Poker Hand Reading 101

pure hand poker

Poker is a game of incomplete information. The one who makes the right decisions might not win this battle, but always wins the war. There’s no such thing as perfection in poker – making the right decisions at the poker table is impossible. But, the best poker players make profitable actions most of the time and win millions as a result. How do they manage to pull it off?

Let’s figure out what you need to do for the right decision at the poker table:

Correctly evaluate the relative strength of your hand.
Correctly evaluate the board.
Correctly evaluate your opponent’s hand or hand range.
Using poker math to evaluate the profitability of your options.
Thus, to make the correct decisions in cash games and tournaments, you need to have all these four skills. Sounds easy, right? Well, you need to be mentally prepared for an intense learning process – you will not be able to pump all these skills at maximum speed at once! However, if you study poker step by step, you can definitely make a profit. To become a better player and build your poker career, you need to improve each of these areas regularly.

In this article, we will talk in detail about hand reading and tells in No-Limit Hold’em. If you want to know more about the rest of the skills necessary for profitable decision-making in poker, check out our other articles:

Find out how to rate your hand strength in the article “Poker hand rankings.”
Find out basic poker strategy and card evaluation on the board in the article “How to play poker.”
The basic math involves poker odds. Find out what are poker odds and how to use them on the “Poker Odds Calculator” page. This page also has a calculator to help you check the odds of any situation that you can imagine!

What is hand reading in poker
Hand reading is a crucial poker skill for you as a player. In every hand, we see our cards and the board, but to understand how to act correctly, we usually make assumptions about what hands the opponent may have. This process happens unconsciously for most players. It’s another question how close to reality our guesses are. In any case, we can only find out the truth at showdown. Sometimes your opponent’s hand will be a big surprise at a showdown, but you need to take it calmly; nobody can know 100% what the other player has in mind.

So hand reading is all about logic and estimating what kind of hand your opponent might have. Poker pros on TV shows can sometimes correctly identify the specific two hole cards of their villain, but doing this requires great experience and powerful hand reading skills. If you’re not a professional player, you do not need to strive to guess a particular hand. Instead, it is vital to learn how to put your opponent on a specific hand range.

There are 1326 combinations of possible starting hands in Texas Hold’em. It is almost impossible to determine a specific combination your villain is holding. So your goal is to narrow down as much as possible the number of all combinations of your opponent to assess your hand’s strength against his range of possible hands and deduce the right play to make.

Hand reading works in two ways:

You determine which hand your opponent can NOT have – and on future streets dealt, you no longer admit the idea that your opponent may have a hand you eliminated earlier.
You determine what hand your opponent can have – and later, as new streets are dealt, part of these hands disappear as the hand progresses and new information is available.