Monday, February 19, 2018

How to Put Them on a Hand: 7 Tricks the Pros Use

How to Put Them on a Hand in Poker
Putting your opponents on a hand at the poker tables is one of the most valuable skills you can learn. This is especially important in the small stakes games because we all know how crazy the players can be!

Many people struggle with this though. However, it really isn't as difficult as you might think. There are several "tricks" that I and many other poker pros use to read their hand right almost every time.

And it really is important to remember that you will never get it right every single time. Sometimes every single sign will point to a bluff, so you make the call and they turn over the nuts instead.

But I have used these strategies effectively for many years to read their hand right most of the time. So let's get started!


1. Timing Tells


One of my favourite ways to put them on a hand is through timing tells. Most people do not realize but they are giving off subtle timing tells almost every time they play poker.

Most people aren't even aware of them. The pros are though. I am always paying heavy attention to them especially when I am playing online.


Here is the gist of it:
  • Taking too long to act = nuts or bluff
  • Acting too quickly = mediocre hand

When somebody is going into the tank for a decision this almost always means that they have a huge hand and they are trying to figure out the best way to play it. Or conversely, they have nothing and they are thinking about how to run a big bluff on me.

In other words, the strength of their hand is very black or white: nuts or nothing.

When somebody just calls me right away though (or bets almost instantly), this is often a dead tell that they have something decent but not amazing (i.e. middle pair, top pair, a draw).

And the reason why is because most people consider these middle strength hands to be an obvious call or a quick bet. In other words, there is nothing really important for them to think about.


How can you exploit this?

So there are many ways to exploit this. When they are taking way too long to make a fairly standard decision I will often just call if I have a decent made hand like top pair or a draw.

KQ

on KT424 for instance.

There is absolutely no point in raising here because they either have me crushed with AK, trips, a full house etc. Or they are just on some wild bluff and I obviously have them crushed.

Conversely though, if they are betting way too fast on a board like this you might want to consider turning some sort of weaker hand into a bluff on the flop, turn or river.

This is especially the case if they are the type of player who is capable of folding a decent hand like KJ here.

Because once again, it's all about the timing tell. When they act way too fast this tells me that they didn't think very much about what to do. And therefore this indicates to me that they probably don't have a really strong hand.


2. Bet Sizing Tells


Bet sizing tells are another easy way that I and many other pros use to put somebody on a hand. Once again, most people don't even realize that they are doing it.


Here is a simple breakdown once again:
  • Big bet sizing = mediocre hand
  • Small bet sizing = nuts or bluff

By "big bet sizing" here I mean something like 80% of the pot or more. And by "small bet sizing" I mean 50% of the pot or less.

In order to understand this better you need to know how small stakes players think. Many of them are highly superstitious and play according to emotion and recent results rather than logic and mathematics.

There is actually an entire section in Crushing the Microstakes entitled "Fish Psychology" if you want to learn more about how recreational players in particular think at the lower stakes.

So when they blast the pot on the flop with a big bet this often means a mediocre hand that they are trying to "protect" such as top pair or even an overpair.

However, when they bet small this often means a nut hand (i.e. two pair, a set, trips) that they don't want to "scare" you away with. A small bet can also mean a total bluff too.

Keep in mind that this is not the logical or profitable way to play poker. I am just describing how losing poker players think.

From a strict GTO perspective your bet sizes should always be the same no matter what the strength of your hand is.

And if you are playing at the micros an exploitative approach is even more profitable. Unsurprisingly this involves doing the exact opposite of what the losing players do.


3. The Big River Raise Out of Nowhere


Another one of my favorite tells that small stakes players give off is the big river raise out of nowhere.

Many lower stakes players like to sandbag (slowplay) their big hands because they saw their favorite high stakes pro on TV do this. Or because once again, they are afraid of "scaring you away."

And again, this is not the logical or profitable way to play poker. This is just how bad poker players think which is the only thing that matters here.

So they check/call you all the way until the river and then hum and haw for a few moments before putting in the big raise out of nowhere.

This is so transparent especially on a dry board like:

KK742

There are no draws that got there. They are basically representing the nuts or nothing. And with weak passive bad players at the micros, it is almost always the former here.

So if you were value betting your TT for instance here on the river, you can safely fold knowing that they probably flopped trip kings.


4. The Turn Mini-Raise


The turn mini-raise is another dead giveaway of strength from most small stakes players. This is another way that they like to try and increase the size of the pot without scaring you away.

And it fools many people. After all, how can you fold your AA to just a mini-raise on the turn?

What you need to remember though is that if they have what they are representing (two pair or better), then you are drawing very thin.


Here's an example:

How to read their poker hand

So you have AA and you get mini-raised on the turn on this board. The problem is that if they have two pair or better (like they often will), then you have just 18% equity in the pot.

That's bad.

And what that really means is that you are just throwing away money by calling the turn raise even though the raise is only the minimum amount.

Don't fall for this little trick of theirs. Just laugh and throw your hand away especially against passive players with low a low aggression factor on your HUD.

Trust me, you will be saving yourself a lot of money in the long run.


5. Emotional Play


One of the biggest things that separates poker pros from all the amateurs is emotion based play. It is not that pros don't tilt, it is just that they do it far less often and it is nowhere near as obvious.

When a recreational player is losing though, it often becomes readily apparent that they are steaming. You may have heard the term "a fish on tilt" before.

This is because there is no more profitable situation for you to be in.

All of the sudden they will start playing way more hands than usual, betting more often and sometimes getting visibly upset in the chat online or through their facial features and demeanour if you play live.

The pros are paying attention to all of this.

When I sit down to play poker the first thing I always do is make a note of who the weak players are. I am looking for all of the typical signs of bad poker players.

After I identify them I am also paying very close attention to if they are winning or losing.

If they are winning, then I expect them to play a straightforward game and not try to bluff me very often. When people are winning they tend to want to "protect" their winnings and play it safer.

Again, not logical or profitable, but this is how recreational players in particular think about the game of poker.

When they are losing however, I expect them to take many more risks by playing weaker hands than normal and running really bad and often transparent bluffs.

So when I know a fish is steaming I will often make really light call-downs with a hand like top pair no kicker or even middle pair. If they have been winning though and they bet strong, I will just throw a hand like this away.


6. HUD Based Tells


Anyone who reads my blog posts or my books knows that I am a heavy proponent of using a HUD online, when you can.

Your heads up display simply gives you key information on how your opponents play that can often make it much easier to know what to do in a difficult spot.

For instance, if somebody at the micros re-raises me preflop then I can immediately look at their Preflop 3Bet% stat to get a better idea of what type of hand they likely have.


Here is a rough guide:
  • 1-3 = Nuts
  • 4-6 = Strong with a few bluffs
  • 7-10 = Quite a few bluffs, slightly out of line
  • 11+ = Way too many bluffs, totally out of line

So if I have a hand like AQ for instance and I raise it up preflop and somebody re-raises me, I am going to react very differently depending on their 3Bet%.

Versus the player with a 3Bet% of 2, I am probably going to throw my hand away. Yes you read that right, I will fold. And the reason why is because AQ is garbage versus a 2% range.

Versus a player with a 3Bet% of 10 though, I will be calling at the very least and sometimes 4Betting for value as well.


7. Physical Tells


While I am mostly an online player, physical tells play a big part of reading somebody's hand if you are playing live poker.

The most classic signs are acting nervous and all of a sudden saying very little. While some pros are capable of giving off "reverse tells," most of the time with an amateur this means a strong hand.

On the flip side, when they are acting nonchalantly and very talkative, this often means that they are bluffing. They are trying to give off a false sense of strength.

This is why you will see pros often try to talk to their opponent and engage them during a big river decision for instance. They are fishing for information.

My suggestion is that you try to act the same no matter if you are bluffing or if you have the nuts. My favorite approach is just to calmly stare straight ahead and say absolutely nothing.

You never want to give away any free information at the poker table. And with live poker, practice makes perfect. Be aware of the physical tells that other people give off and try to eliminate any that you may have.


Final Thoughts


There are many ways to put somebody on a hand at the poker table. Some of my favorite ways online are to watch out for timing and bet sizing tells.

You also want to be careful of turn and river raises at the lower stakes in particular. Most players at these limits are very passive and therefore they are representing a very strong hand when they do this.

You also want to always be aware of the recreational players in particular and whether they are winning or losing. They will often play emotional and make many more bluffs if they are losing and play safer and straightforward if they are winning.

Lastly, if you are playing online, make sure you look out for any HUD based tells. Many low stakes players have badly unbalanced stats which almost give away the strength of their hand.

And finally, if you play live it is important to understand physical tells and work on not giving any off yourself.

Let me know in the comments below how you put them on a hand at the poker tables. Do you have any other tips or tricks?

How to Put Them on a Hand at the Poker Table

19 comments:

  1. Timing tells are very obvious at the micros. When someone takes a long time to act they are thinking about the hand more deeply. I've noticed it too and I'm sure of it because its something I do and probably most people do too ha. Turn min raise is an interesting one, thanks for pointing these out.

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    1. Thanks for reading, glad this article helped!

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    2. Also, check to see if they're playing more than one table. If they're multi-tabling, long pauses often mean they don't have anything interesting, and don't care if they time out.

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  2. Great article! Question: When (at what stake) do you think you need to start being a bit more aware of reverse tells online? For example the turn min-raise being a ”delayed semi-bluff” or something? Or the big river bet being a bluff? I’m always a bit afraid of being exploitable when I follow principles like this, maybe I don’t really need to be? Not at the micros anyway. I’m currently playing nl10.

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    1. Thanks Hej! I would say that you wouldn't need to worry about a significant number of regs actively trying to use reverse tells online until at least NL100 and possibly even higher. And you never have to worry about it with the rec players, no matter the stakes.

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  3. I try not to give off timing tells but often don't manage to avoid doing them. I just can't be bothered to continually hollywood every check or fold in order to give myself to time to think at other points in the hand. Multi tabling makes this easier because you are usually doing a load of other stuff anyway. The turn mini-raise is a classic.
    One thing I'll say about bet sizing is that myself and a load of others I see are often doing the 1/3 pot value bet on the river and getting called by bad regs nearly every time. If you bet bigger they fold their middle pair and you miss out on a ton of value. In 2018, people fold a lot more rivers than maybe they did during a fishy boom. Once they've fallen for the 1/3 pot river bet a couple of times I've even done it as a bluff and got it through when I'm near certain they folded the best hand. A fish will also shove on you to a small bet and you call off with the nuts. So, be careful when you see small bets depending on player type.
    Cheers

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts Rob. I agree that it is hard to always avoid giving off tells. Multi-tabling does help though for sure.

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  4. In live situations,either talk when headsup or act like a statue,no matter if you have a stone cold bluff,the nuts or anything in between.Especially when regs are at the table.Being the talkative type like Will Kassuf,Daniel Negreanu or Tony G AND not giving away information takes a lot of practice and why deny it,you need to be a bit gifted.For most people I recommend stoneface silent when in a a hand no matter what you have.As for online timing tells,i remember watching Patric antonius always delaying a few seconds before making a decision no matter what.Thus not providing timing tells.Isildour1 on the other hand, used to instantly bet,raise,or jam no matter what.But all the holywood is meaningfull when you play against observing opponents.Otherwise is a waste of time and brain energy.

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    1. Hey Jimmy, lot's of good points here and I agree. For people who are naturally very talkative and can not give away tells, they should keep doing that. And ya the Isildur timing is interesting as well, he definitely defies the norms haha.

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  5. I think a lot of players will delay acting when they have a very strong hand in the belief that it looks like they are indecisive and therefore have a marginal hand. Of course if a player is multi-tabling then timing means very little because delays may simply be caused by action at other tables.

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    1. Hey Ed,

      Good point, very true. It is important to know who the regs are who are playing way too many tables, usually only happens on Pokerstars. A delay might just be them needing to act elsewhere.

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    2. Haha so true. Spot on. If someone calls your PF open, then tank call the flop, then tank calls your turn cbet when the board pairs then you may as well open-fold the river. :-)

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  6. Very nice as usual, obviously this regards people playing at least a little bit of poker. The fish remains a fish no matter what you do. I usually shove my strong hands (e.g. set) turn and they will call me 100% (or very near) with their flush draw, sometimes even with a gutshot or top pair no kicker. Sometimes variance becomes daunting since they flop river way too often, but in the long run it's easy money.

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    1. Hey Andrea,

      Yup exactly, fish are fish at any limit. I think it's important to remember that and not overthink your actions versus them.

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  7. Hi Nathan,
    "...how small stakes players think. Many of them are highly superstitious and play according to emotion and recent results rather than logic and mathematics."
    I absolutely love it ))
    So far, it is more or less clear how to treat small bets/raises from LSP's. Now how about donk bets? Are they along the same lines like small bets/probe bets? Has your position changed in any way since the time you wrote 'How to Approach Donk Bets' in 2012? Thanks

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    1. Thanks Taras!

      Even though that article is really old now my position is still largely the same. While the game of poker changes, fish don't really change. The strategy is always the same. And of course fish are ones who are going to be donk betting into you the large majority of the time.

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  8. I was watching some free material from upswing poker you recomended some time ago ... Doug Polk was saying in one of them that maximum 6 tables is enough to play every session and 7 - 8 tables is just ridiculous ... it's better to make good decisions from a few tables compared to bad ones from multi tables just to get the rakeback. Do you think this applies to every limit and we should definetly do not play more than 6 tables even when we feel comfortable ... or his advice is better when you play on higher limits ?

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  9. I don't agree with bet sizes. You shloud bet big when you have polarized range (nuts and bluffs) and bet small with merged range (medium strength hands, thin valuebets)

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    1. I agree with you. In this article I was talking about the rec players doing the opposite of this.

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