Hand strength is not simply defined by your cards and the board, but also by the lines taken by yourself and your opponent. Being ready to re-evaluate how good your hand is based on Villain’s action is one of the core skills involved in high-level hand reading. Let’s take a couple of examples where students commonly overlook the changeability of their hand strength.
Re-evaluating Due to Villain’s Aggression
Generally, the lines from your opponent which most decrease the worth of your hand are the aggressive ones. We open the HJ with J♥J♦ and are called by a weaker opponent in the BB. We get a complimentary flop of 8♠7♠4♣ and make a c-bet of 70% pot. This bet-size is great for maximising our earnings before this dynamic flop becomes scarier. The bigger bet also works well by protecting our equity from an array of draws and pair plus draw hands. Villain calls and we are feeling very good about our hand strength relative to his range. Many of his hands that beat two jacks would have raised the flop, but of course, we cannot make this judgment with certainty.
The turn brings the 2♥, Villain checks, and we bet again, putting in 80% of the pot. Villain raises 3.5x our bet and suddenly our stack is at risk. At this point we need to completely reset our evaluation of how strong our two jacks are.
When Villain raises, he is taking a line that is very non-standard for the population – a line that happens very rarely. If such an action was frequently taken with bluffs, we would see these raises from recreational players all the time, but we don’t. If Villain wanted to bluff us with some sort of draw, it would have been much more natural for him to simply raise on the flop. It doesn’t matter how inconsistent you previously thought his flop call to be with sets and two-pair. This turn raise is far less consistent with weaker hands than the flop call was with stronger ones. 80-90% of players simply do not have the weapon of raising big turn bets as a bluff in their arsenal, but many players do like to slowplay hands on the flop through fear of getting a fold.
We readjust our perception of our hand and find a very sensible fold.
Some students call here and inevitably end up facing an all-in on the river. Sometimes they call this too and lose very frequently. Other times, they call the turn and end up folding the river. This is perhaps the worst option of them all as there are two types of player who raises the turn: the guy with the mighty range, and the very aggressive one – both are likely to follow through on the river so why call the turn simply to fold the next street?
Re-evaluating Due to Villain’s Passivity
Understanding when our good hands become bad ones is the key to minimising losses but spotting when a relatively poor hand becomes strong due to your opponent’s lack of aggression is also very important.
We are in the BB with 10♥8♥ and call a BU 2.5BB open from a thinking regular. The flop comes J♦8♦4♠ and we check. Villain decides to check behind this time. On the 5♣ turn, we check again and once more Villain checks behind. Leading this turn would have been reasonable, but our weaker 8x is a little more suited to bluff-catching whereas our stronger 8x is better at extracting value by betting. The river is the J♠ and it’s time to ask how Villain’s passivity has affected the strength of our hand.
Well, we can begin by almost completely discounting any Jx or better. If these hands did decide to pot control for one street on the flop, they would almost certainly have bet the turn for value and to protect equity. While Villain could have a better 8 then us, this too is quite unlikely to have checked on both the flop and the turn. Our opponent’s most likely hands are small pairs, 4x, A-high and K-high, therefore, our second pair has become a monster. It is not just important to value-bet here, but to value-bet big! We also reach this spot with many air combinations and will want to bluff some of them on the river. A big size is perfectly acceptable with this hand now that it has been upgraded by our opponent’s passivity. We lead for full pot and he quickly calls with A♠Q♥.
Many players make the mistake here of thinking too much in terms of their absolute hand strength and keeping too static a view of their hand’s worth from the flop through to the river. They end up betting small or even checking a third time as a result. Their thought-process when firing a small bet might say: ‘Well, I’m only trying to get calls from A-high.’
What this player fails to realise is that their range could be full of bluffs. The opponent’s Ace-High is a perfectly good bluff-catcher. You will get called often by worse in this spot even if you make a large bet.
Avoid forming a set view about your hand strength; rather adjust your perception based on how Villain plays, and which hands become more or less consistent with his actions. An overpair can easily become trash and second pair can easily become a big value hand. You need to hand-read in order to see when hand strength gets reshuffled. The turn and river might not change the board texture, but this does not entail that your hand strength remains the same. Look at Villain’s line. What is it telling you?