading is about narrowing down the range of hands an opponent may be holding against you. If you can improve your hand reading ability, you will become a better poker player.

And not for just the obvious reason--if he has a better hand than me, I fold. If not, I raise.

Why Hand Reading Is So Important

If you've ever watched Daniel Negreanu on TV, you'll notice that he always is thinking about what cards his opponent holds. Now, this is very important! He is not simply doing that to compare the strength of his hand against his opponent. He is doing that because on the flop he plays his opponent's hand.

Daniel wins more than his fair share of tournaments because on the flop he is thinking about his opponent's cards. And if he has a good idea of what his opponent is holding, he can use the community cards to take away the pot.

For example:

If his opponent raises under the gun with a standard 3x big blind raise, and that player is tight, Daniel will be thinking "big hand." Daniel is on the button with 5-4 suited. He looks at his opponent and sees he has a big stack. Daniel wants to win that stack. He calls not because he has a better hand. He calls because of the implied odds.

Now, the flop comes 7-9-10 with 2 suited cards, but not of Daniel's suit. His opponent bets 3/4ths of the pot. What should Daniel do?

Daniel has nothing but air. He figures his opponent has a big pocket pair or A-K. But he calls!


He calls the bet because if the flush card, a 6,8 or J hits the turn, he can take away the pot with the right sized bet on the turn. Especially if his opponent is weak, tight. He will actually win this pot with 5 high!

Oh yeah, sometimes Daniel flops to his suited connectors and wins with the best hand.

Hand Reading Exercises

The purpose of these exercises is to become a better poker player. If you haven't been winning or getting to the final table in MTT's, it is time to get out of your comfort zone.

Note: You will lose your money in some of these exercises, so select lower limits. However, don't let the blind levels be so low that no one ever folds to a raise pre-flop.

1. Play a low blind, limit poker cash game and raise every hand pre-flop. This will put you in a situation where the action and play revolves around you. You will feel the power of being in charge. It will also put you in the position of having to make difficult decisions.

2. Play in a small no-limit poker tournament, and raise pre-flop once out of every three hands. Again, you will see how players respond to you. You will learn to be creative and build your hand reading skills.

3. Watch a table of limit or no-limit poker for an hour and try to identify betting patterns and put players on hands. Think about how you would have played against players, or what you would have done. This is easier to do online. When was the last time you went to an online poker site, and watched the action trying to figure out what hands players were holding?

4. Do some player mapping. The next time you play in a tournament, actually write down notes about your opponents, especially their betting patterns. See if they hold true, and if it helps you to play better. Again, this is easier to do online.

As you get better at putting your opponents on hands, your poker results will also improve. You will become a better poker player.

1 comment:

SugarDayFox said...

Thanks for the post Mitchell, it goes along the way I'm trying to walk now.
The only thing I would eventually add is that Single Table tournaments might not work that fine as a sand pit (depending on the pokerroom of course). As the players tend to act more aggressive due to the limited overall loss (fixed buy in).


What's Your Poker IQ?