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Poker Strategy With Jonathan Little: Basic Hand Reading

Little Breaks Down A Hand From A Recent World Poker Tour Event


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When you find yourself in a difficult situation at the poker table, instead of getting flustered and making whichever play comes to mind, you should instead sit back and put all the pieces of the puzzle together to come up with a reasonable (or optimal) decision. While you may still end up losing the pot, as long as you figure out your opponent’s range with a fair degree of high accuracy and base your play on your deduction, you will thrive in the long run.

I recently played a hand in a $3,500 buy-in World Poker Tour event that was an excellent lesson on basic hand reading. I had been playing a fairly loose, aggressive strategy during the first level, although I wasn’t playing maniacally. With 50-100 blinds and 30,000 effective stacks, I raised to 300 from early position with JClub Suit JDiamond Suit. The cutoff, button and both blinds called.

Jonathan LittleThe flop came QClub Suit JSpade Suit 4Heart Suit, giving me a set. That is lucky! The blinds checked to me and I bet 850 into the 1,500 pot.

It is important that you bet with your best made hands and your draws in most situations, especially when your hand is susceptible to being outdrawn. While the draws only have four or eight outs, it is still worth betting to protect against those, as well as to get value from top pairs that will always see the turn.

Everyone folded back to the small blind, who called. The small blind had lost a few small pots to me previously, so I thought he may be splashing around in hopes of “winning his chips back,” which is almost always a mistake.

At this point, it is important to try to figure out your opponent’s likely range. He could have a queen, Jack, four, or one of the open-ended straight draws. I can discount hands Q-Q and 4-4 because he would probably raise the flop, so in general, his range should be fairly weak, consisting of mostly marginal made hands. It is worth noting that he may decide to float with gutshot straight draws like A-10 or maybe even a really trashy made hand like as 5-5.

The turn was the 8Club Suit. He checked, I bet 1,600 into the 3,200 pot for the same reasons I bet the flop. The small blind then raised to 4,100.

When he raises the turn, he is certainly representing a polarized range consisting of straights, sets, and draws. Since there are relatively few combinations of straights and a lot of combinations of draws, I have an easy call. Raising with my set does not make sense because when he is drawing thin, he will fold. Always be sure your decision does not force your opponent to play well, as re-raising the turn would do in this situation.

The river was the 10Club Suit, making a one card straight available as well as a backdoor flush. My opponent bet 5,850 into the 11,400 pot.

Although a ton of draws came in on the river, it is unlikely he would show up with too many of them because I have the JClub Suit in my hand, meaning he cannot have JClub Suit 10x, or the pair of Jacks plus backdoor flush draw. Also, I was getting 2:1 pot odds, which is always nice. If I instead had JDiamond Suit JHeart Suit, this would be a much closer spot because he could have many more combinations of straights and flushes. Don’t forget to account for blockers!

I called and my opponent quickly mucked his hand.

Hand reading is a skill that every poker player must develop. If you find that you are often confused about your opponent’s holding, you are either not thinking during every hand or you are not paying attention to the strategy of each specific opponent. Pay attention to every hand that takes place at the poker table, even when you aren’t involved. If you find yourself playing on your phone or watching TV while the action is taking place, you are making a mistake. If you have more information about your opponents than they have about you, you will find the money coming your way in the long run. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars by clicking here.