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Back to Basics (Part 5): Poker Reads Made Simple

This is part five of the Back to Basics series. Last week, I said that this week’s installment would be about using spreadsheets to simplify analysis. Well, I lied. I’m going to do a future series on that because I don’t think I can do the topic justice in just one week. This week, however, we’re going to look at something extremely important and that can make you a lot better at poker in a very short amount of time. We’re going to look at how poker reads can be made simple.

The Technological Overload

If you go way back to the days of PokerTracker 2 when there wasn’t even a built-in HUD and you had to use a different program if you wanted your PT2 stats to show up on the tables, there were only four numbers that would show up for each player in the default layout. Those numbers were VPIP, PFR, AF and the number of hands you had on the opponent. If you compare that to some peoples layouts now, you’ll find that some people have dozens of numbers on their HUD with multiple pop-ups with exceptionally-detailed stats by position.

One major problem that’s coming out of this is that people don’t seem as able to use very telling features from basic stats and habits to make decisions. If you can’t make decisions based on general observations of how your opponent plays, then you’re going to be in trouble.

Another practical problem is that of sample size. You’re never going to get enough hands on someone for particularly specific statistics to be of any use to you, and having all of those extra stats in the way makes it more difficult to pay attention to what actually matters.

What I want to do here is get you back to the basics of using your stats to make simple reads on people. If you stick to the basics and get these fundamentals down pat, then you’ll tend to get better faster than if you focus your energy on trying to have the coolest HUD layout ever.

Some Suggested Stats to Have

The pairing of VPIP and PFR is the classic pairing, and while there are arguments against each of them in terms of how they include 3-betting and whatever else, the goal of using these stats isn’t to figure out the exact percentage of the time that a player is going to do things pre-flop. Instead, they can give you a general indication of how the player plays in general.

The classic example, but one that I still see players ignore all the time, is if there’s a big gap along the lines of 30/5 in a six-max game or 20/5 in a full ring game, then you can peg that player as being passive when it comes to betting and raising. That means that their ranges are going to be super strong when you get raised on the turn. It’s not rocket science.

PFR and ATS (attempt to steal) are also really good to have paired together because they can give you an idea of how positionally aware your opponent is. This is pretty critical to putting them on ranges pre-flop, and that means it’s critical to putting them on ranges for any post-flop street as well.

Two other statistics that are good to have are a player’s pre-flop 3-bet percentage and how often they fold to a steal. It’s not really all that important to have incredibly detailed stats about how they play in BB vs. SB, or SB vs. CO, or BB vs. BU, or whatever else. These two stats are sufficient to give you a good enough idea of how to play against people before the flop.

When it comes to post-flop stats, you need to keep it simple. How often they continuation bet the flop and how often they fold to a continuation bet on the flop will be the two go-to stats that you use the most often after the flop. These stats will give you enough information to play all of the post-flop streets in a decent enough way. If you want to have aggression factor or aggression frequency by street, that’s probably okay as long as you use it in the context of the post-flop stats, but even that much is pushing it when it comes to only having stats that are useful.

I recommend that players avoid other street-specific post-flop stats because they require a large sample to be anything other than a distraction, and by the time you get that large sample, your opponent is playing differently than they were at the beginning of the sample rendering it useless.

Using Basic Stats for Strong Reads

Our guiding star here is KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. Using basic stats to make simple, but powerful, reads. Here’s an example:

You raise pre-flop with AKo UTG at a six-man table, and you’re called by a player in late position. You see the flop of As8h9c heads-up, and you make your continuation bet. Villain calls, and the turn is the 5h. You bet the turn, and your opponent raises. This Villain is 25/8 with an ATS of 12 and a PF 3-Bet of 3. He c-bets the turn 78 percent and folds the flop to a c-bet 56 percent.

I saw someone post almost this exact same hand not that long ago, and it amazed me that it was even up for discussion. This player will essentially never raise with less than two pair here, and there are definitely two pairs in his range. You don’t need big fancy pop-ups to make the correct read here (or any read ever for the most part). If you don’t get down the basics and maximize the amount of reads that you can make with basic stats, then you’ll never be able to effectively use more complicated ones to make good decisions.

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