Hand Reading in Poker: Basic Tips and Principles

Poker Academy
18 May 2024
Holdem Strategy
18 May 2024

In hand reading, too many poker players try to narrow it down to specific two cards and end up losing a large number of chips.

In poker, where there are 1326 possible combinations, it is impossible to narrow down to a specific hand. Therefore, this time, we will introduce the correct method of hand reading by narrowing down to a range.

What is Hand Reading?

Hand reading is the act of narrowing down the opponent's range.

By narrowing down the range that can be anticipated from the opponent's position and actions, you can determine whether the player raises too much or folds too much. Then you can and add the opponent's tendencies to that equation.

From pre-flop to river, you should narrow down the opponent's range, considering the final action. If the opponent's range has many bluffs, you should bluff-catch him, and if it has many value hands, you should fold.

So, hand reading can be a powerful weapon if done correctly.

Next, we will introduce specific methods of hand reading.

Methods of Hand Reading

There are two main methods of hand reading:

  1. Narrowing down the range by position and action
  2. Considering the opponent's tendencies

We will explain each method in detail.

Narrowing Down the Range

You should narrow down the opponent's range based on their position and action.


For example, what kind of range is possible when the opponent opens from UTG instead of BTN?

From BTN you will probably open a marginal hands like Q6s, but from UTG you won't.

In practice, according to GTOWizard, the opening range looks as follows.

UTG open range (6max):

BTN open range (6max):

So first of all, read a certain range depending on the position.


After narrowing down based on the position, further narrow it down based on the action.

For example, how would you react if faced an overbet all-in on the river?

  • Pre-flop: UTG raises to 2.5bb, BB calls
  • Flop: UTG bets 4.5bb, BB calls
  • Turn: UTG bets 19.5bb, BB calls
  • River: UTG bets 73.5 bb into the 53.5bb pot

If it's a value bet, the opponent will do that with a straight or a set — hands like T9, 45, JJ, 88, 77, 66, 22, right?

However, if we look back from preflop, are there 66, 22, T9, and 45 in our opponent's range? It's unlikely that these hands would be opened pre-flop. Refer to the UTG range mentioned in above.

Additionally, would someone bet big on the flop and turn with 88? 88 would likely be a hand that might check on the turn or bet small even if it bet on the flop. Considering these factors, the opponent's value range might include only JJ and 77.

Next, what about the bluff range? A big bet on the turn could indicate a flush draw. Hands with A♦ or K♦ are likely to be present.

Considering this, the opponent's range might include missed flush draws, along with JJ and 77.

Opponent's tendencies

After narrowing down the range based on actions, it's important to consider the opponent's tendencies.

Since the people we play against are humans, not AI, there will always be opportunities to exploit their weaknesses.

Most players don't bluff too much with big bets and raises. Many players are afraid of making a big bluff because they are afraid of failing.

Also, there are different play styles (TAG, LAG, etc.) that can be used to consider the opponent's tendencies, but this is not often used. This is because it is more effective to directly consider the characteristics of the player rather than thinking from the play style.

Considering the play style, what does it mean if the opponent is TAG? Are they strong only because they are tight-aggressive? Instead of thinking about that, it's more effective to consider if this player is likely to make big bluffs or always bet with a flush draw.

The opponent's tendencies are best considered from the hands seen at showdown, but there are other methods like considering the stakes tendencies. For example, at 2NL, there are many players like this, at 100NL, there are many players like that.

The opponent's thinking changes with the stakes, and the expected ranges do as well.

After playing thousands of hands, you will start to grasp the tendencies of that stake level.

Let's consider the example of the hand we discussed earlier in light of these points.

Suppose you have AJ (TPTK) and face an all-in overbet, would you call?

For example, if your opponent is weighted towards value hands, you would fold. Let's say a player who bets big on the turn typically has a flush draw, a set, two pair, or an open-ended straight draw (OESD). Hands with an Ace may have minimal showdown value, so they wouldn't make big bets on the turn.

In this case, as for value, your opponent might have 1 combo of JJ, 3 combos of 77, and although he doesn't open preflop widely, he could have around 2 combos of 67s and 66.

As for bluffs, your opponent's range could include 3 combos of K♦Q♦, K♦T♦, and K♦9♦.

To call in this situation, considering pot odds, you would need a winning percentage of 36.75% or higher (73.5bb/200bb). However, when considering the number of opponent combos, the odds are not in your favor at 33%.

Therefore, folding would be the correct decision here.


The essence of hand reading is not about guessing a specific hand of the opponent but accurately narrowing down their range of hands. In poker, with 1326 possible hand combinations, it's impossible to precisely guess the opponent's hand.

By narrowing down the opponent's range based on their position and actions and considering their tendencies, it's beneficial to create an estimated range.

Every opponent has reasons for betting, calling, raising, or folding.

However, as players become more skilled, narrowing down ranges becomes more challenging. Players will balance their strategies by using mixed frequencies of betting and checking when holding a flush draw to avoid easily narrowing down their range.

Nevertheless, every player has a slight bias. Narrow down your opponent's range with precision and become more likely to win!

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