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How to Put Players on a Hand

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If you want to play good poker, you need to know how to put a player on a hand. This is a concept frequently misunderstood by players and many people tend to think that it is about putting a player on two exact cards.

That is only possible if you have spent many hours playing with the same person. It rarely happens, but you may get lucky enough sporadically to find a player who is so uncreative that allows you to know when they hold a monster hand and when they don't.

You may be wondering how you can possibly play the player, as you must have read in many poker books, if you have almost no chance of putting a player on two cards. Simple.

Remember that in poker there are limited actions you can take:

  1. Raise
  2. Call
  3. Fold

In general, players tend to bet similar amount every time they bet and they also tend to take the same actions when they hold different hands, which makes it difficult to put them on two exact cards.

In this situation, you need to use the information you have, even when it is limited, and avoid guessing. The information you have is called a range.

When we talk about range we mean all the poker hands in which a player would take a particular action. Suppose you are under the gun (utg) in a six-handed online $200NL poker game, if you are a solid player you should raise with 22+/JTs+/QTs+/KTs+/AJo/KQo.

The example above shows in fact a quite tight range of about 17% of all the hands that could possibly be dealt. Playing with someone who has a narrow range is quite easy since all you need to do is fold when you have a bad hand, reraise when you have a good hand and call when you have a hand with tricky implied odds.

Playing post-flop is another story and can get much more complicated. Let's see an example.

Giving opponents a range example

Suppose you have QClover QHeart in the CO of a $200NL poker hold'em tournament. Folds to you and you open for $7. Folds to the BB who decides to call.

In this case you can see that the BB is loose but not dumb. In general, he tends to call too much before the flop, he is not too aggressive after the flop and he overvalues his hands. When the hand started he had $159 and $150 when he got to the flop. You cover.

Note that you are in the CO and you tend to raise a lot in the CO and you usually try to steal the blinds at a clip of around 35% whenever you have the opportunity. This means your range is quite wide. On the other hand, the BB calls a lot too and he probably knows that you like to raise a lot. When a bad player sees other players raising, they decide to call a lot more.

In this case, the player most likely believes that you have a wide range of hands and you know he does have a wide range of hands.

The flop

The flop comes out TClover 5Heart 3Diamond. After the rake, there's $15.5 in the pot.

This is really the best possible flop with queens. You are ahead of the BB's hand, unless he holds TT/55/33, and he probably has five outs or fewer to improve his hand. Now, the BB checks to you and you decide to bet $10. You don't want to bet big because of ranges.

In case you bet a large amount, he will usually fold if he has a hand like 77 or 76. He will never fold if he has a flopped set. He is not likely to fold a ten if he faces one big bet on the flop, however, he could feel nervous on the turn or the river and not risk all his money with his five-out draw.

If you are facing such a board, the best for you is to get called a lot. You decide to bet a small amount because he'll make a big mistake if he calls. Here you win money by making him call small bets frequently and wrongly.

As we said you go $10.

The BB checkraises to $27 total.

You should notice three things here. First of all, you are playing in a site that offers a "Bet pot" button and your opponent has decided not to use it and make a small bet instead. This might confuse you. He could certainly take this action with a set, because he is trying to build the pot but he could also believe that holding a pair of tens is a good thing in this situation. In this situation, the BB could call out hands such as T9s, KTo, AT, JT, etc. A good poker player would never have such a hand, but the BB is not a good player, which means you can't rule them out completely.

You decide to just call the $17 more. Right now, you believe his range is T9s+/JTo+/TT/55/33.

Some people may believe you are just being generous but we have to take into account that we are dealing with a weak player. If you had been playing against a good player, then you probably would have called the $17 too, for a different reason.

With your call, the pot, minus rake, gets to $68. The effective stacks are now $125.

The turn

An offsuit 6 comes out in the turn and now the board is T Clover 5Heart 3Diamond 6Spades.

The BB checks.

It's an unusual action, what does it mean?

Chances are he is getting tricky, holding a set and making two checkraises straight. Remember that people who are not good players tend to make odd plays. He is not likely to hold two pair and the six is a complete brick. In case he holds a pair of tens, then his hand did not improve and if he holds a set, then he does not need to improve his hand.

Don't give him too much credit though. Maybe he realized he made a small flop raise and now believes you are getting fancy with AK. Maybe he believes you have a weak ten such as T9. You know he did not improve and still have him on the same range. However, you believe he could possibly call a turn bet not only with a set but also with a lot of his top pairs.

Next you bet $40.

Once again, you don't want to make a big bet at this point since you want your opponent to call often. Except if he has a set, calling this bet would be a mistake, which means you need to make a lot of medium size bets to small bets in order for him to call often.

This is the moment of truth because if the BB decides to Check/raise you will probably call out of frustration and also because you are scared that he might be just overplaying a ten. If he goes all in with the $85 he has left, no matter if you are not favorite to win since the pot has another $140 and you can't kiss your equity in that money goodbye.

However, the BB calls and you are sure now that he just has a ten. You don't know for sure what his kicker is but you know he is holding a ten.

The river

A nine comes out in the river, which improves T9, so the BB decides to check, you bet enough money to make him go all in with $85 and he calls getting 2.7:1 with ATo.

Giving an opponent a range analysis

Although it may seem like a really simple hand in which an overpair wins 3/4s of a buy-in from a player with tptk, consider what it would be like playing against a good player.

If you face a good player, after the flop checkraise you should put him on a range similar to ATs/88-TT/55/33/76s/+some bluffs. Take into account that a good poker Texas Hold'em player will bluff a lot of the time and he will know you have nothing most of the time. Even if you were holding a good hand you'll find it difficult to call even a small checkraise since you'll probably have to call turn and river bets and you'll only have a 23:1 chance of improving your hand and you would have to lose a stack to know if your hand is good or not.

In this situation, a good poker player would take advantage of your weak range with an entirely different range of hands.

This is a tough situation for queens. If you decide to push, he won't call often but if he calls, you'll be 23:1 almost always. Since queens are the best hand you could have in this situation, folding would be something you would really hate to do since you'll be letting him succeed with too many bluffs.

This means that if you are facing a good player, you should call the small flop too. Also, taking into account the stacks, you should be ready to push over a turn quite often.

On the turn, things change quite a bit.

When that six comes out on the turn and the other player checks, you are in a tricky situation. With the pot at $85, there is $125 left to bet. However, if you bet in an attempt to make him go all in, you'll fold out most of his bluffs and you'll lose $125 to his monster hands.

When facing a good player in this situation, you should check.

With a check, he will be able to take gutshots or ace-high bluffs to the river, which is something you should not be worried about. You should not be scared of four-outers or three-outers. You should be worried about the fact that he may still have a wide range on the river. As a result, if deuce or another brick rolls off and the good poker player decides to bet $55 on the river, you can call and expect to see a bluff often.

A final thing to notice

When you faced a bad player you were able to put him on a hand that included a ten. As he c/c the turn, you were able to know he had a ten, even though you could not establish if it was T9 or AT and you had to pretend you knew. You knew where you were at and that allowed you to win the $300+ pot.

On the other hand, with a good poker player you don't have much of a clue. He may have A3 or 55, maybe ATs. Since you are not sure, you are forced to play a smaller pot and you are likely to lose even that small pot quite frequently.

When you play against good players, you'll face a lot of tough situations. You should not try putting them on exact hands. Instead of playing poker by basing your actions on the information you have, you would be playing a guessing game.

Base your decisions on the information you have and leave the rest to the cards.

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