The better our read, the more profitable our strategy, the more money we make, plain and simple. At the lower stakes, the ability to make a quick and accurate read is an essential skill. Players make numerous significant mistakes, but the field is large and it’s unlikely that you will be playing with all of your opponents regularly enough to make detailed reads with ample evidence, let alone remember all of those reads. This is especially true if you are playing infrequently or play regularly at places outside of your home-base casino.
Therefore, the amount of information you can glean from a single session is crucial. Zach’s article on how to get the most information from a single hand is an essential read to hone this skill. Our focus in this article is to understand how much we can learn from frequency based reads versus information from showdowns and to protect ourselves against bad reads that can turn our strategy from a winner into a loser. What should we be looking for to form reads? What information is most valuable? How can we quantify the certainty of our reads?
Let’s start out by defining some categories for our reads. Our most valuable reads come from hands that make it to showdown. These showdown reads are so valuable since they often come after several decisions were made and give a hand to include in several ranges. A single showdown read can answer questions such as “Does this player c-bet bluff?”, “Would this player ever slowplay on a draw-heavy board?”, and “Does this player bluff missed draws on the river?”. While one hand never gives a complete answer to any of these questions, it is important to have solid evidence of what players are capable of doing. At the lower stakes especially, evidence of bluffing is extremely important. We will often be folding exploitatively at lower stakes games without this evidence. I’ll refer you again to Zach’s article on extracting the maximum information from a single hand for more on this type of read.
A less common semi-valuable read is when a player voluntarily shows their hand. This has some of the benefit of a showdown, but is a little bit tarnished by a player showing the hand deliberately. Maybe this is the one bluff this player has ever made and wants to show it. One common instance of this behavior is players raising huge preflop and then showing a premium hand when everyone folds. This is excellent information and is always good for a chuckle. I can’t wait for the first person who demonstrates this behavior and then I catch them light in a set mining situation (AKA, old men… use your fold equity more!).
The most common type of read is a frequency based read. The reason this is the most common type of read is that we can make these reads every single hand. For one, we can gauge common HUD (heads up display) stats like PFR or Preflop-Raise (percentage of the time a player is the first to raise preflop) and VPIP or Voluntarily Put $ in Pot (percentage of time a player puts money other than the blinds into the pot preflop). It’s harder to collect a meaningful sample of post-flop reads in a single session, but it is still worth paying attention, particularly for players who see a lot of flops. These players are important to track since it is more likely you will face them in large pots and you will have a greater opportunity to gain meaningful data from their frequencies.
So how much can we really glean from a frequency based read? Let’s look at a few hypotheticals and try and figure it out. To start out, imagine you just saw a player open the pot 3 times in your first orbit, 9 total hands. Let’s assume that the player has the same opening range in every position. This is probably wrong, but not as wrong as it should be at the lower stakes, and it makes the math a lot easier.
So what are the odds that this player is opening a 10% range? 20%? 30%? 40%? If a player is opening a 10% range, then they will open 3 of 9 hands 4.5% of the time. That number is 17.6%, 26.7%, 25% respectively for the other opening ranges. Clearly we can’t be certain about a player’s opening percentage from a 9 hand sample, but even opening 3 hands in this timeframe makes a top 10% range unlikely. Someone raising a 10% range will open 3+ out of 9 hands just 5.5% of the time. When you consider that a top 20% range is 66+, A4s+, K8s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T9s, A9o+, KTo+, QTo+, and JTo, we can start feeling really good about 3-betting a fairly wide polarized range. When a player is likely opening closer to 30%, we can start abusing them with 3-bets.
Unfortunately, it is much harder to gain evidence that a player is truly tight. For example, a player has 14% chance of having a 20% opening range but opening no hands in a round. Therefore, it is important to have a large sample size before determining that a player is extremely tight. Also, some players will be extremely tight, but could still open 40% on the button. Therefore, the more positionally aware you can be with your frequency based reads, the better. Obviously, a single showdown can reveal a lot about a player’s opening habits. If someone opens ATo from early position, you can be fairly certain they aren’t playing a 10% range, or that they at least overvalue ace bad kicker hands.
Another valuable preflop scenario to pay attention to frequency is steal or squeeze opportunities. If someone jacks it up in the big blind after several limpers 3 opportunities in a row, you can be fairly certain that the player isn’t holding premiums. Wouldn’t it be fun to limp jam the small blind with AK after that player squeezes to a huge size and a few limpers call? With those blockers, you will be printing money.
Similar to preflop, more can be gained by witnessing postflop aggression than passivity. If a player c-bets 5/5 times, then their is just a 3% chance that they are only betting 50% of their range on the flop. Another frequency worth noting is how often a player will bet when checked to in position in heads up or 3-way spots.
I hope to do another article on this topic soon, but let’s recap some of our findings. At the lower stakes, we want evidence of players who are capable of bluffing and who are playing a wide range. These players will give us the hardest decisions but will also be putting a lot of money into play. Their frequencies and showdowns will undoubtedly reveal them sooner or later. For tight-passive players, their frequencies will be harder to gauge, but since the default read for a low-stakes player is tight-passive or loose-passive, we are more actively seeking information to counter this hypothesis.
Remember to always be paying attention so you can take full advantage of a showdown read when it happens. Since you are paying such vigilant attention in the first place, take note of players PFR % and VPIP % to try and gauge their preflop ranges. Be on the lookout for players who like to squeeze or bet into passivity. For aggressive players, keep an eye out for c-bet frequencies. Thank you for reading, and as always, please email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org