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Three Ways You Give Your Hand Away

by Ed Miller |  Published: Mar 20, 2013


Ed MillerStrong poker players hide information well. When they take a particular betting line in a hand, it’s rarely possible to know for certain how to react. You’re always guessing. The trick against these players is to hide your own information just as well and then to guess smart.

Most poker players, however, do not hide information well. Pot after pot, they give their hands away before the final bet.

I’ve adopted a personal philosophy for playing against these players. I like to sit back and let them tell their story before I commit to anything. I don’t like to force the action early in pots with big preflop and flop raises. Instead, I like to throw the action back to my opponents one or two extra times, because usually they will give their hands away. Then I take my decisive action.

Here are three ways you give your hand away — three scenarios I look for every time I play to get an edge.

1. You don’t slow play good hands into dangerous boards.

Say on the turn the board reads JSpade Suit 8Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit 9Diamond Suit. Possible straights abound. More importantly, there are two flush draws, and any 6, 7, 10 or queen will put four cards to a straight on board. If you’re holding two pair or a set, or even just K-K, you’re worried about a bad river card.

If you’re like most players, you aren’t going to slow play one of these hands on this board. If checked to, you are going to bet. If bet into, you’re probably going to raise. On this board type in particular, you simply aren’t going to allow someone to draw out without having to call a substantial bet.

Because I know this fact, that you won’t slowplay, every time you do fail to make a bet or raise on a board like this one, you’ve given your hand away. Say I check the turn and you check behind. Do you have a set? No. Do you have two pair? No. Do you have K-K or A-J? No. Do you have 7-6 or 10-7 for small straights? Probably not, since even these hands are potentially vulnerable to many river cards. Q-10 is possible. But for strong hands, that’s about it.

Say the river comes an offsuit trey. I can make a big bluff and be almost sure you won’t call. I know you don’t have a strong hand, and there’s enough out there that you’ll give me credit for something. You’ve given your hand away.

I’m not saying you should slow play every time on dangerous boards, but you should be willing to consider it, especially against jerks like me who love to bluff as soon as I get the green light. If you never slow play, you’ve told me too much.

2. You don’t check-raise bluff the river.

Most players almost never check-raise bluff the river. They’re worried that if they check, their opponent will just check it back, and they’ll just lose at showdown. If they have a mind to bluff, most players want to get the bluff in straight away when they’re sure they’ll get their shot.

The same logic applies to value hands (players prefer to bet them on the river to check-raising), so river check-raises tend to be fairly uncommon overall. But even so, they are rarely bluffs.

The problem with this should be obvious. I never have to call your check-raise on the river. Furthermore, and this is just as important, I get to bet more hands on the river because I know that getting raised is no worse than getting called. Since I’m almost never folding the best hand, check-raises aren’t scary at all.

You should start check-raise bluffing the river. Good pots to try it are those where, given the action, you are not at all surprised that your opponent has bet the river. These are good spots because they suggest your opponent is betting many hands on the end, and therefore will consider folding many hands.

3. You don’t make large bluffs in multiway pots.

Say you raise preflop to $25 and get four callers. There’s $125 in the pot.

The flop comes JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 7Spade Suit. The blinds check, and you bet $120.

You aren’t bluffing. You don’t have AClub Suit KClub Suit. You don’t have 6-6. You don’t have 7-6. You don’t have 6Spade Suit 5Spade Suit.

You might have something like ASpade Suit KSpade Suit or KSpade Suit 10Spade Suit, but these hands are so good that I don’t consider these bluffs.

Most likely you have A-J or K-K or J-10 or 7-7. Something like that.

You’ve given your hand away.

It’s bad enough to give your hand away when the stacks are shallow, but what if there’s $1,000 behind? Now you’ve told me roughly what you have, and there are still two cards and $800 to come. I’ll just fold when nothing’s going on, but when I’ve got a little something, I’ll call for the combined chance to catch my hand or to catch a scare card to bluff.

What should you do about it? Haul off and bluff big sometimes in this situation. If I call, sometimes bluff the turn. Now sometimes I’m folding the best hand, sometimes I’m missing bluffs where you would have folded, and occasionally I’m paying you off big when you hit your hand and I assume you’re just overplaying a lesser hand.

Final Thoughts

Many poker players don’t necessarily pick up on these patterns, but good ones do. When I play live no-limit hold’em, I rely on these hand reading shortcuts and others like them. The longer I allow hands to play out, the more likely my opponents will be to take betting lines that strongly define their hands. If you accidentally tell me through your betting that you don’t have many strong hands, you’re going to get bluffed at. If you accidentally tell me that you’ve got nothing but strong hands, you won’t get paid (though you might get sucked out on).

It’s imperative that you think of all the “automatic” plays in your game and consider if the fact that you always play certain situations the same way gives away too much information. Games are getting tougher, and players who can pick up on and use this information are becoming more common. If you find the games hard to beat, the first place I’d look is here — all the ways you’re giving your hand away. If you start to mix these situations up, you will likely see improvement. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents, is on sale at Find Ed on Facebook at and on Twitter @EdMillerPoker.