I teach you hand reading using my H.A.N.D. acronym, and how understanding percentage form can lead to better hand reading by assigning more accurate pre-flop ranges.
In episode 64 I kicked off the ‘Hand Reading Lab' series by teaching you why paying attention to showdowns is absolutely vital in gaining reads on your opponents and improving your hand reading skills.
H.A.N.D. Reading and Percentage Form
Podcast Mission (3:30)
My mission for today is to teach you the basic steps of hand reading through my H.A.N.D. acronym. I’ll also dive into what percentage form is and how it is a crucial part of hand reading. Take the time right now to answer these questions for yourself before we get to the meat of the today’s podcast:
- What steps are involved in hand reading?
- How can percentage form help with hand reading?
The H.A.N.D. Reading Steps (4:05)
Hand reading is the skill of deducing what our opponent has, and we use this info to exploit our opponent. Hand reading is about putting him on a range of hands, not a single hand. A range of hands is a set of hands that your opponent could be holding based on his actions up to this point. Your job is to narrow that range as the hand progresses, assess the overall strength of the range in relation to the board, and choose plays that exploit this range.
To help you with hand reading, I created a nifty little acronym for H.A.N.D. that outlines the four steps to hand reading: History, Assign, Narrow and Destroy (or Ditch).
HISTORY is comprised of all the things you know about the opponent you’re up against and what this type of player is generally capable of at your stakes. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you understand your opponent:
- What have I seen him show down in the past?
- How does he generally play his big hands and his weaker hands?
- What type of player is he? LAG, TAG, LP or TP?
- How does he view me, and can this view affect his pre-flop decisions?
Now that you’ve taken your history with the opponent into account, you need to make some assumptions and ASSIGN a range of hands based on what you know and his pf actions. This range can be as narrow or as wide as you think it should be. As a simple example, you were 3bet pre-flop by TAG Player A. He’s got a narrow range, maybe something like QQ+ and AK. But LP Player B on a different hand just called your open raise from the BB. He might have 22-TT, most Aces, all broadways, suited connectors and suited gappers and decent off-suit connectors like 65o or 86o. This is a super wide range.
A key concept that you need to keep in mind with making assumptions and hand reading is that you’re going to be wrong quite often, just expect it and accept it. I’ll say this again, you’ll be wrong quite often. This happens when you’re making assumptions.
When assigning a pf range, you can easily be mistaken. You think this TAG player will always re-raise w/AA, but then he surprises you on the flop with his flopped top set. This other TP player would never call w/75, but then he shows up with a turned straight to KO you from the tourney. And this ultra-nit would never 3bet 77, but you fold your 99 and he shows you the semi-bluff. Players can show up with anything. But like I said in episode #64 about learning from showdowns, learn from these mistakes will help you better range them and others like them in the future.
As you learn about your opponent, you’ll use any new info to hone your future assumptions. So, when you make a mistake, just accept it and don’t beat yourself up. When you lose, so what? Losing and being wrong is part of poker. Incorporate what you’ve learned from this mistake and move forward. Don’t let it tilt you because no matter what you’re going to be wrong quite often, it’s what you do with the info you gain from the mistake that will set you apart from your opponents and will take your hand reading game to the next level.
Now that we’ve assigned a pre-flop range, it’s time to NARROW that range through the streets. You do this based on the opponent’s actions. It takes practice, and one of the best ways to do this is through hand history reviews. Here’s a few recommended ways to do this for online and LIVE players:
- Online – choose hands that went to showdown over a month ago (just filter in your software for hands that went to showdown) and go through them one at a time. Take your history and the player type into account, assign a range, then narrow it as the hand progresses. Record your progress and make notes of hands that fell outside your assigned range and the reason why you made the mistake. Each time you practice hand reading, take out your list and read down your mistakes and reasons why, then begin your hand reading practice. Over time you’ll get better at it.
- LIVE – using your own hands played to study is a bit challenging because you’re probably only taking notes on important hands, and these hands will often be easy to recall even studying months down the line. That’s why I recommend hitting up forums where players post hands without the results. You’ll often find hands where the poster gives you some reads on the villain in the hand, you get to see the action through each street, and get to comment on what you think of these hands. Use these as hand reading opportunities. The poster might ask something like, “Was my 3bet pre good?” or “Should I call this river bet?” Go ahead and answer the question, as well as give your final assessment of the player’s range. Check back later to see if your read was correct. The more you do this, the better you’ll get at hand reading and you can start applying this to your LIVE sessions.
- Both – practice hand reading as you play one table at a time. This is obvious for LIVE players as you can only play one table, but for online players try a focus session where you just play one table and your goal is to range every player involved in every hand. We all know we often zone out or focus on something else when we’re not involved in a hand. Well, your goal for hand reading is to stay focused on every hand played, regardless of you being involved or not. Put the players on ranges and narrow them as the streets progress. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get at hand reading and narrowing ranges.
Destroy (or Ditch)
DESTROY your opponents with exploitative plays based on the hand reading you’ve done up to this point and the likely strength of their hand. If you’ve hand read properly and put them on an accurate pre-flop range and narrowed their range based on actions and the board cards, you can implement the strategy you think would best yield a fold if you’re bluffing or a call or raise if you’re going for value.
Of course, your hand could be beat and maybe you can’t destroy your opponent with a well-timed bluff nor can you go for value. In this case you’ve got to DITCH the hand. Some people might not consider folding as an exploitative play, but if you’re able to ditch a hand like TPWK when you know your opponent is stronger and just won’t fold, then you’ve saved yourself money thru your hand reading.
The more you practice hand reading, the better you’ll become at either destroying your opponents with well-placed bets, or ditching hands and saving yourself money.
How can percentage form help with hand reading? (13:15)
(listen to podcast #60 for more on percentage form)
Percentage form helps to assign a pre-flop range. This is especially useful for online play, but with a little estimating it can be useful for LIVE play as well.
If your online opponent has a RFI stat of 20% in the CO, this means he plays 20% of hands, which is usually the strongest or top 20% of hands within the hand matrix:
If you’re playing LIVE and you’d estimate a player is playing 4 out of every 10 hands in a certain spot, then he’s playing 40% of hands, which is much wider than the 20% range. This is the starting range you’d give your opponent pre-flop based on either the stats presented to you or your estimate of how often a player will play this way.
We start with the % of hands they play, then assign a range using this along with our history with them and their actions pre-flop.
This use of the percentage form helps us to be more accurate, logical and technical players. This is what the HUD gives us, the % of how often somebody does something, which corresponds to the range of cards they do it with. Without a HUD, we just need to make an estimate of their range then we narrow their range street by street the same way we would online.
For more accuracy using %-form, we need to know what hands are included in different ranges. Is AK within a 5% range? Absolutely. But is ATs within that 5% range? Probably not due to its weakness. Is that same ATs within a 10% range? Sure, but is ATo? Once again, probably not due to the weakness of the off-suit nature of it. This is key in using percentage form, knowing what hands fall within different % ranges. You can learn this through constant practice and thought about ranges and doing hand ranging practice away from the tables. With enough practice, it will become second nature to you.
Percentage form also helps us understand the type of player we’re up against as well. If you’re up against a player who plays only 10% of hands or less, then that’s a nitty player and his range would reflect this and would be full of all strong hands. If he plays 30% or more, he’s quite a bit looser and would have many weak hands in his range.
Percentage form can help you estimate 3bet and cold call ranges as well. If he three bets only 1% of the time (or 1 out of every 100 hands) then you know he only does so with AA & KK. If he cold calls 20% of the time (2 out of every 10), you know he’s got a pretty wide range, but the strongest hands like QQ+ and AQ+ are prolly not in it.
If you can get practice in using percentage form and correlating it with an actual range of hands, you’ll be doing much better than all of your opponents.
Podcast Challenge (16:45)
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Practice learning percentage form. When you know that 5% of hands is 77+ and AK, or that 20% of hands is all pp’s, all broadways and 65s+, then you’ll be a much stronger hand reader. Start up your favorite poker calculating software like Flopzilla or Pokerstove or Equilab, and make a list of all the hands that fall under each % category: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 and 60%. Commit to memorizing these and practice it in your hand history reviews or when you’re actually at the poker table. If you can get these down, you’ll be far more accurate hand reader than your competition… “I guarantee it.”
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In podcast #67, I'll answer 3 listener Q’s about what beginning players should understand about poker, using a HUD on Bovada and the subject matter of my future eBoook and other exclusive content. And next week, in episode #68, I’ll continue the ‘Hand Reading Lab' series and I’ll discuss how Flopzilla, which comes with the HRL, has revolutionized not only my study time but my hand reading skills as well.
Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.
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