Reading Hands, River

{Continued from Reading Hands, Turn}

[NN] “The river is the exciting conclusion to a four-act play”, Nate the Natural continued. “With a good read, you can pick off a bluff by a missed draw, like naming the murderer in a whodunit.”

[FF] “I don’t get killed that often, but they’re certainly always stealing my chips”, Figaro the Fish amended.

[NN] “Okay then, just a bit of larceny to discover… or commit. If you think you’re behind, can you try to steal the pot? If you’re ahead, how much value can you get from the final street of betting? If you’re in position or do you fear a check-raise? If you’re out of position, are you better off betting or hoping to pull off your own check-raise?”

[NN] “So, if a blank hits on a draw-heavy board after your opponent has check-called you the whole way, you’re not going to get paid off much. You have to hope the draw included a weak pair. In tournaments, you may not want to risk a small value bet if your opponent is a known check-raiser (unless of course you think he check-raise bluffs too often).”

[NN] “Likewise, if a money card hits on the river but your opponent still checks, there isn’t much point in betting.”

[NN] “The interesting case is when a draw comes in and your opponent leads out.”

[FF] “Easy fold.”

[NN] “Against most of the players here, probably. But what about against someone crafty like Elias the Eagle?”

[DD] “I try not to get into hands with him in the first place.”

[NN] “True, but you have top pair, and you never even had a chance to fold, since he never bet or raised. So here you are now with a board that shows K♥Q♥T♣4♦2♥. Elias bets half the pot. What are the odds he actually has the flush?”

[DD] “I have to fold or else he justifies his odds for chasing his draw.”

[NN] “The Birdman chases a lot of draws, because his implied odds are higher than ours are. When we didn’t bet him off on the turn, he called with pretty much 100% of his holdings, so he still has:

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

Count up the hands, and you’ll discover that he was on a straight draw more than three times as often as a flush draw. But by representing the flush, he more than doubled his ‘outs’, got us to fold, and stole our chips!”

[DD] “So, the only way to apprehend the criminal is to catch him in the act by calling his river bluff.”

[NN] “Right. Now suppose the board was dry instead: K♥7♣2♠4♦2♥, and your opponent is Roderick the Rock instead of Elias.”

[FF] “No draws there, so he has a real hand.”

[NN] “Yet he’s only been check-calling us.”

[DD] “He has top pair but doesn’t like his kicker.”

[FF] “Maybe a pocket pair lower than Kings?”

[NN] “It depends on who you are. If his opponent is Carlos the Crazy, Rod would have no problem calling with a pair of Tens. If it’s Mildred the Mouse, he’s folded all but his best Kings.”

[DD] “So, not only does he have a King, but it almost has to be King-Queen. Because he would have raised with Ace-King preflop.”

[NN] “Very good. So if we’re Mildred, and we actually hold pocket Sevens for a set, how much should we bet to extract the maximum value?”

[FF] “I’d probably pay off anything up to half a pot.”

[DD] “He’s tighter than you are. I don’t think he’s paying off much at all. I might try a quarter pot or even smaller.”

[NN] “I agree. That’s all you’re likely to get. He shouldn’t call anything, but we all hate to get bluffed, and we’re all curious to see what our opponents have.”

[DD] “Mildred isn’t ever bluffing here.”

[NN] “What if the opponent was Elias with an unknown hand instead of Mildred? If he bets a quarter pot, should Rod call? A half pot? Pot?”

[DD] “Roderick would probably call the first two but fold to a pot bet.”

[FF] “Unless Elias had been bullying Rod out of a bunch of pots recently.”

[DD] “Precisely when Elias is most likely to show up with the goods.”

[NN] “Maybe. But if you do a good job of putting him on a hand range, he won’t be able to fool you nearly as often as he does now.”

[DD] “Thanks, Nate. You could write a great book about reading hands.”

[FF] “I don’t know about palmistry, but you sure could write a good poker book.”

[NN] “Thanks, but Ed Miller already has. How To Read Hands At No-Limit Hold’em is expensive1 but worth the price. You can easily win that outlay back in a single cash game or tournament.”


  1. Currently still selling for its original list price of $49.99 at Amazon. The book deserves a full review, but I’m not qualified to write it. Maybe in a couple years.

Reading Hands, Turn

{Continued from the Flop, Part Three}

[NN] “The turn is the street of hope”, Nate the Natural asserted. “You hope you’re ahead in the hand. If not, you hope you can bluff your opponent out. But if all else fails, you still have hope that you’ll be able to hit one of your outs.”

[FF] “I’m usually hoping I won’t mess up the hand…”, Figaro the Fish added, “if I haven’t already.”

[DD] “Roderick’s usually hoping his opponent isn’t about to suck out on him”, Deb the Duchess noted.

[NN] “Which is why if you’re ahead, you need to figure out which cards you’re worried about and charge accordingly. Suppose we’re in position as before, on a wet board of K♥Q♥T♣, when the 4♦ hits, and our opponent checks again.

After he check-called the flop, we put him on:

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

So he has a lot of draws in his range where he currently has less than top pair:

	JJ (8 outs for straight and 2 outs for set)
	JhTh (17 outs for flush or straight)
	AhTh-Ah2h, Th9h (9 outs for flush)
	KJo, QJo-JTo (8 outs for straight)

That’s half of his hands. Except for the J♥T♥, you can give your opponent the wrong odds to call with a half-pot or larger bet. Assuming of course you don’t pay off on the river if a scare card hits.

If you have a King yourself, your opponent is even more likely to be on a draw, so a bet here is basically required.”

[FF] “What if my he check-raises me?”

[NN] “That’s very unlikely around here, but if it happens, just fold and silently congratulate your opponent on a nice play.”

[DD] “I’ll have to try that with my next drawing hand!”

[NN] “On the other hand, if you have a King on the dry board of K♥7♣2♠ and the 4♦ hits, you need to know how often your opponent would have called your flop continuation bet with a weaker King or an underpair. The looser you’re perceived and the tighter he plays, the more reason you have to check behind to avoid the check-raise or check-call he was planning.

As the saying goes, ‘Big hands want to play big pots…’, and you have just top pair here, so keep the pot small. Your opponent most likely has at most five outs,1 so the free card isn’t much of an issue.”

{To be continued…}


  1. An underpair has five outs to make a set or two pairs, a weaker King has four kicker outs, and an Ace has three outs for an overpair.

Cepheus Conquers Heads-Up Limit Hold ‘Em

[RR] “Headline writers are really starting to annoy me”, Roderick the Rock complained.

[SS] “Starting to?” questioned Stan the Stat.

[LL] “Instead of sharing useful facts in the headline, they’ll tease, ‘Find out which famous person did this bad thing'”, Leroy the Lion agreed.

[SS] “Or they’ll mislead you to get you to click because you’re thinking, ‘That can’t be true'”.

[RR] “Exactly. Bloomberg wins this week’s click-bait award with ‘Texas Hold’em Mastered by Computer With No Wrong Moves’.”1

[LL] “Wow. That’s pretty bad.”

[SS] “Yeah. If they’re talking about Cepheus,2 that omits some very important information. It was just Limit Hold ‘Em, and it was just heads up.”

[RR] “A combination that almost nobody ever plays anymore.”3

[SS] “And while Cepheus can beat any human in a long enough match, it plays a GTO (game theory optimal) strategy, so it won’t do as well against weaker players as a good pro would with an exploitative strategy.”

[LL] “I don’t doubt that computers will be able to play No Limit, Full Table Hold ‘Em at a pro level some day though.”

[SS] “And be better than the best pros not long after.”

[RR] “Still decades away I think, because you can’t just take Cepheus’s brute force approach and add processing power and memory. The search space is just too big.”

[SS] “Lots of money to be had though, so there’s no question that it’ll happen in our lifetimes.”

[RR] “Speaking of which, at least Bloomberg’s headline didn’t ask a question like Gizmodo’s did: ‘Can You Beat This Virtually Unbeatable Poker Algorithm?’

[LL] “That’s not too bad. They could have asked, ‘Is It Pointless to Play Poker Now?'”

[SS] “Betteridge’s law of headlines gives you the answer, as it usually does. If a headline asks a question, the answer is, ‘No.'”


  1. For comparison, The Guardian went with Poker program Cepheus is unbeatable, claim scientists, which is click-bait-worthy for other reasons, while Motherboard was the almost-accurate This Robot Is the Best Limit Texas Hold’Em Player in the World.
  2. Cepheus, the poker program, was named for the constellation (home of largest known black hole), which in turn was named for mythological Greek Cepheus, King of Aethiopia, husband of Cassiopeia, and father of Andromeda.
  3. In the Cepheus blog, a January 8, 2015 article said, “At of the time of writing this article on a Saturday evening there are, on Pokerstars, the current market leader, thirty-five heads-up limit hold’em tables above the one dollar level where players are waiting for an opponent and one table at which two players are actually competing. Cepheus will undoubtedly prove a valuable sparring partner and research tool for casino players and enthusiasts looking to sharpen their skills, but the heyday of heads-up cash play has, unfortunately, already passed.” Unfortunate for the developers of Cepheus perhaps, but we humans play other poker variations because they’re more interesting and entertaining.

Related Links:

  • Cepheus Web site, where you can play against the computer (when it’s not down, like it is as of this writing).

Stan’s Lists – Top Ten Best-Selling Poker Books of 2014

{As Nate, Figaro, and Deb continue their discussion on hand reading, Stan introduces a new topic across in the room.}

[SS] “Did you guys see PokerBug’s list of the ten best-selling poker books on Amazon in 2014?” Stan the Stat effused.

[LL] “No. Are you happy to have another list or sad that PokerBug thought of it before you did?”

[SS] “Both, I suppose, but it was actually a guest post by Jason from YourHandSucks, which appears to be a blog for poker newbies.”

[LL] “That reminds me of the You Suck at Photoshop videos.”

[RR] “That guy is hilarious”, Roderick the Rock noted.

[SS] “Not as funny, and sadly, nowhere near as instructive either. But this list is good as it’s just a simple reporting of the facts; I’ve added my own comments:

Top Selling Poker Books on Amazon, 2014

# Author Book Year Comments
1 Sklansky, David The Theory of Poker 1999 (orig. 1987) This book is old enough that it spends much more time on poker variants other than Hold ‘Em. The concepts are universal though and have withstood the test of time.
2 Whitehead, Colson The Noble Hustle 2014 (paperback due 3/15) staked the author to play in the 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event and chronicle his experience. Witty writing but don’t expect to learn much about poker.
3 Brunson, Doyle Super System: A Course in Poker Poker 1979 A classic but really should be supplanted by its 2004 sequel, Super System 2. Texas Dolly’s once very aggressive play is now almost standard.
4 Harrington, Dan
Robertie, Bill
Harrington on Hold’em; Volume I: Strategic Play1 2004 Groundbreaking at the time but very conservative now. The other two volumes, The Endgame and The Workbook, are also worthy of this list, but you might consider his 2014 Harrington on Modern Tournament Poker instead.
5 Tendler, Jared
Carter, Barry
The Mental Game of Poker 2011 A good read if you have a tendency to go on tilt, curse your bad luck, or lose focus at the table. There’s also a 2013 sequel, but maybe poker’s not the right game for you if you need it.
6 Moorman, Chris
Jacobs, Byron
Moorman’s Book of Poker 2014 One of the most successful online pros analyzes 80 hand recaps as he “coaches” his co-author. Good if you like examples more than theory.
7 Caro, Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells2 2003 (orig. 1984) The original book on poker tells. Could use a new edition with clearer photos (and more Texas Hold ‘Em examples) and perhaps newer tells, as all but the weakest players now know to avoid exhibiting the ones in the book.
8 Harlan, Mark Texas Hold’em for Dummies 2006 An extensive beginner’s guide to Texas Hold ‘Em, published during the peak of the poker boom.
9 Harroch, Richard
Krieger, Lou
Poker for Dummies 2000 Like the Hold ‘Em book, but also covering Seven Card Stud, Omaha, and other popular poker variations so lacking in depth since it isn’t much longer.
10 Harrington, Dan
Robertie, Bill
Harrington on Cash Games 2008 Covers deep stack No Limit Hold ‘Em cash games but is actually just half a two-book series, with Volume II. Same super-tight style as his tournament series.”

[LL] “Wow, that’s a lot of old books.”

[RR] “It’s hard to write a great poker book.”

[LL] “And even harder for the masses to realize that you have.”

[SS] “Not unlike writing a great blog like PokerBug’s.”3


  1. Harrington on Hold’em was reviewed on June 14, 2014.
  2. Caro’s Book of Poker Tells was reviewed on September 19, 2014.
  3. If only PokerBug would post more often. I’m still waiting for the second part of his REDi technique that he summarized three years ago and has shown many examples of (like much of his Donkey Test analysis, starting at question 15). He started to detail the steps with R is for Reading. And Reduction but hasn’t followed up.

Related Links:

{ The Hold ‘Em at Home blog is brought to you by THETA Poker Pro, the strongest, fastest, and most configurable Texas Hold ‘Em game for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV. }


Reading Hands, Flop: Part Three

{Continued from Part Two}

[NN] “Alternatively,” Nate the Natural continued, “the non-preflop raiser could bet first. Derogatorily called the ‘donk bet’1, the bet basically says that the player hit the flop (or, at higher levels, that they think the raiser didn’t, but we’ll ignore that possibility for now). For some players that means top pair or better. On a dry board, the strongest hands would usually check to the raiser, but on a wet board, those hands are in the betting range.

Using the same 20% preflop range as before, what hands would provoke a donk bet on that dry board (K♥7♣2♠)? Mostly just top pair, as the sets might slowplay, and the weaker pairs might hope to see a free turn,

	AKo, KJo+

which is under a sixth of the preflop range. Looser players might bet other pairs, nearly tripling the number of hands.

On the wet board (K♥Q♥T♣), the same players who might check-raise a good hand or a draw against a frequent c-bettor, could choose to lead out against a more timid opponent:

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

Again, whether the draws, which are two-thirds of these hands, are included or not is very player- and stack-dependent.

The size of the donk bet might also be telling. A small bet can represent either a blocking bet with a weak hand or a value bet with a monster. The numbers say that the former are much more common than the latter. On the wet board an overbet usually means top pair with a good kicker, ‘to price out the draws’.”

[NN] “Lastly, in the case where there was no preflop raise, which is common at lower levels, you can’t narrow anybody’s range much preflop. This is one good reason why better players prefer to raise or fold preflop most of the time. The postflop bet, especially out of position, then simply means that the player liked the flop. In position, some players will often or always take a stab if checked to, while others will just take the free card (for some players, only with draws).”

[FF] “Okay,” Figaro the Fish commented at last, “now my head is spinning like Regan’s in The Exorcist. I know you’re trying to rid me of my donkey demons, but the cure is killing me.”

[DD] “But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, Deb the Duchess assured.

{To be continued…}


  1. “Donk” being short for “donkey”, one of many terms for weak players.