You need basic poker hand-reading skills

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When you’re in a tough situation at the poker table, it’s necessary to sit back and put all the pieces of the puzzle together to come up with an optimal decision. While you may end up losing the hand, as long as you figure out your opponent’s range with fairly high accuracy, you’ll win in the long run.

This hand took place in the $10,000 WPT event at the Hard Rock Hollywood in Florida. I had been playing a fairly loose aggressive game during the first level, though I wasn’t playing overly crazy. The blinds were 50-100.

I raised with {j-Spades}{j-Diamonds} to 300 from early position, the cutoff, button and both blinds called. We were all deep-stacked with around 30,000 chips. The flop came {q-Diamonds}{j-Clubs}{4-Spades}. The blinds checked to me and I bet 850 into the 1,500 pot. Everyone folded to the small blind, Ali Eslami, who called. Ali had lost a few small pots to me earlier in the day so I thought he might be trying to win his chips back, which is almost always a mistake. At this point, it’s important to try to nail down your opponent’s range. He could have a queen, jack, four, or an open-ended straight draw. I think we can discount hands such as Q-Q or 4-4, as he would probably raise the flop, so in general, I think his range is fairly weak. It’s also worth noting he may decide to float here with something like A-10 or maybe even air like 5-5.

The turn was the {8-Diamonds}. He checked and I bet 1,600. He made it 4,100. Here, he’s trying to represent a monster, like a set, which I already ruled out, a straight, which does make sense, or nothing.

Since there are few combinations of straights and a lot of combinations of nothing, I think we have a pretty easy call because if I raise, he’ll fold all of his bluffs and continue when he has a monster. It’s important to not force your opponent to play optimally by (essentially) turning your hand face up, which is what most amateur players would do in this spot.
We’re calling here not because we’re scared we’re beat, but because we don’t want to force him to fold all of his non-nut range.

The river is the {10-Diamonds}, putting a one-card straight out as well as a backdoor flush. He bet 5,850 into the 11,400 pot and I made a fairly easy call. Though a ton of draws got there, it’s unlikely he would show up with too many of them because I have the JD in my hand. This means he could not have JD-10x and the pair of jacks plus backdoor flush-draw hands. I was also getting 2-to-1, which is always nice. Interestingly, if I had {j-Spades}{j-Hearts} in this spot instead of {j-Spades}{j-Diamonds}, I think this would be a close spot because he could have many more combinations of straights and flushes. It’s always important to remember to take hands out of his range when you have a key card in your hand. When I called, he quickly mucked his hand.

Hand-reading is a skill every poker player must develop. If you find yourself constantly confused about your opponent’s holding, you’re not thinking during every hand or you’re not paying attention. Pay attention to every hand at the poker table, even when you aren’t involved. I often see players playing on their phones or watching TV when they aren’t involved in a hand. This is a huge mistake. If you have more information about your opponents than they have about you, you will find the money coming your way in the long run.

— Jonathan Little is the Season 6 WPT Player of the Year and is a representative for Blue Shark Optics. If you want to learn to play a loose-aggressive style, which will constantly propel you to the top of the leaderboards, check out his poker training website at FloatTheTurn.com.