Poker Guide: Three Common Ways of Evaluating Poker Hands

Poker has evolved over the years, with different styles and ways of thinking, for example when dealing with hand reading and ranges. In the past, players would put their opponent on a hand and then compare it with their own hand. Poker has grown since then, so let’s look at the three most common approaches to hand reading.

My Hand vs their Hand

Playing $1/$2 NLHE 6-Max, we are holding As-Ks on the button. After a player in middle position limps in, we raise to $6 and our opponent calls. We put our opponent on 8-8, because they always limp-call with 8-8 in middle position. The flop comes Ad-8h-7c and our opponent bets the pot, which they always do with a set, and we make the easy decision to fold. (It’s never this easy).

My Hand vs their Range

$1/$2 NLHE 6-Max, we are holding As-Ks on the button. After a player in middle position limps in, we raise to $6 and our opponent calls. We now put our opponent on a range of hands that we know they limp-call with from middle position. Are there any pairs our opponent would limp in with? Yes: with 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, or 9-9. With bigger pairs like T-T, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, or A-A they would raise or 3-bet against us. We have to do the same thinking for all other hands and scenarios.

Opponent’s limp-calling range: 22-99, A9s-AQs, AJo-AQo, KJs

Opponent’s limp-folding range: A2s-A8s, A8o-A9o, KJo, QJs, QJo, JTo

Opponent’s raise/3-betting range: TT-AA, AKs, AKo

You can ignore this player’s limp-folding range and raising range in this situation as they have limp-called. However, we now have a very good idea of what our opponent is not holding, which gives us a good clue as to what they are holding. So when the flop comes Tc-Qc-Th we can immediately rule out hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, or TT, because they are in our opponent’s raising range, and the same goes for their limp-folding range.

We then need to figure out how their existing range hits the flop. Now, their range vs our AKs on a flop of Tc-Qc-Th puts gives us approximately 50% equity.
We bet the flop and know from previous reads that this player will only continue with draws, made hands or over cards, as below:

Opponent’s limp-calling range: 22-99, A9s-AQs, AJo-AQo, KJs

Opponent’s Flop folding range: 22-99, A9s

Opponent’s flop continue range: ATs-AQs, AJo-AQo, KJs

The turn comes Kh giving us top pair, top kicker, but more importantly it makes 50% of their hands behind us and 50% ahead.

Their range ahead: ATs, AJs, AJo

Their range behind:AQs, AQo, KJs

If you factor in the fact we have top pair, top kicker with two redraws to either a straight or full house, we now have 73% equity.

Through a series of actions on the flop, turn and river we can narrow our opponent’s range based on their previous play and overall style, plus how we think they perceive us as a player, in order to make the best possible decision.

Obviously to do something as complex as this during a real live hand is pretty tough. However, any extra information you have, such as something simple like knowing an opponent won’t call a 3-bet with 22 to 88, but will 4-bet with 99-AA, will help.

Let’s assume you 3-bet an opponent with 22, knowing they won’t continue with 22-88, and the flop comes down 3-7-8, you can comfortably bet here knowing your opponent has no pairs and more likely hands like AQ, AJ, KQ etc. You’ll often take this pot down with a continuation bet.

This is a good strategy to learn. Thinking about your opponents’ ranges is going to help improve your game, but believe it or not there is an even better strategy.

My Range vs their Range

$1/$2 NLHE 6-max, we are holding 8s 7s on the button, a player in middle position raises to $6. We 3-bet and they call.

We now need to figure out what hands our opponent will raise-call with from middle position.

Let’s say their range for raise-calling is: 88-JJ, AQs, AKo

We assume that with bigger pairs or AKs they would 4-bet, and they would fold all other hands.

Big Poker Pot

If we bet the flop it’s likely our opponent will reraise us to protect their hand. We could then flat call, hoping the turn doesn’t scare them too much. It’s possible they’ll hit a set on the turn, or still have an overpair, and we get all the chips in.

The point I’m trying to make here is not how the actual hand has been played, but how we would play our range in this position. Would we bet-call the flop with most of our hands here? Sets, overpairs, draws and straights etc? If so it’s very hard for our opponent to put us on the straight, so it makes sense to bet.

Many players would check-call down to the river here, either hoping not to scare their opponent off because they have the nut straight, or because they are scared of the flush. But by thinking about your opponent’s range, as well as your own range, it’s likely the more aggressive line will win you the bigger pots in the long run.

After all, the bigger pots are what we are here for!