A Vital Skill
Reading your opponents to determine what cards they are holding is part science and part art or psychology. It is not an easy skill to learn, if it was everyone would be doing it and the games would be a lot harder to beat. It takes hard work and patience to develop your reading skill. It also involves paying attention during the game even when you are not actively involved in a hand.
Reading the Board
One of the first skills that a Hold’em player must learn is how to read the board to determine the best possible hand. You need the ability to identify all the combinations of hands that can be made from the board cards. It is extremely important that you can determine how your hand stacks up against the other possible hands that your opponent may hold. You can’t start trying to figure out what your opponent might be holding if you don’t know what hands can be made from the board cards.
Narrowing the Hands
The first thing you must do is to analyze your opponent’s action during each betting round of the hand. Whether they call, raise or fold based on the cards that have been dealt face up so far. You need to use logic to help understand why they are making the play based on the information what you have seen.
You then have to work backwards from the current point and look at all the preceding action that came in the previous betting rounds to help narrow your conclusions as to what they might have. You will have more information as the play unfolds.
Start a Checklist
One of the best ways to start reading other players and narrowing the hands they may have is to make a check list that you can use in sizing up the players during a game. There are certain questions I will ask myself at the table as I watch each player. This has helped me improve my reading skills and if you start doing this during the game it should help you out as well. When you watch the other players note the following:
How many hands are they playing?
It is very easy to tell if a player is loose or tight just by the number of hands they play. Even if they don’t stay in until the end you should note the number of times that a player will enter the pot.
What cards did they show down at the end?
As I noted earlier each time you show down a hand you are giving away information. You want to know the types of hands your opponents are playing and file this information for later. Do they like to play any suited cards, single aces, suited connectors or big cards?
What position were they in during the hand?
You want to note the position they player was in when they entered the pot. Are they playing weak hands from early position? Loose players will play weak hands out of position and this is something you want to note. If a player is tight and then comes in with a raise from early position you can determine that they have a big hand.
Did the player raise or call before the flop?
You need to know the types of hands that a player will raise with or call a raise with. Any time a player raises you should note their position and the hand they raised with. You should also look at the other players acting after the raise and determine what types of hands they will call a raise with.
Was the player the aggressor or did he check and call?
You should note whether a player is aggressive or passive by the number of times they raise or just limp in preflop. You also want to know the types of hands they may raise with or simply call or check with after the flop. Picking up on their betting patterns is crucial in reading a player.
Did the player slowplay or bluff?
Some players like to slow play hands or bluff more often. If should note if a player will limp in with pocket aces. Did they flop a big hand and try to trap the other players? Some players like to bluff or semi-bluff at specific times. Make a note any time you catch a player doing this.
When you ask yourself these types of questions after every hand, you can very quickly gauge whether your opponents are good, whether they are tight, loose, and whether they are aggressive or passive players.