Poker Strategy: Reading Your Opponent's Play - Part 2
We saw in the last article on reading your opponent's play how at first an unlikely call and then an unlikely fold may become possible by gaining information from each stage of our opponent's play.
Although this kind of reasoning is valuable, it always leaves doubt, and of course makes assumptions about our opponent's play. The major assumption is that our opponent is playing with some kind of logic. This logic may be beyond some bad players and it can be hard to read their more random play. Expert players may be prepared to turn logic on its head in order to come up with a very deceptive play.
Crucially, however, many players play typically in a lot of ways, and so we are going to carry this assumption through to examine some of these.
1) Opponents give you information about the strength of their hand every time they call or raise
That is the most simple piece of information available and the one many players forget.
As soon as your opponent raises before the flop, you should deduce it is more likely that he has a strong hand. Remember what position he has raised from, as starting hands of course become weaker as you move round the table, from "under the gun" to the dealer button. If the flop comes , and an early position raiser bets, you should give this a lot more credit than if the button bets this flop after the action is checked to him.
Let's say the flop comes , and our early position raiser bets. Because his bet on the flop is from early position, he is more likely being honest that he does have a hand. Moreover, he is far more likely to have strong cards for his raise from early position, which makes this a very dangerous flop.
If the action is checked to player on the button, and he bets the same flop, it is very possible that he has nothing at all. If he does have something, the wider range of hands he will be playing on the button means he is unlikely to have hit very strongly (as you would for example with aces, kings or AK).
Similarly, you should remember to credit more strength to your opponent for each time they call the action. If the board is , and after a series of checks your opponent bets on the end, you would be right to be suspicious. If he calls a bet on the flop and turn and follows it up with a bet him self on the end, he is far more likely to have seriously connected with the board.
Imagine a situation where you have pocket jacks, and the board comes to complete a flush draw on the end. If your opponent calls a bet on the flop, and makes a bet on the end, this is a situation where you can be almost sure that it is right to fold. The call on the flop is the crucial clue here, as it promises that our opponent has something- probably either a queen for a pair, three sevens or a flush draw. Now that the flush has hit, all these hands have us beat, and we would be wrong to call.
2) Other factors give you clues to the strength of the hand.
When you see an opponent bet, always take all in the information available to re-assess the strength of their hand.
The most obvious one is the number of people in the pot. Players are far less likely to bluff or bet with marginal hands in a multi-way pot.
For example, the with a board of , let's look at two different bets:
• With six people in the pot a middle-position player bets. He almost definitely has the goods, with a hand at least as strong as an overpair or two pair
• You are heads up, and check to the initial late-position raiser, who bets. He still has almost the whole range of hands. He may be making a continuation bet with a hand like AK, or be making an outright bluff. In fact, your opponent is less likely to be betting with a made hand like a set or straight, as with only one other player in the pot, he would possibly decide to slow play with a check.
In a tournament, the timing of a move will give you clues to the strength of your opponent's hand. An opponent who moves all in just before the bubble, say, would have to be very gutsy if they were not playing a strong hand.
3) The scared check
The action on each street narrows down your opponent's range of hands, and if a bet is followed by a check, then it is likely that something has changed.
Let's look at an example where the board comes in order . Our opponent bets on the flop, and then checks when the king comes. It seems that he had something on the flop, but likes neither the king nor the third heart. A pocket pair lower than a king (e.g. QQ, JJ, 1010, 88,66) is something that fits exactly, as does a hand like A9 or 109. You may well be able to take advantage of the fact that your opponent has advertised uncertainty, and bet him off the hand.
This action from your opponent of betting and then checking the turn after you have called is one of the biggest green lights in poker. Is is often a sign that either your opponent is not sure about their hand, or indeed is very weak. The check invites a bet, and it is an invitation you should strongly accept if you want to bet your opponent off the hand.
Ed note: Stuart Rutter is a regular on the EPT circuit and the sponsored professional at 32Red Poker - join today for a $500 bonus when you deposit