I recently released a single-hand exercise for Red Chippers to practice their hand reading skills. This spot is not uncommon in live games and as such it’s useful to study it in more detail. So I took all of the responses, churned through the data, and came up with 5 massive take-aways that every live player can benefit from.
Since this exercise was solely focused on hand reading and understanding betting/checking frequencies of our opponent, let’s start by dissecting the preflop range that most players assigned. If you remember, the situation we explored was:
So what range of hands did players assign to a “boring TAG” who raised over multiple limpers from the small blind? Not shocking, there was a HUGE amount of variation. The tightest range assigned was KK+ and the widest was A2+, K5+, Q7+ TJ, 22+. That’s the difference between a 1% range of hands and a 40% range of hands. (It should be noted that I got rid of some outlier answers that were even wider than 40%.) But on average, the assigned preflop raising range for the SB was 7.8% of hands – which comes out to 88+/AJ+/KQ.
This brings us to takeaway #1…
POINT #1: %-FORM
At least 25% of the players who completed this exercise did not know the %-form for the preflop raising range they assigned. Even accounting for players who did this exercise from their phone without poker software, this is quite large. It’s important to know how %-form converts into real hole cards, and vice versa. If you assigned a range of TT+/AK and said that was 20% of hands, you will want to spend some time with Equilab to make sure you are more consistently +/- a few % in the future.
Going postflop, the average player thought the SB would CB the flop 51% of the time. This number may have been much larger if the flop didn’t go multi-way, keep that in mind. But after dissecting this frequency and then exploring the exact makeup of the ranges assigned, the average person assigned a very depolarized CB range. Very few players thought the SB would CB with KQ (even KQ with a BDFD), so the 51% range was very strong and was comprised of a lot of top pair — and of course, some 88-KK as well.
POINT #2: CB Checking Range
Most players only explore the exact action taken. But if we explore the opposite, in this case the other times where the SB checks the flop, we see something very important. Given that most players thought the SB would bet 100% of their top pairs and sets, that means that when the SB checks they either have KQ type hands or second-pair hands that dislike the Ace. If the SB had checked, what would you have done here? (You can pause and answer that if you’d like. ♥)
Onwards to the turn: The average player assigned a lowly 44% double-barrel range. Of course, this is going to be a very strong range of hands.
Most players put sets, AJ, and top pair in here and began to massively remove hands like QQ and TT from the SB’s range. And here’s the important thing: Because players assigned such a low turn bet frequency, that means that only a fraction of SB’s top pairs would get bet.
POINT #3: TURN TIGHTNESS
Given the strong CBing range and the very tight turn barreling range that was assigned on average, villain would only bet 50% of his top pairs on the turn. But is this really true? Is the SB really going to check the turn that often with hands like AK and AQ? Another big thing to notice is that as-assigned the turn betting range would be just 16 combos. 16 combos in a double barrel situation in a single-raised pot is very rare…so keep in mind how realistic this assessment likely is.
The big takeaway is that on average players are likely assigning too strong of a turn betting range – though this isn’t shocking when many players are too tight on the turn in their own range constructions.
Going into the river, the SB finally decides to check and it’s our action. On average players assigned a 35% checking range, which subsequently means they thought villain would fire 65% of the time with nuttish hands. Based upon the few number of combos that got bet on the turn, that means the river checking range was exactly half the combos of AK and AQ. How’s that for a super narrow range of hands?
POINT #4: ADDING HANDS INCORRECTLY
Quite a few players added hands into the postflop ranges that were NOT in their preflop range. This is a major hand reading no-no. If the SB wouldn’t raise multiple limpers with A5s or 65s preflop, they couldn’t have improved to two pair on the river. I saw many players do this when assigning ranges on the turn and river especially. So if you do this when hand reading, just always ensure that you carry ranges from street to street, and never expand a range as action progresses.
Now there was one final question in this exercise, and that was: “As played, would you check behind, bet $250, or go all-in when checked to?” 74% of players said they would check behind on the river. And given the average checking range of AQ/AK that was assigned on the river, that’s not super shocking. Betting A4 into that range would yield about zero folds and would just end up setting money on fire.
But what most players forget is that we have a range here as well. Yes we hold A4s, but that’s just one part of our range. For a moment, let’s make the assumption that our range when we get to the river is A2s-A9s, 22, 66, the 4♥3♥, and a whiffed FD. If that’s the case, here is the GTO breakdown (thanks to GTORB) with our range vs our opponent’s range when he checks:
When we zoom in on our exact range we notice that we should be betting A4s 41% of the time and thus checking behind 59% of the time.
POINT #5: BETTING FREQUENCY
Most people wanted to just check-behind – and the average reasoning in the forum had to do with the SB having a very strong range when they checked to us on the river. While that’s true based upon the average assigned ranges — and just firing A4 into AQ+ in a zero-FE vacuum would set money on fire — we have to remember that when our opponent can hand read at all, we need to consider our own range. And at that point having an understanding of GTO gives us a great guiding light.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is one of those spots where players got close to the right answer…but for the wrong reason.
If nothing else, this kind of exercise is great for practicing your hand reading. Be sure to look at the averages to see what the average poker player assigns at each step of the way. It will help you to see if your assumptions are too tight, too loose, or right on track. And remember: When turning postflop frequencies into real ranges, you need to use your strategy-mind to really think about the way a player would shape their ranges. A player betting the flop 51% of the time doesn’t tell you much — unless you factor in how much of that betting range is strong vs. marginal vs. weak.
So keep practicing, keep analyzing hands like this, and you’ll keep finding leaks in your opponents’ strategies. It may seem awkward at first, but soon you’ll see their ranges more clearly and it will become a ton easier to identify new spots to bluff or value bet thinner. If you’re looking for a ton of exercises that you can jump into right now, pick up your copy of the Hand Reading Workbook. It contains 40 exercises that will help you analyze your own ranges, your opponent’s ranges, and even range-vs-range situations. Complete just 1 exercise per day and see how much easier it is to hand reading in a month’s time!