According to David Sklansky, whenever you manage to play a hand exactly the same way you would if you could see your opponent’s hole-cards, you generate value and you play correctly. Every time you play a hand differently, you give up value and you commit a mistake. In poker, money is made off the mistakes of your opponents who in turn make their money off the mistakes you make. Staying clear of mistakes should thus be your number one priority. Of course, unless you’re faced with a dufus, you won’t be able to play the same way you would if you could see his hole cards. Most of the time, you won’t have reads useful enough to determine your opponents hand. How do professional players manage to play according to Sklanky’s theorem then? Because that’s exactly what they seem to achieve sometimes…
Take a look at this video:
and see for yourself how Daniel Negreanu makes a perfect read on his opponent and thus puts him into a position in which – according to the commentator – he’d rather be anywhere else than at that very table.
The answer is relatively simple: pros always put their opponents on hand –ranges, and apparently sometimes just for the heck of it, they narrow their range down to a single hand and call it out into the face of their opponents to confuse them.
Don’t let that apparent simplicity fool you though, putting someone on a range of cards is much more complicated than it looks. Also, don’t attempt to follow Daniel’s example in the above movie and put your opponent on an exact hand: most of the time it doesn’t work for Negreanu either, so it’ll definitely be the wrong kind of approach on your part. Try to assign a range of cards for your opponent and then narrow it down progressively. At the beginning of the hand, before the very first action is consumed, you can’t put him on any sort of a range. As soon as he makes his first move though, you’ll be able to assign an extremely wide range. As the hand progresses and you gain more and more information from your opponent through his gestures and most importantly through his betting pattern, you’ll eventually narrow that range down enough for it to become usable information in your decision making process.
Never doubt this: your opponent’s betting pattern is by far the most important read you’ll ever get. He may be a good actor and he may be the owner of the world’s best poker face, but his betting will always give away information just waiting to be decoded by his opponents. Needless to say, the betting pattern is the only tell which is available online as well as live.
In order to be able to determine an opponent’s likely range of hands, you need to have an understanding of his game. I’m not talking about picking up on the table image he desperately tries to project, but rather about picking up his real game pattern. Is he a rock, a loose limper or your average TAG player? Once you understand this, only then do his betting patterns start to make sense.
Again: the video above is actually an example of the wrong type of approach in putting your opponent on a hand. Daniel made his read right after his opponent’s preflop re-raise and that’s not something you should attempt. Negreanu’s most certainly read that young player pretty well beforehand and he called out his read to confuse the guy. Quite obviously, his strategy worked as his opponent was completely thrown off-track and scrapped any sort of strategy to try to milk those aces and thus Negreanu took his pair of Qs all the way to the showdown cost-free.
Also, Negreanu’s decision to put money into the pot knowing his opponent’s hole cards, might’ve made McClean contemplate the possibility of a Q,Q in Daniel’s pocket.
Anyway, it’s a brilliant poker read, not something that you should try at home though.