HomeNewsPoker pro secrets: how to properly analyze hands

Poker pro secrets: how to properly analyze hands

How to make hand analazing and review process more effective: tips and tricks from three poker professionals.

Skillful analysis of hands after a session is one of the important components of a poker player’s success. However, not everyone manages to extract maximum benefit from it, primarily due to a lack of knowledge of certain “tricks” used by top regulars.

We have selected three very different strategies for hand analysis from well-known representatives of the poker community so that you can rely on any of them or create a mix that works best for you.

Matt Affleck: simulate participation in the spot and analyze your motivation

American regular and poker coach Matt Affleck uses an interesting tactic for hand analysis:

When I am reviewing a hand history, I simply am going back and replaying the tournament myself. I will go thru each hand, quickly skipping the easy folds preflop, and just say out loud what I would be doing. With preflop play, I am mostly checking to make sure I am not missing too many opens or defending too tight or wide in the big blind.

Matt’s process for analyzing his pre-flop and post-flop play is also quite specific.

How to analyze pre-flop?

Examine and compare opening ranges for yourself and opponents in the hand. Try to answer the question: how often and why do I fold hands that are within the opening range?

When analyzing pre-flop spots, Matt always pays close attention to push/fold/all-in situations. For example, he checks almost every spot of this kind with an all-in of 10 BB or more, trying to remember the correct sequence of actions:

Let’s say it folds to me in the cutoff with 10 big blinds and I have 7-2 offsuit. I know I am folding this in my review, but what is the worst hand I should shove? I will guess in my head and write down the bottom of my ranges, then run the hand in Hold’Em Resources Calculator to see the correct push/fold range.

How to analyze post-flop?

Matt devotes much more attention to post-flop analysis than to pre-flop analysis because he believes that it is the essence of poker tournaments.

First, you need to check spots where it is difficult to understand the post-flop line of play — for example, where there was aggression or a cold-call from an opponent pre-flop.

For analysis, you’ll need to run simulations through a solver — not to copy the strategy from it, but to understand the general strategy for such situations. For example, find answers to questions like:

  • Should I make a continuation bet 100% of the time or is it better not to bet at all?
  • Is this a spot where I should check-raise wide or always call/fold?

The second important action is to analyze the opponent’s strategy by comparing their range and line of play from the solver with their actual actions.

In this situation, the main question is how closely the strategy defined in the solver matches reality? By answering this question, you can develop the most effective exploitation strategy for yourself:

When running these PIO sims, I also like to change the situation slightly to learn differences. What happens if I change the stack sizes? How will my strategy change on different turns and rivers? This complete analysis is a way to become a better overall poker player and become more familiar with situations.

Dara O’Kearney: answer three questions when analyzing each hand

Dara O’Kearney, co-author of the books “Poker Satellite Strategy” and “PKO Poker Strategy,” and host of The Chip Race podcast, believes that the ability to independently analyze hands is a fundamental skill for poker players. According to him, players should answer three questions when analyzing each hand:

#1 What is the shape of each range?

The first thing you should do is review both your own preflop range and your opponent’s. This is the starting point that will inform all your future decisions. We want to look at the shape of each range, the equity and EV of each range, and speculate which flops each player will perform well on.

What you are essentially looking for is who is likely to have Range Advantage in the hand, ie. who has the stronger aggregate range. You might also ask who has Nutted Advantage, ie. who has the best individual hands, even if their range is weaker overall.

For example, this matchup on a 6♦5♥4♠ flop. UTG vs BB, 50BBs effective, single raised pot.

UTG, on the right, has a tight linear range of lots of strong Ax, Broadway, and pocket pairs. They have range advantage.

The BB on the left has such a wide range that they miss this board most of the time. They have no made hand more than twice as often as UTG, but they also have ten times as many straights, all the combos of two pair, more top pair, more second pair, more third pair and lots of combo draw hands like 34s.

UTG has range advantage, the BB has nutted advantage.

While looking at a solver, you can also check out the equity and EV of each player. This will also inform range advantage and nutted advantage. In this example, UTG has a 51.3% equity advantage, which is a slim advantage. But the BB makes 3.34BBs in EV whereas UTG only makes 2.26BBs.

Is this my board?

Once you have looked at the preflop ranges, an important question to answer on the flop which summarises range morphology and range advantage is, is this my board?

A hallmark of a bad player is to c-bet every single flop when it is checked to them. That may have worked in 2005 but it doesn’t work today.

When reviewing your hand, look at the preflop ranges, and ask yourself which player favours the flop? Once again, going back to these ranges:

Whose board is this: A♠2♥7♣

With no possible straight or flush draws, this surely favours UTG? The BB misses this board a lot, and UTG has lots of pocket pairs and Ax is a bigger proportion of their range.

What about this: K♣9♣T♥

That also looks like it is UTG’s board, but it is a little closer.

What about this: 8♥6♣3♦

Now things are getting much closer. UTG has range advantage as they have lots of overpairs, but the BB hits this board a lot more.

What about this: 2♥3♥4♥

Now it’s very hard for UTG to have improved on this board but the BB could have connected with it in lots of ways.

Asking yourself whose board is a key question in a hand review and it is a question you should always ask yourself at the tables.

How does my range play?

This is perhaps the key differentiator between an amateur and a student of modern poker. It’s not about your hand, it’s about your range.

For example, this is the ranges for HJ vs SB, 50BB, single raised pot, on an A♥9♣2♦ flop:

How would you play A2s if you were the SB here?

A lot of people might say they would lead out, because the HJ has lots of Ax that will call. However, spoiler alert, the solver checks 100% of the time here. Why?

Because the HJ has a significant range advantage on these boards, whereas the SB misses it more often. If you lead out here, the HJ folds all their Broadway, all their junk suited connectors and (in real life at least) probably folds some of their pocket pairs. However, if you check, this is what the HJ does:

They bet their entire range.

This means you can now check/raise or slow play your hand, and guarantee at least one bet you would never have got with the weak portion of the HJ’s range.

This is a very simple example of why your hand and your range have different motivations, but generally what is good for your range is good for your outlier hands too.

Of course this does not mean that you should play every hand identically, just that you need to understand as a baseline what your range does. After that, look for what outlier hands do and see what lessons you can learn. For example, this is the SB response to the small bet:

Now the range mixes up its actions. The worst hands fold, for obvious reasons. Some of the second worst hands raise, however. 65s, for example, has no showdown value, but is picked to bluff over ‘stronger’ hands like 87s, because it can make a runner-runner straight and/or a runner-runner flush (double back doors are frequently the best bluffs). The middle of the range mostly calls, to bluff catch. A2s calls a lot because it is not worried about being outdrawn but crucially it blocks the value hands – it’s hard for the HJ to have an A or a 2 – so it calls to keep in the bluffs. 22, for Quads, however, always raises because it unblocks Ax hands.

So one of the most important questions you can ask is what does my range do? Then follow that up with, what are the outlier hands that deviate from this strategy, and why?

Nathan Williams: you need to review spots in a particular order

Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams, a poker coach, believes that the effectiveness of hand analysis is not only influenced by the structure of the process but also by establishing the order of hands for analysis.

According to him, it’s not worth focusing on bad beats and coolers — you’ll just waste time on types of hands that happen to everyone and cannot be controlled by players. The correct order for analyzing hands is as follows:

#1 Review marked poker hands

By marking hands during play, you help yourself identify moments of uncertainty and lack of knowledge or understanding of specific situations. That’s why at the beginning of the analysis, your first task is to deal with these hands.

When analyzing these spots, your first task is to try to accurately determine your opponent’s range in that hand. To do this, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Based on my opponent’s actions during the hand, our history of play (if any), my table image, and the board texture, what range of hands is he trying to represent in this hand?
  • Considering this range, did I play the most profitable line with my range, or were there better options for me?

The ultimate goal of answering such questions is not only to identify mistakes on your part but also to determine the most advantageous course of action for you, taking into account your opponent’s potential range and the board texture.

There’s nothing wrong with seeking help from a coach or other players if you can’t achieve the goal of hand analysis, but what sets elite poker players apart from others is their ability to handle such situations independently.

#2 Spots with large pot wins/losses

Analyzing hands with post-flop action where you’ve won or lost 100 BB or more becomes increasingly important the less experience you have in poker.

If you tend to cling to your overpairs or top pairs when your opponent demonstrates a line with obvious two pairs or an even stronger hand, you need to spend a lot of time analyzing your significant losses. This will help you learn to make correct folds, even if they go against your intuition, and save you a lot of money in the future.

If you’re not extracting enough value from good hands or unsure if you’re doing so, analyzing large pot wins can help you figure that out. The starting point here is answering the question: did your opponent have a portion of their stack left that they could have given to you? If the answer is yes, you need to reconsider your line of play because your win rate has significant issues.

#3 Spots with medium or small pot wins/losses

Analyzing hands with pots ranging from 30 to 100 BB is also very important for poker beginners or moderately experienced regulars. It’s in these spots that players often fail to capitalize on thin value bets and end up calling obviously losing bets on the river.

The correct analysis of these hands involves answering the question: could I have gained more/lost less from my opponent if I had played differently or analyzed their range better?