Hand reading is one of the most important concepts you need to grasp at the poker table, but it’s often a skill that leaves novice players scratching their heads
In general, it’s common for amateur players to pick out a hand from the myriad of those available and assign that to their opponent. For obvious reasons this is not only a difficult task (since there are so many possible hands available), but a futile one because your play should be determined by an opponent’s potential range.
As aspiring poker players we must always consider a spectrum of hands and whittle these down using a process known as funnelling. This process of logical deduction is the best way to improve your hand reading skills and to ensure that you make better decisions at all stages in a hand.
Breaking down the funnel principle
Before we launch into an explanation of funnelling it’s important to stress that this is a postflop process. Before the flop you need to use player types (tight, standard and aggressive) to help construct an average range – i.e. a tight player would have a small raising range and an even smaller calling range for raises.
Once you’ve got to the flop and have a general idea of the hands a player will have in their range you can begin to apply the funnel principle to reduce these options down into more manageable chunks.
Essentially, the process of funnelling involves eliminating hands from a player’s range based on their action on the previous street. Moreover, each proceeding ‘range’ must not be disconnected from a previous ‘range’.
For example, if you didn’t consider A-A to be part of a player’s preflop range then you can’t suddenly put this hand within his turn range. Additionally, you can’t assume that a player has a set on the turn if you believed that their flop range consisted of draws and top pair hands.
While the process of funnelling is simple enough to understand, the way you eliminate hands from someone’s range is somewhat more complex. Indeed, to truly master this skill you need to use a combination of logic, mathematics and perception.
One way to achieve a high success rate during the elimination process is to consider how your opponent would play their entire range on one street. Thus, if their pre-flop range consisted of ten possible hands then you need to think about how they’d play each of these holdings on the flop. During this process you must look at your opponent’s natural tendencies, any table history, their stack size, the makeup of the flop and the previous action.
By asking which hands they would raise, fold or call with, you should be left with a smaller number of possibilities when the action gets to the turn. For example, if the villain calls preflop and you assume that he 3-bets JJ+ in this spot, then there can’t be any A-A, K-K, Q-Q or J-J combinations in his range on the flop. This continues on the flop. If he calls there, you can eliminate hands from his range with which he would have check/raised or check/folded on the flop.
Putting the funnel principle into practice
To give you a better idea of how the funnel principle works in practice, take a look at this example:
- Game: NLHE$25
- Effective Stacks: 100BB
- Preflop: Hero is on the Button with XX
Three folds, Hero raises to $1.00, SB (a tight-aggressive player) calls $1.00, BB folds.
Your hand doesn’t matter at this point since you’re only interested in the villain’s range. Your opponent is seated at the table with 100BB, plays another four tables and you haven’t seen much bluffing from him so far. So far you can assume that he is a TAG.
The average calling range for a TAG in the small blind is as follows:
TT-22, AJs-ATs, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, AJo-ATo, KJo+ (#134)
($2.25) K♠-3♠-2♥ (two players)
SB checks, Hero bets $1.50, SB calls $1.50
Based on your thought process lined out above, you know that the villain sees the flop with the following range: TT-22, AJs-ATs, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, AJo-ATo, KJo+ (#134). Since your opponent called again, you can eliminate those hands from the range that he would have raised or folded.
The villain would raise strong hands on the flop such as sets to maximize his value and he would also raise semi-bluffs such as flush draws to get better hands to fold. Hands that haven’t hit anything or weak pairs would be folded on the flop which is why you can eliminate these hands from his calling range on the flop.
Fold: 66-44, AJ, AT, QJs, QTs, JTs
Raise: 3-3, 2-2, A♠-J♠, A♠-T♠, Q♠-J♠, Q♠-T♠, J♠-T♠
Call: TT-77, KTs+, KJo+
As you can see, you have narrowed down villain’s range significantly compared to his preflop range. The funnel is getting smaller.
Turn: ($5.25) K♠-3♠-2♥-3♦ (two players)
SB checks, Hero bets $4.00, SB calls
On the turn, you can follow the same principle used on the flop. Villain can call, raise or fold. If he calls, you can eliminate those hands that he would have raised or folded.
Your opponent won’t raise any hands on the turn: all strong hands would have raised the flop and there are no decent options for a bluff.
Now you have to ask yourself which hands he would fold on the turn. Most likely he would fold TT-77.
Fold: TT-77 (#24)
Call: KTs+, KJo+ (#27)
As a result of this process, you see the villain has the following calling range on the turn: KTs+, KJo+.
River: ($13.25) K♠-3♠-2♥-3♦-7♠ (two players)
SB checks, Hero bets $9.00, SB calls $9.00
Since you have already removed sets and flush draws from villain’s range on the flop, there are no hands left on the river that he would raise. He folds KT and KJ, leaving only KQ from his calling range on the turn that he would call again on the river.
An Important Point
As we’ve mentioned, you can’t simply reinsert a hand into someone’s range once you’ve eliminated it on a previous street. However, in some situations you will be forced to do this because the action facing you doesn’t leave you with any other option.
For example, if you were on the river and facing a raise, it’s very likely a novice would only be doing this with a very strong hand. However, if you’re funnelling process left you with a range that didn’t include such hands, then you’d have to consider the one hand you’d excluded and weigh up the chances your opponent would be holding it.
If you’re looking to become a better poker player then you need to know how to read hands and one of the best ways to improve this skill is by using the funnelling process. Cutting down someone’s range as the hand progresses is the best to ensure you make the right move on every street and increase your bottom-line.
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