Reading Hands, Flop: Part Two

{Continued from Part One}

[NN] “Even if we know the range that the c-bettor is betting with, that doesn’t mean opponents will call or raise with broad enough ranges. Among weaker and tighter players, particularly out of position, a c-bet will induce a check-fold most of the time.

Looking at the same dry flop of K♥7♣2♠, if the button c-bets, a player who has already checked might call with top pair with a bad kicker, second or third pair, or a slowplayed set, but not much else. If the board had been lower, a loose player might call with just two overcards, but I don’t see that play much around here.

Suppose you had put a middle position player on this 20% range for their preflop limp-call:

	A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s
	ATo+, KJo+, QJo-JTo

The calling hands would be these:

	AKs, A7s, A2s, K8s+
	AKo, KJo+

which is half of his hands.”

[NN] “On a wet board like K♥Q♥T♣, many players will check, hoping to see the turn for free but otherwise intending to check-call with just about any draw. Top pair and better hands might also check-call, along with some weaker pairs that have other potential, leaving this range:

	ATs+, K8s+, QJs-QTs, Ah9h-Ah2h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AKo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

That’s just about 60% of the preflop hands. Sets will probably bet, and straights will bet unless they have the flush redraw.”

[NN] “It doesn’t make much sense to check-raise on a dry board with a strong hand (although I suppose you should some of the time to cover your bluffs), but on that wet board it’s a good play against a frequent c-bettor. Not including bluffs, the check-raise of the c-bet might be made from two pairs, a set, better hands that don’t want to give up a free card, and semibluffing drawing hands that want to take the pot down now:

	KQs, KTs, QJs-QTs, AhQh+, AhTh-Ah2h, Kh8h+, Qh9h+, Jh9h+, Th9h
	AJo, KJo+, QJo-JTo

Since two-thirds of that range are drawing hands, it really pays to know whether your opponent would check-raise with a draw.”

{To be continued…}


Reading Hands, Flop: Part One

[FF] “Wow, thanks Nate”, Figaro the Fish offered. That really would have helped me a lot if I could remember it all.”

[DD] “Or even ten percent of it”, Deb the Duchess amended.

[FF] “So now that you have everyone on a hand range, how do you narrow down the ranges as the hand goes on?”

[NN] “Well, let’s take this one street at a time”, Nate the Natural recommended. “On the flop, remember who raised preflop as that’s the player who’s most likely to bet even if the flop didn’t help him.”

[NN] “A postflop bet from the preflop raiser is much weaker than a bet from anyone else. Some players will continuation bet almost 100% of the time when checked to in position, especially against a single opponent. Some weaker players only bet if they improved or already had a pocket pair (fit or fold). Some players bet their draws frequently, while others will prefer to take a free card. Some players will bet to ‘protect’ their good hands against possible straight and flush draws. Some players will slowplay the strongest hands. All depending on the number, style, and stack sizes of their opponents, of course.”

[NN] “Stronger players will take the board texture into account while weaker ones may not.”

[DD] “That all sounds useful in general, and I understand that you need to notice people’s tendencies over lots of hands, but how do you apply it in practice?”

[NN] “I could go on for hours as the possibilities are nearly limitless, so I’ll just give a few common examples.”

[NN] “On a dry1 flop like K♥7♣2♠, two players check to the button, who raised 2.5xBB preflop and got called by two limpers. When he bets half the pot here, it’s very likely to be a c-bet. If you put him on a preflop range of 30% like:

	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-98o

then an frequent c-bettor might continue with all but his best (KK, 77, 22) and worst (T9s, T8s, 98s, 65s, 54s, T9o, and 98o) hands, leaving his range as:

	AA, QQ-88, 66-33
	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, 87s-76s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+

Just over half of those hands are a pair or better, so you can see why a in-position c-bet is so hard to defend even if you know this player c-bets here seven-eighths of the time!”

[NN] “On a more exciting, wet2 flop like K♥Q♥T♣, the c-bettor will be tighter, as a lot of draws will be calling, and there’s significant potential that someone checked intending to raise with a good hand. A pot-sized bet here represents top pair or better, hoping to price out the draws:

	AA-KK, 77, 22

but you’ll have to learn which players will make this bet with their own draws and which would prefer to take the free card (of course, depending on how many chips they have left behind). The above range is pretty small (just over one-sixth of his preflop range), while there are many more drawing hands. On the other hand, the sets that would be likely to slowplay on a dry board can’t afford that luxury here. Only the made straights (AJs, AJo, J9s, and J9o) might slowplay comfortably, although some players would bet without the flush redraw. Two-pair hands (KQs, KQo, KTs, KTo, QTs, QTo) could go either way.”

[NN] “An out-of-position check by the preflop raiser on this same flop doesn’t narrow down their hand much at all, as it could be strong, hoping to check-raise or slowplay; medium, not wanting to build a big pot out of position; or weak, simply checking with no strength and no desire to c-bet.”

{To be continued…}


  1. A “dry” flop has at most one high card, no likely straight draws, and no flush draw. A paired board is dry if the third card isn’t close by, and the rare three-of-a-kind flop is always dry.
  2. A “wet” flop has at least two high cards or connected medium-high cards or two cards of the same suit. Straight draws or flush draws are possible.

Reading Hands, Preflop: Part Two

[FF] “I think I understand the idea behind hand ranges now,” Figaro the Fish began, “but I’m pretty clueless as to what ranges to put people on. It just seems so complicated!”

[NN] “It is complicated, so don’t feel bad”, Nate the Natural consoled.

[DD] “Maybe you could give us some more common pre-flop examples?” Deb the Duchess inquired.

[NN] “Sure. Especially among casual players like we have here, you often get an early limper that encourages the rest of the table to limp in because we love to see flops.”

[NN] “The early position limper has the tightest range of the limp chain, anywhere from 20% of hands to 40% of hands, not including the biggest hands like Aces or Kings which don’t want to be playing against a lot of opponents. This is what it might look like for 30%:

	A2s+, K5s+, Q7s+, J8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o

Subsequent limpers might be playing 40% of hands:

	A2s+, K2s+, Q7s+, J8s+, 98s-54s
	A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-65o

But there’s always a guy who loves suited cards and limps along with almost 55% of hands:

	A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o-54o

And don’t forget that the big blind gets to play for free, so he could have any two cards with up to about two limpers in front, and all but Aces or Kings with more (that’s 99%).”

[NN] “If a middle position player is known to raise a loose 30%, say,

	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o

then a player in late position could call with the same 30% with the positional advantage.”

[NN] “Another common occurrence is when a short-stacked player moves all-in pre-flop. You can use a formula1 to estimate how weak the player’s range is, but most people here just use their gut instinct. Depending on the player’s patience, the shoving range tends to widen with each hand that gets folded. In a rebuy tournament, the range is significantly wider early and tightens up tremendously after the rebuy period ends.”

[LL] “My range widens considerably once the side game has started”, Leroy the Lion admitted. “I don’t want to bust out and have to wait around doing nothing.”

[NN] “The button vs. small blind vs. big blind (BSB) battle is a special scenario that happens more with better players that it does here, but it’s still important. Some players will raise 100% of the time if folded to on the button. Other players, especially weaker ones, don’t value position that highly and are likely to play the same cards from the button as they will from the cutoff or hijack.”

[NN] “A limp from the button here is interesting, since it tends to deny a stronger hand. One player might raise 40% of hands,

	A2s+, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s-54s
	A2o+, K2o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o

limp 40%,

	K8s-K2s, Q8s-Q2s, J8s-J2s, T8s-T2s, 97s-92s, 86s-82s, 75s-73s, 64s-62s, 53s-52s, 43s
	Q8o-Q2o, J8o-J3o, T8o-T5o, 95o+, 85o+, 75o+, 65o, 54o

and fold the remaining 20%:

	72s, 42s-32s
	J2o, T4o-T2o, 94o-92o, 84o-82o, 74o-72o, 64o-62o, 53o-52o, 43o-42o, 32o

while a raise-or-fold player could raise 50%:

	A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J6s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s
	A2o+, K5o+, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 98o

and fold the rest.”

[NN] “If the blinds are known to be tight, the stealing range from the button could be 70% or more.

	A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J2s+, T2s+, 93s+, 84s+, 74s, 63s, 53s+, 43s
	A2o+, K2o+, Q3o+, J5o+, T6o+, 96o+, 86o+, 76o"

[NN] “The big blind might then try to resteal with just the top 20% of hands:

	A4s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s
	A9o+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo"

[LL] “A wider range would probably be better.”

[DD] “We’re only talking about what people do, not what they should do.”

[NN] “One last example… stealing from the small blind in a blind vs. blind battle is tough because the player is out of position. A player might raise 30% of the time (like the loose middle position raise) against a tight big blind:

	A2s+, K9s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 98s-54s
	A8o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o, 98o"


  1. For example, the SAGE (Sit And Go Endgame) formula can be used to determine whether to move all in or fold.

Reading Hands, Preflop: Part One

[FF] “I’m really trying, but I just can’t figure out what cards people are holding. There’s just too much to pay attention to, and I seem to notice all the wrong things. I have a general idea that Roderick the Rock plays much tighter than Carlos the Crazy, but the only thing I really noticed was that the pizza stain on Rod’s sweatshirt was exactly the same shape and size as the mole on Carlos’s neck.”

[NN] “But a different color, I hope”, Nate the Natural suggested.

[LL] “Paying attention has never been your strong point”, Leroy the Lion suggested. “I know you pay up promptly when you lose bets. You pay compliments to pay your respect when you pay off after someone value bets you out of your chips. You even pay at the pump, but we don’t expect you to pay attention. At least not to the right things.”

[NN] “Pay Leroy no mind, Figaro. You know that if you pay heed to our advice it will pay dividends, especially if you pay your dues and work on your game.”

[DD] “At least you’re looking at your opponents”, Deb the Duchess commented. “I think all you need is a system — some straightforward step-by-step recipe you can follow.”

[FF] “That would be great; after twelve years, I can make mac and cheese now without even looking at the side of the box.”

[DD] “Maybe Nate or Leroy can explain help you here.”

[NN] “Sure. Let’s start before the flop. Where’s the button?”

[FF] “Leroy is twirling it between his fingers. The tournament hasn’t started yet.”

[NN] “No, I mean, you always have to know where the button is. The dealer usually has it here, but not when Elias the Eagle or someone else is permanent dealer, like in a casino. Hence the plastic button that says ‘DEALER’ on it.”

[NN] “Assuming you’re already familiar with how each player plays, before each hand you want to make sure you know:1

  1. The location of the button, so you can know what position each player is in.
  2. The number of players at the table. Expect tighter play with more and looser player with fewer.
  3. The size of the blinds and antes relative to each player’s stack (or M) and the average stack. Rough estimates will do.
  4. In tournaments, when and how much the next blind increase is. Is the rebuy period ending then? How far away is the bubble?
  5. The size of each player’s chip stack relative to each other, especially the smallest stacks who may move all-in preflop or soon thereafter.
  6. Any specific player traits that are relevant to the current situation. E.g., the cutoff likes to steal the blinds or the button doesn’t loosen his range much despite his position.
  7. Other random factors… Is someone on tilt because of a bad beat? Did someone just leave or join the table (and what effect will that have on table dynamics)? In our particular case, did a side game just start up so the short stack might suddenly loosen up his requirements for shoving? Did the sporting event on TV just end so some people will now be focusing better?

With each bet, call, or raise, take into account:2

  1. The position of the player: earlier implies a stronger range, while later means weaker (possibly as weak as any two cards on the button).
  2. The tightness of the player: tighter means stronger; looser means weaker.
  3. The aggressiveness of the player: passive means stronger; aggressive means weaker.
  4. The size of the bet relative to the pot: larger usually means stronger; smaller means weaker.
  5. The size of the bet relative to the stack size: larger usually means stronger; smaller means weaker. An all-in is usually weaker (but beware players who may shove strong because they hope you think that).

With their first action in a hand, place each player on an initial hand range. Looser players will have wider hand ranges, while tighter players will have narrower ones. Adjust for how much each player likes being suited, connected, and paired. Keep in mind stack sizes, as speculative hands need more chips behind to be playable.

If the betting loops around preflop (and on subsequent streets), narrow down each player’s range.

For example, a tight early position raise at a full table might represent the top 10% of hands: 77+, A9s+, KTs+, QTs+, AJo+, KQo,3

while a loose open raise from the hijack might be 50% of all hands: 22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q2s+, J5s+, T6s+, 96s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s, A2o+, K5o+, Q7o+, J7o+, T7o+, 98o.

Some players will only three-bet with Aces or Kings, while others will do so with a pair or any two big cards in position. That reraise will fold out the weaker part of the loose raiser’s range, so a call may be a top 20% hand (66+, A2s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, A9o+, KJo+, QTo+, JTo), while a rereraise represents the goods (QQ+, AKs, and maybe AKo).”

{From across the room…}

[RR] “Shuffle up and deal!”

[NN] “Sorry, Fig, looks like we’ll have to continue this some other time… Are you following so far?”

[FF] “I’m picturing hand ranges as arrows pointing up and to the left. Sometimes they’re short and sometimes they’re big, and they shrink with each extra bet.”

[NN] “They’re also slightly lopsided, but it sounds like you get the point.”


  1. Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ’em Volume I: Strategic Play (page 18) lists 11 Elements of a Hand, the first six of which are:
    1. What’s the status of the tournament?
    2. How many players are at your table?
    3. Who are the players at your table?
    4. How does your stack compare to the blinds and antes?
    5. How big are the other stacks at your table?
    6. Where do you sit in relation to the aggressive and passive players?
  2. The last five of Harrington’s Elements of a Hand are:
    1. What bets have been made in front of you?
    2. How many active players are left after you act?
    3. What are the pot odds?
    4. What is your position at the table after the flop?
    5. What are your cards?
  3. Hand ranges are from Equilab with minor adjustments (e.g., most players treat a pair of Threes and a pair of Twos identically preflop).