Reading opponents in NL Texas Hold’em

Reading players is a more advanced topic for NL Texas Hold’em poker players. I have only begun realising what’s involved after many hours of reviewing/studying hand histories.

Essentially it boils down to players innate betting pattern habits. I have taken to completely re-writing this page in light of this.

For instance, when I notice a player that frequently comes in raising, bets the flop often, and then checks the turn after being called, I will label that player a weaker player because clearly their strategy relies less on hand selection and more on frequent flop bets. Usually this sort of player isn’t aware that if they’re out of position they’re more likely to get called because their opponent has spotted this bad habit and decided to take advantage of it. They would only have to do this 2 or 3 times over the course of 5-6 pots they play. But I’m already guaging them from the first instance I see this betting pattern. It’s important to understand why seeing this just once is a good indication of weak play, so let me explain.

If a player raises preflop, bets the flop (in/out of position) but then checks the turn, I can tell if they do this more than once they are weak because I now know if I had raised this player on the flop I’d be more likely to win with a continuation bet on the turn. This is because regardless of my cards, my opponent is going to check that turn and probably fold unless he has some form of a draw. Note: this only works if you yourself are not showing down a bunch of crappy hands. If you are having to play to a show down against this player often, this player is a typical calling station and you should not bluff at them. This player-type’s starting hand selection is virtually non-existent. They will play all cards, ignoring the odds and chasing every gut shot draw they are dealt (11 to 1 against). Your strategy against this sort of player is to keep pot bets limited to the size of the pot. They are far harder to read because of their non-existent hand selection requirements, so you want a solid hand. They will draw against the odds more often than not and this is where you’ll make your money. They will also only raise you when they have a genuinely strong hand. We know this because they don’t like to continuation bet when they have nothing – hence that turn check after the flop bet. They don’t like to put too much money into a pot. Slowly but surely they will bleed their chips to the more astute players at the table.

If a player comes into the pot raising preflop, bets the flop AND bets the turn…. I’d consider this player more SOLID. They either have a hand that holds genuine promise, OR they are over playing something mediocre. I tend to look more at their rate of pre-flop raises before deciding to play with a player who plays like this often. Representing hands is a strong way to play hold’em but if their starting hand selection is weak, they will be making this play WAY too often and you can again take advantage of this players poor habits.

Continuation betting when you have position is a strong way to play but be warned… There are players who like to simply check and call bets/raises, even when they are holding very strong hands. If they check-call and play a lot of hands I’d class them as a calling station. If they check-call but play very few hands I can guess they’re waiting for good hole cards first and so I’d use that information to figure out what I thought they had. Again this is useful information since if your opponent only ever plays pairs and AK they become predictable and you can avoid paying them off in situations you might otherwise pay another player off. These sorts of player are generally weak because they don’t bet when they should so you can often take free cards to improve your hand to the nuts – this is when you can make them pay.

Finally there is the sort of player who’s selective when it comes to their preflop hole-cards and more often than not shows down a strong hand… however there’s one slight difference in that they *might* be bluffing once in a while. This sort of player is where you should aim to be. You want to be a little bit unpredictable so that other players will occassionally pay you off. Usually if I’m out on a limb I want a strong draw… not just an open ended straight draw (OESD) but perhaps a pair and some draw(s). The more draws to better hands the better since your hand is more deceptive and more likely to get paid off earlier on.

It is worth mentioning you should aim to play tight the majority of the time the pairs are underrated by weaker players because they don’t really understand the reasons behind playing them. Namely they are more deceptive and have far greater implied odds.

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