In a prior Cardplayer Lifestyle article of mine called “Hand Reading is the Most Important Poker Skill”, I laid out the steps to hand reading. The first, and most important, of these steps is putting your opponent on a preflop range of hands based on how they entered the pot.
This is easy to do while studying with range analysis software like Flopzilla Pro:
However, while playing it can be tough to visualize your opponent’s range especially if you’re just beginning to build your hand reading skills.
Let me give you some range visualization tricks I use when putting my opponent on a range while playing.
If I were to ask you to think of a very tight 3betting range of 3%, what hands are in that range? You might tell me JJ+ and AK. Great!
Now, close your eyes and visualize what that range looks like in Flopzilla Pro with only JJ+ and AK highlighted. It looks like a small arrow or club up in the top left-hand corner of the Starting Hands section:
Can you visualize a range comprised of all pocket pairs and all Broadway cards? It looks like a diamond-shaped street sign:
Now add to this range every Ace along with suited-connectors 56s and higher. This is a potential later position open-raising range. What does it look like to you? To me, it looks like a stealth bomber with a vapor trail (heavy on the suited side):
Lastly, try to envision the stealth bomber range above as a caller’s range, so it will be missing the strongest 3betting hands like QQ+ and AK. To me that looks like a double fishing hook.
Also, realize that many ranges are often heavier with suited hands. So, visualize more hands in the suited yellow area (on the right above the pairs) than in the off-suit pink area, especially calling ranges.
Now that you have your opponent’s range visualized, you can use it to make plays against them as the hand progresses.
You open-raise with TT in the cutoff and the tight player on the button 3bets you to 8BBs. You visualize his range as the arrow-looking JJ+ and AK (Figure 2 above).
The blinds fold and action is back on you. You have a reasonable read on this player and you believe he’ll check-behind without an overpair or top pair hand on the flop, and you know how to exploit his fit-of-fold tendencies.
You decide to call to see the flop, even though your TT is way behind at the moment. How far behind are you? Take action: whip out Flopzilla Pro and see for yourself.
The board comes down KT5r. You flopped middle set! You realize that a large portion of his range hits top pair or better, so you check in hopes he cbets. He does exactly that with a 2/3 pot flop cbet.
How do you respond?
Give it some thought before you read on. I’m burying the answer in this paragraph, but your options are to fold, call or raise. Folding is out of the question, so it’s a call or a raise. I’m raising here every time because I’m a firm believer in getting value while the getting’s good. With his range visualized, I can see in my mind’s eye that a majority of it hits top pair or better. Plus, given that this fit-of-fold player made the cbet, it means I can go for maximum value.
Flopzilla Pro shows us he hits top pair or better with 63.6% of his range, and we’re only losing to three potential combos of KK:
Getting back to the action, you raise 3x his bet, he re-raises all-in and you snap call knowing he’d play this way with AK and AA. He turns over AK and you take down a huge pot thanks in part to your visualization of his 3betting range.
Visualizing your opponent’s ranges is the first step to hand reading on-the-felt. It’s going to take some practice to train your range visualization skills, so be sure to take action and visualize your opponent’s ranges as you play this week.
And if you’re interested in becoming a hand reading master, the Hand Reading Course within ThePokerForge.com (one of the 9 masterclass courses) will teach you how to hand read both on- and off-the-felt and use this skill to crush your opponents.