The ability to read your opponents’ hands is one of the most important skills in poker. Being able to figure out the other player’s holdings when involved in a pot gives you a huge advantage. But, where do you actually start and what do you need to know to be able to do this correctly?
This is where SplitSuit’s Hand Reading Lab comes in. Almost everything you do in poker is connected to what you believe your opponent has at any given moment and figuring out a correct strategy based on that information. Gathering that information, however, isn’t something that magically happens. Trying to just guess your opponent’s exact two cards isn’t going to cut it. In fact, that approach could hurt you in the long run.
Instead, you need to focus on figuring out their most likely range at the start of a hand and work your way from there. If you’re somewhat new to poker or have simply never done this kind of work, there is no reason to panic. The Hand Reading Lab provides you with all the tools and information you’ll need to become a very proficient in hand reading.
There are two programs that are crucial for this course: Flopzilla and Equilab. Sweeney uses them heavily throughout his Hand Reading Lab and you’ll need them to do the work on your own once you’re done with the course. The good news is, if you haven’t used them before, SplitSuit provides a lot of basic information that will help you get off the ground.
Just as an brief aside, here at HowToPlayPokerInfo, we are big fans of poker training and what it can do for your game in a quick and cost effect manner – in particular, we ranked this poker training course as one of the best of on the market. So if you want to find out more about the poker training available today and how they can help you become a better player, check out the links above.
Table Of Contents
Setting Up the Foundations
In the introductory video to this course, SplitSuit suggests it is best to see all videos in order they’re presented and having watched The Hand Reading Lab, this is good advice to adhere to. The structure is such that it guides you from the very foundations that you’ll need to understand before moving on to more complex things.
The first few videos explain theoretical principles that the whole course is based on. In the first few lessons, SplitSuit introduces three important laws that he refers to as three L’s. These are fairly simple concepts but they’re crucial for anyone looking to improve their hand reading skills.
- Linear – ranges are widest the beginning and get narrower as the hand approaches the end (showdown)
- Logical – defining opponents’ range needs to be based on the logic you believe they would use (which doesn’t necessarily have to be the same logic you use)
- Learning – you should learn from your and your opponents’ mistakes and always make adjustments based on the newly acquired knowledge
After going through these basics, Sweeney moves on to address the topic of ranges. It is really good to see that the course doesn’t automatically assume everyone knows what ranges are and how they work. This makes it much more approachable for those who maybe don’t have this kind of knowledge but and are only beginning their poker journey.
He really takes time to explain what ranges are and how they’re built using programs like Equilab. You’ll learn about the importance of being able to visualize the range and the important distinction between the shape and width of the range. Once you learn the basics, you’ll also find out about how to fine-tune these ranges so that they better fit your actual reads.
In these initial videos, SplitSuit also takes time to explain Flopzilla, another piece of poker software very important in this discussion. Although this isn’t a free program, it is well worth the money at only $35 for a very powerful piece of software. Flopzilla gives you the opportunity to look at different starting hands and see how they correlate with various board textures. All this information is vital when trying to figure out your opponents’ hand ranges.
The first part of the Hand Reading Lab course wraps up with a video featuring a number of exercises. These will have task you with assigning certain ranges and then setting them up in Equilab. This is a very good way for beginners to get used to range visualization and understand how certain percentages actually look like (i.e. what hands they contain). If you’re new to the idea of building ranges, definitely take a few minutes to go through these exercises.
Sharpening Your Hand Reading Skills: Preflop
After laying out the foundations, Sweeney moves on to what is the “meat and potatoes” of this course. How do you apply these theoretical concepts in practice and use them to figure out your opponents most likely holdings in different spots?
Of course, the first part of the course deals with preflop situations while the second section dives into postflop. As for the first section, it is divided into several video lessons that cover pretty much all major sports where you’ll need your hand reading skills, namely:
- Open raises
- Calling preflop raises
- Calling 3-bets
Of all possible ranges, open raises are the most static group so it is a good place to start. It is also crucial because understanding what kind of hands your opponents raise with will help you in all other sections, both before and after the flop. As Sweeney explains, most players don’t even think about these things so even being in the right ballpark when it comes to opening ranges will give you a big advantage.
Figuring out players’ 3-bet ranges stems from your ability to figure out their entire continuing range. This is where the ability to visualize a range really comes in handy. From the entire continuing range, players will select certain hands to 3-bet. However, 3-bet ranges can be a bit more tricky because they can include certain hands that you wouldn’t find in the calling range that it branches from. Players are more likely to come up with a random 3-bet hand, which is something you need to consider when making your decisions.
Flat calls and 3-bets are intertwined. To make this distinction, you need to go through the entire opponent’s range looking at four major groups (pocket pair, broadways, suited connectors, and other hands) and eliminate hands that are likely to 3-bet. When you do this, you’ll be left with a good idea of their calling range.
The similar approach can be used when figuring out 4-bet and 3-bet calling ranges. You can look at the entire range of hands that would likely continue in 3-bet pots and then figure out what percentage of these hands is more likely to 4-bet instead of flat call.
Of course, all of this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Throughout the course, Sweeney talks about all the little details you need to factor in your decisions. Good players have a different approach to hands than weak ones. Weak players may have many more random hands in their range. Good players will think about many factors such as position, stack depths, pot odds, etc.
All in all, this section of Hand Reading Lab really covers the topic from various angles. It heavily relies on the math as the basis, of course, but SplitSuit doesn’t try to make it sound like there is a one-fit-all approach. Your own knowledge of game trends and your opponents will play an important role in fine-tuning expected hand ranges.
Sharpening Your Hand Reading Skills: Postflop
In the second part of Hand Reading Lab, Sweeney brings several videos that deal with postflop situations. Of course, figuring out the preflop stuff is essential because you can’t expect to have good postflop hand reading skills if you start from a bad position. Your preflop assumptions will be crucial for all future streets.
Once you get to the flop, you’ll be primarily looking at things such as flop texture and deciding how it correlates with the preflop range you’ve settled on. Flopzilla is a great help in this particular area as it allows you to test various hand combos against different board runouts, giving you the information about the average hand strength.
Two main lessons in this section cover situations when you are the one with the lead and when your opponent has the lead in the hand. This is an important piece of information because initial hand ranges vary quite significantly, which means that you’ll need to look at board textures from a different perspective.
The other two videos briefly cover topics of capped ranges and range advantage. Both of these concepts can come in very handy in figuring out what your opponent’s most likely holdings are.
The idea of capped ranges is based on the assumption that certain (strong) hands can’t be in your opponent’s range based on their actions. For example, if they don’t 3-bet you before the flop, they’re unlikely to have pocket Queens or better. Or, if they don’t check-raise you on the flop, they probably don’t have the strongest parts of their range. Another example is if they call a medium sizes bet on a draw heavy board they are likely to not have two pair or a set. Of course, this is still player-dependent but it is important to have this concept at the back of your mind when making decisions.
When it comes to range advantage, this is something that ties in nicely with the whole concept of this course. Based on fundamental assumptions about opening, calling, and 3-betting ranges, certain flops favor certain hands. So, a particular board texture is more likely to be favorable to the raiser or the caller, which will dictate your approach to the hand.
Practical Hand Examples & Extras
To wrap things up, Sweeney provides a series of practical hand examples to look at. These hands touch upon all the theoretical concepts discussed in the series and help create more clarity. If you’re struggling with any of the ideas, checking out these hands and listening to the breakdown should help you wrap your head around it.
The course will also provide you with ready-made Flopzilla PRO ranges you can simply import into your software. This can definitely help you save some time and make the learning process quicker and easier.
Summary: Is Hand Reading Lab Worth the Buy?
Being able to “read” your opponents is one of the crucial poker skills. Without it, you’re left in the dark and have to make your decisions based on just your cards, which isn’t optimal. So, there is no question if you should have this skillset as a poker player.
The question that is there, though, is whether this course can help you develop that skillset?
I would say the approach SplitSuit has taken in The Hand Reading Lab is a very good one – it’s a repeatable process that is based on logic that will help you put your opponent on a range much more easily. There is no magical formula that will give you the ability to know what your opponent has 100% of the time. But this poker course provides you with all the theoretical concepts and practical exercises to become much better at it.
What’s also good about this course is that it is fairly beginner-friendly. The software you’ll need to use isn’t too complex and even if you’ve never used it before, Sweeney does a good job of explaining everything you need to know on the technical side of things.
But, you should understand that the biggest value you’ll get from The Hand Reading Lab will come from the actual work you put in. Once you see all the videos, you can start working things out on your own. Apply the knowledge to your specific circumstances. Figure out what type of opponents you’re most often up against.
If you do that and actually use the skills from this course the way they’re meant to be used, you’re guaranteed to become much better at figuring out your opponent’s holdings.
This course is also covered in TopPokerValue’s poker course list as one of the best that you can pick up – check that page out for a different perspective.
If you are ready to take your hand reading to the next level today, check out the Hand Reading Lab here.