Advanced Poker Advice: Learn to Read

The problem is that most poker tip articles don’t break down specifically what it is they mean when they talk about “ranges” and “betting patterns.” I often follow these patterns in live tournaments by pure habit and have developed a poker instinct for when a bet or fold means “pattern.” But online, you have the benefit of taking notes on your opponents, so here are some of the notes that I would have taken after a certain situation:

Early Position Raises:

If I get to see a showdown, I am always very interested in seeing the types of hands a said player will play in a certain position. In early position, in particular, you get to learn what hands a player deems strong enough to open with so many people following him, and this tells us usually how strong or weak he values a trouble hand like K-J, Q-10, K-10, etc.

If I see that an opponent has raised or, worse, limped and then called a bet, and he shows down one of those marginal hands, then I now can deduce that he overvalues those holdings in many situations, meaning I can get a better read on a situation where my top pair, top kicker is good or bad against my opponent.

Re-Steal Happy Players:

I like to pay attention to the players who basically feel like they have to defend their blind against every late position raiser, since whether they end up getting called and getting lucky, if they go to the well too many times in a row trying to be table officer, they will likely end up in trouble. I like to overbet my monster hands pre-flop against these players, maybe something like four to five times the BB, just to make them think they are facing a pre-flop bluff. When they push over the top, they have committed enough of their chips that it forces them to call my repush if they haven’t just gone all-in outright.

Limp/Fold Short Stacks:

A very important pattern to note in a MTT is when a player with less than 20-24 BBs limps in, or min-raises pre-flop but then folds to a raise.

These players are important to note during the later stages of a tournament, right before you hit the money, because these are the types of short stacks that you can still attack when they are in the blinds. These players are trying to be active, but for the most part, they are admitting that they don’t really want any action. They are likely trying to make something happen but would just as easily try and hold out until the money bubble bursts. Punish them when they are in the blinds, and don’t be afraid to raise them light in late position, when you can view them as another blind to steal antes and dead money from.

Bet sizes:

Note what similar bet sizes mean from your opponents. Does he min-bet on the flop, only to get it in with a drawing hand? Then, he likely min-bets because he believes that he’s betting to build a big pot. Does he bet huge with top pair, trying to protect, and then does he call a reraise with only that one pair? Then, you know you can play a lot of suited connectors in position against him to try and hit a two pair, or play a middle pair to hit a set, knowing that this opponent will not give up on his top pairs or over-pairs, even when he is commonly beat. It’s important to take notes on these crucial facts, and use them to your advantage later.

Push/Fold Mode:

Which hands are the shorter stacks pushing their stack in with pre-flop? If you are lucky enough to get to see a showdown or two, you can learn how marginal they are really willing to put their stack in with, so you know the range of hands you can safely call with in most spots. Some players love the suited ace-rag, so maybe your A-8 or A-9 is always a spot you call, or maybe they are waiting for the nuts and not afraid to bleed off chips, in which case you likely fold the weak aces and 2-2 against their all-in. All this is also dependent on just how short their stack really is, but for the purpose of learning betting patterns, this is a big key.

All in all, a key I used when I first started playing was to pick out one player at the table and focus on him for the entire first and second level live, or the first hour online. If you only have yourself and this one opponent to focus on, chances are, by the end of the first period, you will know a ton about this opponent. You should be able to note many of the things discussed above, and now, you can move on to the next guy at the table. After a few tournaments of doing this training exercise, you will be able to instinctively keep track of nearly everyone at the table. Now you can make your own predictions on his or her likely holdings, and it’s all thanks to nothing more than paying attention.