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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Live Reads

Live Reads Aren't Limited To Physical Tells

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Ed MillerIf you talk to any successful live no-limit pro for a while, eventually they’ll say something about having made a “live read.” This article is my attempt to explain what I think of as a live read.

I think of a live read as any read that uses information available in live game settings that isn’t generally available online. This naturally includes physical tells. I also include in this category peculiar bet sizings and patterns that seem to exist principally or only in live games.

While I am not at all the master of live reads compared to some outstanding live pros, I tend to use a live read to make a significant decision at least once per session. Frequently these reads come through in fairly big pots, so live reads therefore make up a major part of my game.

Normally when I make a live read, I am using multiple pieces of information that all point in the same direction. Just a single data point often isn’t enough to get me to act.

For instance, say I check the flop and my opponent checks. I check the turn as well, and my opponent bets. I make a big check-raise, and my opponent calls almost instantly.

This timing tell typically would suggest my opponent has a fairly strong draw or perhaps a hand like top-pair/top-kicker — hands that my opponent wouldn’t have to think about either folding or reraising. But this read isn’t a lock. I’ve had opponents call quickly with the nuts, with weak top pairs, and even with air. If I were trying to decide between two close river decisions, this information might lean me one way. But it’s not going to cause me to launch a $500 bluff, for instance, if I had otherwise been planning to check.

I like to gather as much corroborating information as possible before I use a live read. Here’s an example of a hand I played at $2-$5 during the World Series of Poker where I used a live read to make a play I likely otherwise wouldn’t have made.

I had a $1,300 stack. The player on my right had straddled to $10. I opened under the gun to $30 with QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit. A player behind me called, and the button with $500 called. The straddle called. There was $127 in the pot.

The flop came ADiamond Suit 8Club Suit 4Heart Suit. The straddle checked, and I checked. I often check multiway flops when I’m out of position. I would frequently check an ace as well — I haven’t defined my hand range much at all by checking. One reason I check a lot is because being out of position puts me at a disadvantage. But another big reason is that I get more live read information when I check and let my opponents define their hands.

The next player checked, and the button bet out $35. This action gave me two pieces of information. First, the $35 bet into $127 indicates that my opponent has a weak made hand — perhaps a weak ace, an eight, or an unimproved pocket pair. He feels like he can’t give a free card. But he’s also not ready to play a big pot.

This is not the only explanation of the bet size. He could be betting $35 because he feels like this is an autobetting spot on the button (I would likely bet 100 percent of my hands on the button given the action), and he wants to bet small to protect a weak range. He could be betting $35 to disguise a monster hand in an attempt to induce action. He could also have lost track of the pot size and just bet a “normal” $35 on the flop.

So while I feel the $35 bet size indicates my opponent is likely unwilling to stack off with his hand, a fair bit of uncertainty comes with this read.

Fortunately, along with the bet I got a facial tell. My opponent’s face lacked the relaxed confidence most players involuntarily exhibit whenever they are betting with a hand they feel is almost certain to be best. If you can’t picture it, think about two different people. The first bets, gets check-raised, and the instant reaction is shock. The second bets, gets check-raised, and the instant reaction is, “I was worried this might happen.” Think about what the players’ faces look like just before they get check-raised. The first guy has the relaxed confidence, and the second doesn’t.

My opponent made a small bet and seemed uncomfortable about his hand strength. The straddle folded. I called.

Yes, I have just backdoor draws and undercards to the ace. But I’m getting 5-to-1, and I think there’s a fairly good chance I’m going to collect enough information later in the hand to launch a successful bluff.

I could have check-raised immediately. But I’m greedy. I’m waiting for the turn for two reasons. First, I’m hoping to gather one final piece of corroborating evidence before I commit a lot of chips to my live read. Second, I’m hoping my opponent strands another bet that I will win when I take the pot away.

The player behind me folds. A third small reason to wait on the play is to give this other player an opportunity to come clean with a raise on the flop if he’s holding a big hand like two pair or a set. In this unlikely event, I’d prefer to lose just the $35 call rather than the bluff check-raise as well.

It’s heads-up to the turn. There’s $197 in the pot, and my opponent has $435 behind.
The turn is the 9Diamond Suit, obviously a nearly perfect card for me. I now have a gutshot draw and a flush draw. My plan is to check. If my opponent checks it back, it confirms my read that my opponent has a weak made hand. I will make a big overbet bluff on the river if I miss, and a smaller value bet if I hit.

If my opponent bets small, I plan to check-raise all-in. I will interpret a small bet as another attempt for my opponent to “have it both ways” with his marginal hand — betting to deny free cards, but keeping his stack out of play. Due to the live read, I would have made this check-raise even without picking up my combo draw. But, with the added equity, it’s now a no-brainer.

If my opponent bets big — say $150 into $197 — then I will interpret the $35 bet as an attempt to induce action with a big hand. In this case, I will just call with my combo draw, hope to hit, and shove the river if I do. Without the draw, I would have check-folded the turn to this bet size.

My opponent bet $80 into $197, and I check-raised all-in. He showed an ace and folded.
When people talk about making live reads, sometimes the details of the process are very fuzzy. I hope with this example you have gained a little insight into how I navigate this important part of the game. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site redchipoker.com.