According to PokerFest Magazin, hand-reading is the brilliant brother of cheating.
Cheating in poker ideally attempts to find out the cards in the opponent’s hand in illegal ways. When you have this information, you can make tons of money and ruin your game partners. The definition of poker is: “a game with incomplete information”. But a cheater has the “complete information”, so what he plays can no longer be called poker, but imposture.
On the other hand, a good poker player will attempt to logically conclude during a poker hand exactly what the cheater tries to achieve illegally: what are the two cards that the opponent hides face down.
We all saw on Youtube Daniel Negreanu’s shows when, while in pot with a beginner opponent, he could tell his opponent what his cards were. The commentators were enthusiasts and when the cards were shown, the audience would burst into cheers, his opponent would be in shock and the commentators would call Negreanu an alien.
Well, it often isn’t very difficult to find out the opponent’s cards.
But most of the time it isn’t easy and the better your opponent, the more he’ll know how to mask the value of his hand by his actions.
Hand-reading is a process of successive restriction of the opponent’s possible hands during the betting rounds (preflop, flop, turn, river), until we manage to name a very small number (the ideal is one) of possible combinations in the opponent’s hand.
Here is an extremely simple example: we bet preflop and our opponent re-raises. At that moment, we already exclude all the 1326 possible combinations of very bad hands. A weak player will obviously do the re-raise with a bad hand as well, but this action will only turn against him, so it is fair to assume that we have a reasonable opponent before us, who would counterattack aggressively only with powerful hands. This is the
simplest example of hand-reading.
In Texas Holdem we have four rounds of bets – and as many occasions for us to eliminate another number of possible hands our opponent might have. With experience and with a lot of attention to the game, after the four rounds, an intelligent player will be able to restrict the possibilities to a sufficiently small group to know whether he is beaten or not.
There are no recipes for developing this ability. There are many resources which guide the players, but experience is the best teacher.
All we need to know now, at the beginning, is that the essence of the poker game is the art of reading your opponent’s hands: hand-reading.
The advice when you are at the beginning is to always wonder at the game table, at each of your opponent’s actions: what hands would I have if I were him and did what he did? Then, with this (large) list of hands in mind, wait for his next action, the next betting round, where you take over the same reasoning: “out of the large list of already settled possible hands, with what hands would he do what he is doing right now?”.
This way, you narrow your list. The next round is another occasion to narrow the list even more, until, in the end, you get a somewhat accurate idea, a “group of suspects” among which, most often, the real cards of the opponent will be as well. This is the secret of the great champions.
The rest is details.