Putting players on hands

Each month top British poker pro Marc ‘Mr Cool’ Goodwin gets to the bottom of some of the game’s trickiest concepts

How can you put an early position raiser on a hand?

The only way to put someone on a hand is to gain information. In order to do that you must bet. This will give you the first indication of what they have. If somebody raises from early position and you don’t know what kind of player they are, they could have almost anything. If you want to test their hand you can flat (min.) raise; if they re-raise then the range of hands you can put them on is suddenly diminished. You can probably put them on A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K or maybe J-J. If you don’t make that move then there’s no way of knowing what they’re holding, although there are still ways to define their hand after the flop.

How can you tell if someone has paired an Ace on the flop?

Let’s say a flop comes A-4-J. Very rarely will the initial raiser trap-check with their Ace on this dangerous-looking flop. In other words, if they check you can be pretty certain you’re able to bet. The reason is that players know they have to protect their hand in this kind of situation. If you’d raised from early position with A-K or A-Q and you got a caller, only for the flop to bring that board with two clubs on, then you wouldn’t want to let the next card come for free.

The other player could hit a flush or make two-pair with a weaker Ace. So if an opponent does bet out there’s a strong possibility they have an Ace and you should only play back at them if you have a stronger hand. (NB: One hand you might walk into after they’ve checked is a set.)

So if an opponent checks an Ace on the flop you should bet. Think about it logically: if they have A-K there are so many cards that could potentially put them behind, so they can’t let another one come out. If you called the initial raiser with 8-9 and he checks an Ace-high flop, he probably hasn’t got one in his hand. Don’t think, ‘Ah, he’s hit the Ace and being tricky, I’ll check too.’ If you do that you’ve shown weakness and he’ll come out betting on the turn. He may have raised with Queens and not liked the flop. He’ll almost definitely bet the turn after you’ve checked and more often than not you’ll have to fold.

How should you think about players’ hands in multi-way pots?

Imagine there’s an early position raiser and two callers before it reaches you on the button, and with your playable hand you’re getting value to call. The flop brings an Ace and a flush draw and the initial raiser checks, as do the two other callers. In this spot you should bet, even if you haven’t hit, because no one should be checking any kind of strong hand in a dangerous multi-way pot. If someone flat- calls your bet they’re probably on a draw. Now you have to work out what kind of draw.

It’s most likely they’re on a flush draw but not the straight draw if, for example, the flop features an Ace and a Queen as they’d only be drawing to four outs (or three if someone’s drawing to the flush). Realistically, it’s more to do with spotting the danger on the flop than recognising betting patterns. Of course, the longer you play with someone, the better idea you get of how they play in different situations.

How can you stop other people from putting you on a hand?

I sometimes like to bet hands out of character because it disguises the range of hands that people can put you on. If you know the guy next to you can follow the same level of logic as you, the only way you can get paid is to play hands in a way that isn’t conventional. If I hit a big hand quite often I will bet it because it makes it harder for people to put you on your holding – they won’t know if you’ve made a big hand or are drawing to it.

How important is it to track the hands that people are showing down?

It’s important to remember how someone bet throughout a hand. There are some times I would put my life on someone holding A-K. From watching the way they play you can just see it. They’ll make a raise, get re-raised and then push all-in. Nine times out of 10 they’ve got A-K. If you spot a player doing that you can get all their chips. That’s when you play your big hands strong and let them come back over the top.

Is there a difference in the way novices and pros play made hands?

Pro players don’t check their way through a small pot. If the blinds are 100/200 and you flat-call an opponent’s small blind raise to 500, there’s now 1000 in the middle. If you flop the nuts and check behind him in the hope he’ll bet out on the turn, what’s the most you’re going to get out of the hand if he doesn’t take the bait on fourth street?

The most you’ll get away with is a bet of 1000 on the end, but it’s more likely you’ll bet 500 or 600. That’s not much more than if you’d re-raised him off the hand pre-flop. That’s why you should always play big hands fast, especially if you’re not facing an aggressive foe. Beginners are more likely to slow-play out of fear they won’t get paid.

What’s more important: the hand that you’re holding or the hand that you put your opponent on?

The cards that you’re holding should be a lot less significant then the pre-flop action and the cards the flop delivers. As you play more you’ll find you’re actually playing against the way a certain player plays and according to how you play off against the range of hands you’re placing them on.

What makes you put your brakes on?

If a player is very brave pre-flop and very sheepish on the flop, it usually means they’ve got a big hand. In poker, people are usually giving you incorrect information. In other words if they’re looking strong they’re probably weak and vice versa – they haven’t got the skills to mask their hands so they overcompensate. When anyone is giving you information at the poker table voluntarily it’s usually misinformation and you can use that against them. Some pros will bet a big made hand and talk the player into calling by actually telling them what they’ve got.

Something else to look out for is that when some players have a monster, they pretend they’ve got a really hard decision as to whether they should stay in the hand. If you put in a bet and your opponent thinks for ages with a look of anguish and then calls, you should be very wary.

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