Pro Answers To Hand Reading Poker Questions

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Welcome back. If you’ve been following me for a while, we just concluded a 4-part series going through hand 15 of the Live Poker Player’s Workbook. We went through a complete hand from $1/$2 live and broke it down street-by-street, action-by-action, and built down ranges every step of the way.

If you haven’t already seen them, I would definitely pause this and read them first:

Get This Entire Series
Watch this entire live poker hand reading series and see how every street and every range unfolds through this hand. Remember, any improvements you can make while hand reading will have long-lasting benefits when you look for new +EV opportunities!

Over the time that series has been going on, there’s been quite a few comments and questions. I want to step back for a moment and answer some of the comments and questions from you guys and talk a little bit about how to hand read better both in this exact situation and also in situations that you’re going to face that don’t necessarily resemble this hand at all.

The first comment comes from ‘mightybatillo‘ who says this:

“I can’t hand read anything at my local casino. Any 33 cards suited is a premium hand for them. Yesterday I did a 3bet with aces and got called by a 94c and the guy flopped two nines.”

So here’s the honest thing: sometimes you’re going to play against players who have extremely wide ranges. A lot of people will say, “Well, the range is really, really wide, so I’m just going to abandon hand reading altogether.” I would not suggest that. Yes, it’s going to be a bit more complex, but honestly you just say, “Okay, this person is playing maybe 75% hands. I’m going to take the top 75% of hands and work with that as I go postflop.” Okay, fine. All it means is they’re going to miss a lot of boards and it just simply is what it is.

Yes, people are going to play really wide ranges, especially in live games, you’re going to see that a lot of the time. But whether you’re seeing that online or live, all it means is that it’s just a really wide range of hands. You just try to see if you can narrow anything out. Say you raise and they call and think, ‘Okay, they’re calling with a really wide range’, ask yourself would they 3bet anything, so that you can remove those kind of hands from their flatting range? But shy of that, sometimes you’ve just got to deal with really wide ranges. It just is what it is.

In this situation where you 3bet Aces and get a call by 94s, sure, some percentage of the time, they’re going to get there, whether that’s flopping trips or whether that’s improving a 2pair later down the line or flopping a flush. Whatever it is, those kind of things happen.

Just remember that in the long run, you absolutely annihilate that person, so long as you’re not massively spewing in really deep pots. So it’s a little frustrating, I get it. But trust me, don’t abandon hand reading just because it’s difficult against people that play a lot of hands. Just look for situations where you can take advantage of that and of course make some good decisions postflop, especially against those wide ranges.

This next question comes from Ben Butler-Cole who says this:

“Do you really think it’s reasonable to expect someone calling this wide is necessarily calling/raising with the best X% of hands?” And they’re talking more specifically preflop in this sense. “It seems more likely to me that their range is all the obvious value hands plus a completely random selection of other stuff. Are they really much more likely to have 97s than 92o?”

This is a good question, essentially asking which model people are typically going to use when shaping and creating their own ranges. The two models you’re proposing are best X%, the value hands plus all the other hands that could possibly be in that range would probably be in there and probably in equal weight?

The question: Is 97s more likely than 92o? Typically, I would say almost certainly. I think even someone who’s not really that good at all is still going to understand that 92o is a pretty ugly hand, and 97s is kind of sexy and has a lot of opportunity with it.

They may not be able to verbalize it. They may not be able to understand why one performs better than the other. It’s more just the look of it. Typically, people are going to understand that. As the two cards get higher and higher, they’re much more apt to play them, especially when there are ultra-huge gaps between them. So, yes, I think as a pure default, people are playing best X% of hands and using that model when creating their own ranges.

Again, when people are creating ranges, good players are going to do say very, very differently than bad players. Bad players don’t have a good, strong rationale or logic when creating their ranges, whereas good players are thinking ahead and doing things with logic and reason. When you’re talking about calling versus raising ranges, yes, I think people typically do use best X%, but when they call, remember to typically remove the hands that they would otherwise 3bet.

So, yeah, you’ll find some players who maybe are more likely to have ultra-wide ranges, and, yes, they’re going to have 97s and 92o. But typically, I would not expect that unless you’re talking about someone who’s playing probably 80% to 85%+ amount of hands. Again, those are just ultra-fish. If you’re finding really ultra-fish like that, yeah, chances are they’re just playing any two cards just simply because they hate folding.

→ Here are my 5 easy tips for making more money against fishy players

This next question comes from James Blackwell who asks:

“Is your book useful without Flopzilla and HoldEQ? I don’t think either of those work of Mac or Linux.”

James, you are 100% correct. Flopzilla and HoldEQ are both PC-only softwares. If you are on a Mac, I believe PokerCruncher is your best bet in terms of great software that compares to Flopzilla. If you’re on Linux, honestly, I have no idea. I’ve never used a Linux machine. But I know that when I was using a Mac and wanted to use Flopzilla on it, I just installed a virtual machine with a Windows install on it.

If that’s a little too techy or nerdy or out of your window, maybe buying a crappy PC will do the job. But I really do suggest Flopzilla and HoldEQ, only because they’re incredibly powerful and incredibly simple. So if you can get a PC, get your hands on one, even if it’s just a dumpy old laptop that has Windows on it, I would definitely suggest doing that. I personally love Flopzilla. I think it’s perfect for this kind of off-table exploration, but it’s totally your call.

This next question comes from Darcy, and Darcy says this:

“I came back here to remind myself why so many Jx hands were taken out of the range.” So, Darcy, I’d watch the turn video and then come back to the flop video to leave this comment. And Darcy continues on by saying, “I’m reconsidering that our fishy “never fold” opponent may have led out with Jx, but then just called our raise because our fish may have felt overly strong and didn’t want to lose to us, rather than making the re-raise. This is why it can suck to play against the fish, but not all fish are the same.”

So Darcy, you bring up some really good points. I want to use this as a jumping board to talk about a few things. You said at the very end, “Not all fish are the same.” I 100% agree with that, no questions asked. Yes, there are aggressive fish. Yes, there are passive fish. Yes, there are fish that are aggressive with certain parts of their range and not so much with others. It is what it is. I totally agree.

I would disagree that it doesn’t suck to play against fish. It can be a little tricky. It can be a little confusing, especially when you’re trying to build really precise ranges for them, but it doesn’t suck. It’s just tricky. You just do the absolute best you can with the information that you have and you make the best assumptions and range assessments that you possibly can.

Now, you did say something really interesting, and I’m just going to use it as a starting point. So, Darcy, I don’t necessarily know if you’re making this mistake or not, but I know a lot of players do. You said here that you were looking at the turn and then all of a sudden, you went back and started making some changes to the original flop range based upon whatever it was.

I’m not saying that Darcy’s doing this, but a lot of players will make the mistake of looking at future streets, looking at future actions, and then trying to go back and change an original range or an earlier range, just to kind of fit whatever agenda they have going on at that time. If that’s the case here, don’t do that.

Now, on the flop, I made the assumption that I thought that if villain had Jx, they would 3bet the flop with it because there were straight draws present, flush draws present. I just looked at this kind of person and said, “Okay, if they see this board, they’re more likely to play Jx aggressively because they’re petrified of draws filling.” That’s my assessment, that’s my assumption, and I used that to create the range that I did when they just flatted our raise and I used that going forward. Because you have to remember, when you’re hand reading, hand reading is linear and logical, meaning that it’s street-by-street. If someone didn’t have a hand in their flop range, they can’t magically have it in their turn range. It’s logical based upon the assumptions that you’re making. Yes, those assumptions are going to be skewed by your experiences, things you’ve seen in the past, yes-100%, but you do your absolute best with it.

If your original assessment and assumption was that they would 3bet Jx on the flop, okay, sure, that’s totally fine. Or if you thought that they would flat it, okay, sure, totally fine. You just carry that with you as you go to the next street and you just keep it in the range or you delete it in the range if you didn’t think they would keep that line with that part of their range.

Just make sure that you’re not trying to change earlier ranges to meet whatever agenda or whatever thought process you have in the future. Do the absolute best you can on that exact street, then set that range pretty much in stone, move on to the next street, and continue going through and refining that range as you go on.

This next question comes from Pukis Pukis who says this:

“James, is in not better to shove all in in this situation if taking the fact that he is a never folding player?”

And this is asked on the flop. So if you remember, they decided to donk bet for I think $20 into $30 on the flop. The other person folded and it’s our action. I think we’re 200 blinds deep give or take.

Pukis goes on to say,

“I believe if we shove here, we don’t need to take a heart-breaking decision on the the river to fold if heart comes. I agree it’s a bit of a gamble, but I think that in the long-term, it’s completely big +EV move because we’re crushing his range so much and he has about 16% if he’s on a flush draw. Please correct me if I’m wrong.”

It really depends on what your assumption of the “never fold” kind of player means. I don’t think that if I shove here for $400, $500, whatever it was, that he’s going to continue with anything other than hands that smoke me. I don’t see him calling a flush draw. I don’t see him calling with 88s. I don’t see him calling with 67. I see him only calling when he crushes my face. In that case, no, I definitely don’t think this is going to be a +EV in the slightest.

I think there are plenty of other ways to make money here and make profitable decisions. You mentioned something really, really important. Again, I don’t want to be insulting or negative or anything like that, I love that you’re asking this question because it’s one that a lot of players have. I just think that you’re framing it incorrectly. Yes, sometimes bad cards are going to come off. It is what it is. He could have 22s. The turn could be 2. It could be a heart. He could improve on a heart draw. It sucks to be us. But just because bad things can happen, remembering also that they’re not going to happen a super large chunk of the time, is it is what it is. It happens, but there are ways to make money from other parts of the range, and, also, that part of the range, they don’t just include shoving right now and allowing your opponent to make a pretty close to perfect decision.

Sure, if you thought you could shove here, they’d still call you with 33s and flush draws and whatever it is. Cool. But more often when not, when you shove, you’re only getting snapped off by hands that absolutely crush you. So you can’t just look at the fact that you’re ahead right this moment. You have to look at how you perform against the range that would snap off your shove.

Often, especially when you’re shoving for huge amounts, it may not be as profitable as you think. And even if it is slightly +EV, it’s almost certainly not optimal. There are other things you can do, other lines you can take that will be much more profitable in the long-run.

This next comment comes from Will Saf who says,

“Everytime I ever have shared trips, I have a worse kicker and lose. I am calling on the river expecting to lose here. Sorry.”

So, Will, there’s nothing to be sorry about at all but why are you feeling this way? I mean, based upon the hand range, what are you expecting villain to have here?

A lot of the time, there are two things that factor in here. First and foremost, people will experience bad things. They’ll lose some hands. Then all of a sudden, it’s going to massively skew the way they feel whenever they have a certain hand category in the future.

In this situation, Will is talking about losing sometimes with trips. So, now, all of a sudden, he has trips here and he’s just expecting to lose. Again, I’m not 100% sure why. It doesn’t seem very logical. It just seems like it’s happened in the past, so I’m just going to have this nervous part of my brain that fears it happening this time, too.

The other thing to keep in mind is the hand reading part. Again, what really beats you on the river? We broke down the full river analysis and you see we’re not really losing all that often. And compared to all the possible hands they could be betting, obviously, we should be doing very, very well. I don’t think you’re looking at a betting range on the river from villain that’s only hands that crush us.

So, again, if you’re ever feeling this way, get out of the emotional, get into the logical and the objective, and look at it and break down the ranges and say is it realistic that I’m going to be losing here a large chunk of the time? Or is it just the emotional part of my brain that’s freaking out and saying, “Oh, no, you’re going to lose again,” and try to get you into protective, safety mode, when oftentimes in this game, we should just be reverting back to the logical and the objective answers because that’s what’s going to guide us to make profitable decisions, not our emotional brain, which is sending some really cross-wires a large chunk of the time when we’re playing.

This next comment comes from High Card Draw who says this:

“Tyson once said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’”

This is analysis is great, but sometimes you have to take things at face value. Villain probably rolls over QJ or KJ and then hero chalks this up to a “bad read” when in reality, it is what it was the whole time, domination nation.

So there’s actually a lot of good jumping in material here and I’m going to start with this. So he knows the high card draw pretty much assumes, like, QJ and KJ are going to be in villain’s range. Again, I think a lot of that is going to boil back to your flop assumption. Did you think they were going to 3bet that hand or flop that hand when we decided to raise their donk bet there? That’s going to heavily influence.

I’m going to this. There are times when I’m going to make that assumption and, of course, in this example, I assume that QJ and KJ were pretty much not going to be in the flat range. I thought they were going to be 3bet on the flop. So I will make the assumption that those are pretty much gone. I know I’m going to carry that through throughout the rest of the hands, and, sometimes, I’m going to be dead wrong on that. Sometimes I’m going to get to the river. He’s going to show me QJ. I lose the hand. It is what it is. It sucks to be me.

And, yes, I am going to chalk it up to a bad read because that’s what it is, but it’s incorrect. It is what it is. You have to be prepared in this game to be incorrect. You have to be prepared in this game to lose pots. You have to be prepared in this game to make some big assumptions and be very, very incorrect. It is what it is. But showdown is where you can learn things. You can say, “Okay, was my assessment and assumption kind of right on, kind of right off?” Maybe slightly on, slightly off. You can use showdowns to confirm or deny that, but you still have to make some assumptions along the way. You can’t just say, “Oh, well, I think I have to be behind here.” Okay. Logically, why? Objectively, why?

If it’s just an emotional thing, you’re not making good, solid poker decisions. Again, everything has to be based on the logic and objectivity. It’s not just this subjective thing. Yes, we have to make some assumptions, and we can confirm or deny those assumptions later down the road, especially at showdown.

The first sentence of this comment I think is really, really great. The old Tyson quote of “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” That’s true. But the way that you actually have that plan and can handle getting punched in the face while still carrying through on that plan is with off-table study.

The more you analyze hands off-table, the more you practice putting people on ranges, the more you get refined in understanding what frequencies look like and that translates into real range. And based upon that, how you translate that into an actual strategic adjustment in your game, that is what you need to be doing off-table. Then when you’re in real-time, you’re making much better decisions than your opponents who have never done that kind of work.

Are you both still guessing? Yes, because neither of you have 100% perfect information but you’re going to be doing far better because you’re guessing with more precision than your opponent who’s just guessing because, well, they don’t know what else to do.

So, yeah, it is going to be tough when you’re in real-time. You either have a time bank when you’re playing online or you don’t have a tremendous amount of time when you’re playing live. That is 100% true, but when you practice this stuff off table, it gets ingrained and it gets easier. Again, you’re going to making decisions logically and objectively, not based on the fact that, “Oh, well, I’ve lost to better trips in the past, so, oops, I must be losing here, too.”

Yeah, maybe it is domination nation some percentage of the time, but, again, look at that within the context of the entire range. Are you a large density of the time against that range going to be dominated, or is it very rarely? And just because it’s very rarely and you happen to lose this time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you made any mistakes.

It’s built into the equation, sometimes you’re going to win, sometimes you’re going to lose.

Remember, just because you lost doesn’t necessarily mean that you made some huge mistake. Just like when you win a pot, it doesn’t necessarily mean you played it perfectly either.

This next question comes from Radu who says this:

“I know the exercise and the concepts are what’s important. You’re absolutely correct. But there’s something like a nail in the back of my head that keeps screaming at me: ‘What did he have? What was his hand among those 22 combos?’ If you don’t know, how can you be relatively sure that your thought process and assumptions that allowed you to get to those 22 combos is more or less correct and not completely off-track?”

So, Radu is not the only person who wanted to see what the final action was, if there was a showdown, exactly what the hands were. I totally understand that. We’re humans. We definitely want those answers. But this is poker, rarely are we going to get them, and in this workbook, there are no answers. And in situations like this, there are actually no final actions.

The whole reason why that is, is because we need to get comfortable being in the unknown. That’s not just in poker, that’s also in life. But it just simply is what it is. We’re not always going to know. We’re not always going to get that information. What if we had shoved on the river like I suggested and our opponent folded? Does that really tell you a tremendous amount? Well, maybe/maybe not.

Also, let’s just say that we had called and we saw our opponent’s hand. Does that tell you a ton? Well, it tells you a lot more than not seeing their hand. But it’s not perfect information either. What I mean by that is let’s just say that we did call on the river. We see our opponent’s hand. It is what it is. And let’s say that hand was outside of the 22 combos that I assigned. Okay, well that’s great.

Now we can go back and say, “Okay, if we deconstruct this hand, where were the ranges wider than I thought, especially if they’re going to show up with something like QJ? Does that help me then make better decisions in the future if they don’t 3bet that situation? Now I know, okay, if they 3bet the flop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have X, Y or Z.” So that helps me go back and re-understand frequencies, so I can make better assumptions in the future. That’s what we’re looking for in this game: get information, deconstruct ranges and understand their strategy better, then make better decisions in the future. That’s what we’re doing here.

Let’s just say that our opponent did show up with something within that 22 combos? Does that mean that we were 100% correct? No, it doesn’t. It definitely helps us feel more confident that we were probably in the right ballpark because that’s probably true, but they just of easily could have had 48 combos on the river, and they just happened to show up with one of the ones that was in the 22 combos that we assigned.

There is no perfect information here, unless for whatever reason, you can get your opponent to open up and share their exact ranges every step of the way. And for 99.999998% of your opponents, they can never verbalize that anyway. They’ve never thought about that.

What I’m really trying to say here is rarely are you going to have this exact perfect information. But you did ask a great question like, “How can you be sure that your thought process and assumptions were correct?” Well, again, you can’t. You can look for confirmation at showdowns to say, “Okay, I’m probably in the right ballpark,” or. “Whoa, I’m way out of line here,” if they had shown up with something totally egregious at showdown. But one other thing that you definitely want to keep in mind is remember at the end, we kind of zoomed down and we looked at each street and we looked at the frequencies, looked at the combos.

That’s one of the biggest things that I’m looking at when I’m doing this kind of analysis. Do the frequencies seem to make sense? Do the ranges that I’m assigning seem to make sense for this player type? And I’m looking for confirmation along the way. In previous hands, what do their frequencies look like? In future hands, okay, do their frequencies kind of fall in line with the assumptions I was making in the past and do I need to make any tweaks or refinements to those things?

A lot of the times, it’s going to be very, very frequency-driven and that’s going to help you a tremendous amount. But are you ever going to have perfect information? Are you ever going to know their exact range to the half combo? Typically, no. That’s okay. Be prepared with that. But the more you practice and the better you get with this stuff, you will get closer and closer.

Being plus or minus 10% is infinitely better than being plus or minus 40%. So keep working on it and when you’re confused, ask other people. Say, “Okay, what assumptions would you make here?” And if you find that a lot of players, especially ones that are playing different games than you are, are all kind of coming up with similar answers, chances are you’re in the ballpark. Then again, just look for confirmation as you’re playing against that person in real-time.

The final comment comes from Philosophical Play who says:

“Hey, James, thanks for the video. Are you going to do another series similar to this at say 2/4 or 5/10 where there aren’t as many fish? This was a great series and if you could do something on tougher opponents, I’m sure many of us could benefit. Again, thanks for a lot of this great content.”

First and foremost, you are very, very welcome for not just the video, but also the content in general. Glad to hear you’re enjoying it. And, yes, we do have some other series planned out. I have this other series coming out soon where I dissect one of my hands from the 6Max workbook and I’ll discuss that in more detail. And then after that, we’re going to go through a range versus range analysis situation against the live tag. So that’s definitely one that you’re going to want to pay attention to. Probably look for that in the next couple of months. I think you’re definitely going to enjoy that one quite a bit.

If you are looking for something a little bit more immediately, I do have a video on One of the pro videos that I did there is called “Hand Reading Versus Live Tags.” So if you’re looking for that, it’s obviously not going to be looking at fish, going to be looking at tag situations. Again, this same kind of concept of really deep diving and really building those ranges. I would definitely suggest checking that out if you’re interested in getting something a little bit quicker and something more on the live tag side of the spectrum.

And that is going to wrap it up for today. Hopefully you enjoyed it. Thank you so much for everyone who asked questions, I know there are lots of other people who asked very good questions as well and left great comments on the videos. These were just the ones that I thought really sparked some great ideas.


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 300+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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