Observational Reads

Dave Roemer | 1 month ago in Poker Theory and Concepts

By watching the action at your table even after you’ve folded, and trying to put people on ranges, you can quickly start to pick up information you can use in future decisions against them. If you are attentive you’ll be surprised at how much you start to see. But if playing live, you don’t get many hands per hour. And if in a tournament (as opposed to a cash game), you could be retabled sooner than you think and lose the ability to utilize reads on those players. So you need some things to look for that are easy to spot and actionable immediately. I’ve got a few for you.

First In Limping

While there are certain situations where open limping is valid, these typically occur on certain more shallow stack depths and specific circumstances… for the most part when you see someone open limping in a tournament or cash game, it’s a sign of a weak or inexperienced player. Take note of how they respond to raises once they’ve limped in. Will they call or fold. What raise sizing seems to push them over the fold threshold? When they limp/call and their hand gets shown, take note of the holding. Often it will be some weak, garbage hand, suited or connected. Do they ever show strong hands like AQ or TT? Some limp it all, and some just limp the junk. Knowing what these players are doing will help you be ready to adjust your ranges and sizing to take advantage of them.

Raising Inadequate Values

Let’s say you see a player open raise from early position, the hand ends up getting shown down and they hold 97o. This is a ridiculously bad open as its way too wide, but it also reveals some things about this player that we can infer. They are loose-aggressive, borderline maniac preflop. Their ranges will be relatively weak post flop because they’re getting involved way too light pre. They’ll be a great target to 3-bet because they simply can’t defend their ridiculously wide ranges properly… they’ll either have to call your 3-bets way too wide placing them at a big disadvantage post flop, or fold to your 3-bets at a high frequency allowing you to simply print money 3-betting them. The read and information can be gleaned with just this 1 hand sample through basic observation.

Calling Raises Light

Obviously a player who is calling raises with inadequate values can be exploited. For instance, it’s early in a tournament and effective stacks are 150 big blinds. A player opens to 3.5x, and the big blind calls. The hand gets to showdown and the big blind player holds 95o. This is a terrible blind defense. The price is poor with the open being to 3.5x, but this would be bad for smaller raises as well. The money is very deep and 95o plays horrible out of position, plays horrible post flop on deeper stacks, etc. Also if they are calling a single raise from the big blind with this hand, they are probably calling most any 2 cards. This means their range post flop will be abnormally weak by default, and they will be out of position without the initiative… pretty much creating a perfect storm to hemorrhage money. Moving forward we can raise this player’s blind wider for value and look to isolate them. BU v blind and SB v BB, hands that would be marginal opens at best against a strong player become very profitable against this guy. Raise a linear range rather than polarized, as we don’t want to be having pure bluffs preflop against this player but rather be hammering them for value with our distinct range advantage, an advantage they create by defending way too wide.

Barreling/Aggression Post Flop

Some players continuation bet the flop virtually every time they’re the preflop aggressor. Some barrel the turn with everything, some shut it down on the turn unless they’ve got the goods (good hand or good draw). Paying attention to this can give you good insight into what players hand strength is post flop. Take this example: A player opens UTG and gets called in 4 places. The flop comes A83 rainbow and they cbet, getting called by 2 of the 4 opponents. The turn is a 2 and they fire again, getting called by 1 player. River is another blank, they check, the other player checks. The aggressor shows KK, and the caller wins the pot with A5s. This leads me to believe the UTG player is an aggressive fun player. They clearly have an aggressive approach, but it’s blind aggression. Firing KK on an ace high board in a 5 way pot is a pretty significant aggression mistake. Barreling it on the turn after being called in 2 places on a dry ace high board is downright mental. This is a player we can exploit by calling down our decent showdown value hands more than we would against a tighter more reserved player. If this player raises on my big blind I’ll be inclined to defend a bit more liberally heads up, and utilize a robust flop check/raising strategy on textures better for my blind defending range than their opening range. When we flop a monster as the caller we can slow play a bit more because this person’s blind aggression will see them hanging themselves often.

There’s a lot of information that can be picked up from simply paying attention to your opponents actions and cross referencing that with the actual holdings they show down. Paying attention and trying to sniff out these reads like a detective will not only make the game more interesting and engaging (particularly when you’re card dead and thus not playing much), but also more profitable. It’s quite satisfying to pick up an observational read, make a strategy to exploit it, and see that exploit come to fruition. This is part of where the old expression “Poker is a people game played with cards, not a card game played with people” comes from.

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What reads/tells do you look for when playing live poker? Comment below!

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