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Poker Strategy With Roy Cooke: How To Read Hands -- The Fundamentals

Cooke Explains How To Increase Your Edge With Hand Reading Skills

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Once you’ve learned the fundamental poker strategies, reading hands will be the skill that creates the most edge. If you can accurately read your opponents’ hands, your decisions of when to bet, raise call, bluff, etc. will be more accurate, making them more profitable. Creating an established reading hands process will increase consistency and accuracy.

Don’t put opponents on a single hand. Think in terms of hand ranges. With which range of starting hands would your opponent make the preflop action? He’d raise with a certain group of hands, call with others, and fold others. If there were raises, how did he react? Once again, he would reraise a certain portion of his range, call with another group of hands, and fold others.

The same concept applies to subsequent streets. As your opponent executes more actions, he narrows the number of hands in his range. You connect the dots of the street to street actions. What hands would he perform the current actions with that correspond with the actions he took on previous streets? It’s a pretty logical and linear method of reading hands. Flopzilla is a computer program that can help you with learning this process. YouTube has tutorials on how to use the program.

Of course, in order to have a reasonable level of confidence in your reads, you must determine what group of hands an opponent will start with, and how he will play subsequent streets and board textures. A drinking recreational player will react differently than a seasoned professional. An emotionally distraught player will react differently than an emotionally stable one, a player that’s winning from a player that’s losing, etc. Many variables go into effectively reading hands, and the more you pay attention and think through situations, the more information you can accurately process. And the better your reads will be.

This all gets mighty complicated and mentally taxing. Additionally, you have limited cognitive processing and recall capability to apply to the task. You need to keep the process as simple as possible to create efficiency, play optimally, stay within your capabilities, and prevent mental fatigue. You need to create a system that works best for your mental abilities.

I recommend devising a baseline. By that, I mean having a fixed set of data that you think and adjust from. For example, Ron bluffs way more than my baseline. Ted plays slightly looser preflop from my baseline unless he’s stuck big when he turtles-up and plays squeaky tight. Dave value-bets narrower, etc. I form my baseline from my own play, what I would do in the given situation. For me it works best as I obviously already know it and there is less for me to remember. Using my own playing strategy for a baseline frees up my mental capabilities for other poker thoughts.

I know others who use the same concept, but utilize a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) strategy as a baseline. It works, and you learn a GTO strategy, which will have additional value. Or you can design your own that fits with your way of thinking. If so, make it easy to understand and follow. Compartmentalize it in an easy to memorize format; don’t be too detail oriented.

When you can read effectively, extrapolate from your reads and design exploitive plays that save bets, gain bets, win bigger bets, win pots etc. In short, increase edge! Your bluffs, value-bets, sizing, fold-equity should all, in general, increase in value. Think and design effective counter-plays based on your reads.

Another important point when reading hands is to assign a degree of confidence. How sure are you of the read? Does this individual vary his play much, or is he highly predictable? The more confident you are in your read, the more weight you should assign to the exploitive plays you make based on that read.

I make a lot of non-standard plays from my reads. They aren’t always correct; nobody’s are. Sometimes the plays appear foolish, but there is value in that too. Am I playing this hand solid or tricky? My opponents are unsure what I’m up to, and that creates fear and doubt.

Roy CookeIf you want to beat poker, you need to be able to generally figure out where you’re at in the hand. It’s a complicated, never-ending learning experience with limitless possibilities. Even the best are often wrong. But the degree to which you can master this task is likely to be the most defining characteristic of your poker results.

So, get to work, learn this skill. Apply it effectively. And watch your bankroll grow!