Study Poker Hands

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The smaller you open-raise, the more poker hands you can open (by a small percentage). If you raise larger, then generally you should have a tighter range of hands. When playing micro stakes, some coaches advocate a 4x UTG open raise. Then reducing to 3x for HJ, 2.5x for CO and BTN, and then back to between 3 and 4x for SB opens.

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With so much to learn, beginners to poker often feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. It’s difficult to grasp the concepts of poker in one fell swoop and learning takes time. This is why we’ve developed this study guide – to plan a course of study for beginners and to provide the structure that’s so important when learning new skills.

Knowing which hands block Villain’s most likely calling hands is a crucial aspect of bluffing efficiently, particularly on the river. On the Road to Perfect GTO It will always be impossible for any human being to play a perfect GTO strategy. Some decades ago, people would just play poker, think about hands on their own, and maybe read one of the few poker books that were available at the time. They could only play a few hands per month, and it would take a lot of time to learn the fundamentals. In poker, players form sets of five playing cards, called hands, according to the rules of the game. Each hand has a rank, which is compared against the ranks of other hands participating in the showdown to decide who wins the pot. In high games, like Texas hold 'em and seven-card stud, the highest-ranking hands win.In low games, like razz, the lowest-ranking hands win.

We have a wide variety of poker lessons here at and they don’t all feature in this study guide. Instead, we’ve carefully selected the most appropriate lessons to help build your poker skills step-by-step and to provide a solid foundation upon which to build.

This study guide is split into various skill levels and each major section is followed by a quiz. If you’re new to poker then we recommend you start by studying the lessons within our entry level.

We hope you enjoy learning how to play poker with

Entry Level

The following group of poker lessons provide an introduction to the game. You’ll learn the basic rules, how the betting works, the different variations of poker, along with a few basic poker terms.

Please note: All links within this study guide will open in a new window by default.

Finished? If so, take the entry level quiz.

Beginner Level

The beginner level of this study guide will provide a solid foundation on which to build your poker skills.

If you studied our entry level lessons then you’ll understand that there are many ways in which poker can be played. This means there isn’t a poker course that will suit everyone. So, before we continue with more lessons let’s discuss your options at this early stage of your development.

The first decision point is whether to play cash games or tournaments. As a beginner we believe cash games are your best bet. This is because the variance – what we call fluctuations in luck – is much higher in tournaments, so much so that it can take a very long time to determine if your tournament results are due to a lack of skill or simply a run of bad luck. Because the variance inherent in cash games is less, you should be able to assess whether it’s your ability or simply a run of bad luck in a shorter time frame.

Once you’ve played cash games and seem to be making an improvement in them because you’re studying, learning, and growing as a poker player, you should be able to move to tournaments with the assurance that your basic game is good. Once you know you play well, you can begin the make the adjustments that are required to play tournaments well.

It comes down to personal preference and it’s entirely your choice. You may wish to supplement your learning as and when you’re ready, but the poker lessons that are referenced in this study guide remain applicable to either format. Although we argue in favour of cash games for beginners, a combination of both would also work at this stage – giving you time to decide which challenge you’d prefer.

The next decision point is the variety of hold’em that you learn to play; either limit or no-limit. Many of our poker lessons focus on general concepts that will help you in either variation, but these games play very differently. Limit hold’em is well suited to beginners because it’s a more mechanical and structured game. However, because no-limit hold’em is currently the most popular variation of poker, it will be the focus of this study guide.

With all this out of the way, let’s move on and get back to the lessons. We’ll start this section of the study guide with a look at the basics, including some simple betting concepts:

Knowing that you’re eager to play, let’s focus your efforts on the importance of choosing the right hands and introduce you to the concept of positional play with these two very important lessons:

The following resources should also help guide your understanding of these topics:

  • No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hands Chart (PDF – print out or bookmark for easy reference)

You should now have an understanding of what starting hands to play in no-limit hold’em based on hand strength and your position. This next selection of poker lessons will provide further guidance on how and why you should play your starting hands.

Math is a key concept in poker. You don’t have to be a math genius to succeed at poker, but knowing the math is essential. In the next group of lessons we’ll cover basic poker concepts that will help you tell the difference between good bets and bad bets and put you on the road to playing profitable winning poker:

There’s more to poker than math, so now it’s time to introduce you to the psychology of poker:

As we approach the end of this section of the study guide, it’s time we suggest you start playing poker for real money. Maybe you are already, if so, then great. It’s important to reiterate that poker is a game of money played with cards and there needs to be something at stake, even if it’s only pennies. If you’ve yet to make the transition to real money poker, we suggest you start now – but only at stakes you can afford. This is also an appropriate time to introduce you to the fundamental poker concept of bankroll management:

And here’s our final lesson of this section:

Finished? If so, take the beginner level poker quiz.

Intermediate Level

This section of our study guide will introduce you to various poker concepts and strategies that will take your game to the next level.

The following lessons are those we consider to be the most important at this stage of your development. Remember, there are many more poker lessons on, which you can also study – but these are the ones that we believe will help get you to the next level in the fastest possible time.

The first group of poker lessons are important concepts in no-limit hold’em:

Here is a selection of poker lessons that focus on post-flop betting strategies:

The following two lessons cover two very important concepts that will get you thinking about maximizing your profits, which is the key to successful poker:

This next group of poker lessons are all about ‘playing the player’ and provide effective strategies for playing against different types of poker players:

If you have followed this study guide from the beginning you should now have amassed a wealth of knowledge on the subject of poker. There’s still much more to learn, but the next step is to make sure you plug any leaks that reside in your game. Therefore our final group of lessons all focus on the winning poker skills:

Finished? If so, take the intermediate level poker quiz

Minnesota Fats, the legendary American pool hustler, was once asked about the technical aspects of billiards in order to improve one’s play. His response was, “Ya’ just gotta hit balls and balls and balls – and you’ll learn”. In that regard poker is much the same. The concepts we’ve presented throughout this poker course should help you think about how to play poker, but you need to play and play and play to truly understand and excel at the game.

Further Learning

The learning never stops at!

The intention of this study guide has been to teach the fundamentals of winning poker. We deliberately streamlined this guide and excluded many of the poker lessons on This means there is still lots to learn, but at this stage of your development it’s less important for us to provide you with structure and guidance. The best advice we can give is to continue playing poker and browse our poker lessons at your leisure, picking out the topics that you think will benefit your game the most.

Don’t forget that there is more than one game in town and no-limit hold’em is just one of them. Many players stick to the game they initially learned, but a true poker player feels right at home with other poker variations. We therefore recommend you learn how to play limit hold’em, along with variations such as stud, Omaha, and razz. You’ll find lessons on all these variations of poker right here at!


Hand reading is the #1 skill in poker, and it’s well worth the time it takes to perfect your use of it both on and off the felt.

Hand Reading (aka Hand Ranging) is assigning a player a logical range of hands based on their actions, then making the most +EV decision that exploits their range.

Listen to episode #250: How to do Poker Hand Reading

It’s critical that we put our opponent on a range of hands, not just one single hand.

The reason we use ranges is because players can make the same play with many different hands.

For example, if they open-raise preflop, they can do it with AA, JT, 97s and 33 (and everything in between).

And then, if the flop comes AJT and they make a continuation bet, there are many hands that we can raise them with:

Study Poker Hands Free

  • 2 pair: AJ, AT, JT
  • Sets (3 of a kind): TT, JJ
  • Straight: KQ

You see why you can’t put somebody on just one hand. Depending on their preflop range and the board, there are lots of hands they would play in the exact same manner.

Hand Reading In Action

Hand reading is the most important poker skill because it forces you to consider all the variables in every hand you play.

Weak players just think about their hand and the cards on the board.

But a skilled hand reader will think about so much more on every street in every hand:

  • Type of player they’re up against
  • HUD stats
  • Tendencies
  • The specific actions the player has taken so far
  • Stack sizes
  • Size of the pot
  • Possible future board cards
  • Position
  • Images
  • Table or tournament conditions

Because a skilled hand reader considers so many more factors, they make better decisions. This leads to more hands won, more bad situations avoided, more opponents exploited, more money saved and ultimately more profits at the table.

Hand reading is how you’re going to become the poker player you want to be.


You open-raised from the CO, a LAG player on the BTN 3bets.

What range of hands does a LAG BTN 3bet you with?

Answer this right now!

The Logistics of Hand Reading

In its most simplified form, hand reading follows this path:

  1. You assign a preflop range of hands based on the player’s actions. So, a caller has a different range than a 3bettor which is different from an open-raiser’s range.
  2. As the hand progresses through the flop, turn and river, you’ll narrow their range based on further actions. Narrowing a range means you’re removing hands that don’t fit into the actions they take. So, if the player called your cbet on the flop from OOP, you might remove all non-pair hands and every draw weaker than a gut-shot straight draw.
  3. Exploit your knowledge of their range. If you narrowed their range to mostly weak pairs and draws, you might use this information to make an effective bluff bet to get them to fold.

Hand reading, like any poker strategy, requires loads of practice before you turn it into a skill you can successfully use on the felt. Couple this with the fact that you’re making assumptions about a player’s range and how they play their hands, you’ll find yourself making lots of hand reading mistakes early on.

Action is the greatest teacher.

Getting used to hand reading is going to be tough at first, but don’t get discouraged. It takes time and dedication to using it off and on-the-felt and the more time you put into it, the better you’ll become.

If you need motivation to get your butt in gear with hand reading exercises, do it for the promise of greater poker skills. Do it for the idea that you will start exploiting your opponents more. Do it with the expectation that hand reading skills will turn you into the player that you want to be.

I did a full 66 Days of Hand Reading in a row and I put all those videos up on YouTube. You’ll see me make tons of mistakes preflop and through the streets, but this 66 days was the best thing I ever did for my poker game and I improved every aspect of my game through it.

The Poker Hand Reading 2-step Process

We’re keeping hand reading simple with only 2 steps: 1) assigning a preflop range and 2) narrowing that range through the streets.

But just because it’s simple, that doesn’t make it an easy skill to master. The sooner you get to work on it, and the more practice you put in, the sooner you’ll use hand reading to exploit your opponents and earn an obscene amount of their chips.

Step 1: Assign a Preflop Range of Poker Hands

When I assign a poker range, I consider it being made up of 5 different hand categories:

  1. Pocket pairs
  2. Broadway hands
  3. Aces
  4. Suited hands
  5. Off-suit hands

To help me build their preflop range, here’s my favorite question to ask myself over and over again:

What is the worst hand they play this way?

Whatever the worst hand is, I would include that and better hands in their range.

EXAMPLE: Creating a player’s Big Blind calling range

We open-raised from the cut off. The BTN and the SB both folded and the TAG BB player called.

Study Poker Hands Online

  1. What is the worst pocket pair they call with?
    • Let’s say they would call with 22 but they would 3bet with QQ or better.
  2. What are the worst Broadway hands they call with?
    • They worst would be JTs, QTs, KTs and ATs, so I would include those and the better hands. And off-suit, maybe just the AT, KJ and QJ hands.
  3. What are the worst Aces they call with?
    • I think they would call with every suited Ace and only ATo and better.
  4. What are the worst suited hands they call with?
    • Maybe 76s is the worst along with 86s and Q9s. So, we can include of those and everything better.
  5. What are the worst off-suit hands they call with?
    • Maybe just those Broadway hands already mentioned.

More Preflop Questions for Ranging a Player


Listen to episode #251: Poker Hand Reading Questions to Ask

What type of player are they?

I will range my opponents differently based on the type of player they are. Nitty players will get very small ranges in general, TAG players slightly wider, LAGs wider still and those LP fish get the widest ranges.

What notes do I have on them?

Your history with an opponent is incredibly important. The more you know about them from paying attention to prior hands and showdowns, the better player notes you can take. Good notes will help you range them and play against them in the future.

What does their action say about their range?

Generally, the more aggressive the action, the stronger the range. The more weak or passive the action, the weaker the range.

What are their action-related stats?

HUD stats are a numerical representation of the history you’ve accumulated with the player. They 3bet 5% or they call 2bets 15% or they fold to steals 74%. All of these numbers help to assign them a pre-flop range, so know which ones can help you in different situations. Plus, try to observe these by position in a HUD popup.

Assigning a 3bet caller’s range:

What does their bet sizing say about the strength of their range?

Either online or LIVE, bet sizing can be a big tell. In general, the larger the bet, the stronger the hand.

Why didn’t they CALL/RAISE/FOLD?

Your opponent’s action is important, but when they chose to call, they also chose to NOT fold or raise. What does this say about their range? Often, we can eliminate some of the strongest hands when they play passively (like removing AA and KK when they over-call) or we can remove the weakest hands when they 4bet. If you can put yourself in their shoes and figure out why they chose to NOT make a play, this will lead to more accurate pre-flop ranges.

Flopzilla: #1 in a Hand Reader’s Tool Box

Besides PokerTracker 4, Flopzilla is the software I use most frequently when studying poker.

It’s a range analysis software that’s designed to quickly figure out how well a range of hands or a specific hand hits the board. It’s also perfect for hand reading because it makes it easy to assign preflop ranges then narrow them through the streets based on the strength of the different parts of Villain’s range. Learn more about the benefits and uses of Flopzilla here.

You can see how easy Flopzilla makes hand reading practice in this video:

More Hand Reading Action!

Step 2: Narrow Their Poker Range on the Flop, Turn and River

Narrowing a range means to remove hands from it based on their actions and what you know about the player. The smaller and more accurately we range them, the more +EV our decisions become.

To help me figure out what hands to remove, I ask myself The Ultimate Question on every street:

What are they doing this with?

If they call on a monotone board with 3 spades, there’s a good chance they have a flush or a flush draw already. But, if they call your bet on that board, you can easily remove underpairs without a spade and most non-spade hands. You might even be able to remove any 2s, 3s, 4s or 5s hands if you think they would never stay in with such a weak draw.

Here’s where putting yourself in your opponent’s shoes and trying to figure out their logic is super important. Some players love to stay in with any draw, especially flush draws. Other players fold any non-pair and non-nut drawing hand. Others stay in with any pair because they fear getting bluffed.

Some players will only raise on the flop with trips+, and other players bluff-raise on the flop all the time.

More Post-flop Questions for Narrowing a Range

How well does their range connect with this board?

Knowing your opponent’s pre-flop range is one thing, understanding how it interacts with the board at hand is another. The goal is to visualize and understand which parts of their pre-flop range hit specific hands or draws.

Which parts of their range are BETTING/CALLING/RAISING/FOLDING on this board?

This goes along with the previous question. If your opponent raised, and you know that their raise means they’ve got 2p or better on this board, you’ll use that to your advantage and react to their raise and narrow their range properly.

Why didn’t they CHECK/BET/RAISE/FOLD?

Just like with that pre-flop question, your opponent took one option and chose not to take the other 3. If you can figure out why, you’ll use that information to narrow their range even more accurately.

What does a sane person do here?

This question helps us to get to the logic our opponent is using. I first heard it asked by Jonathan Little in a training video once, and I fell in love with it. Some people think they can’t win against fish because there’s no putting them on a hand. Or, they can’t win against a LAG Donk because they just bomb every street and it’s tough to call down without the nuts. Well, both of these player types use some sort of logic in their decision making. Your job it to get in their heads and figure out the logic they’re using. It may be different from yours, but don’t let that stop you from trying to figure them out.

What are my notes on this player?

When in-game, we often forget to look at any players notes we’ve taken in the past. Practicing this off-the-felt, basically looking at the notes as you try to narrow their range, is going to turn “note checking” into a habit.

The 5 Best Things We Learn From Showdowns

Showdowns teach us so much about our opponents. Sure, HUD stats help us gauge their tendencies, but showdowns show us the unvarnished truth of how they played their hand.

Listen to episode #252: The 5 Best Lessons from Poker Showdowns

We see the exact hand they called with pre-flop, the hand they checked on the flop, the hand they check-raised with on the turn and the hand they shoved with on the river.

We get a brief but powerful glimpse into the logic they use and we use this to gain a better understanding of the way they play their hands.

By paying attention to the street-by-street action of every hand, whether we’re involved or not, the poker showdown is our opportunity to confirm our reads on the players and their actions.

1. Showdowns Clue Us in to a Player’s Logic

When we see a showdown, we can replay the action of the hand to determine why they played it the way they did. This insight into their decisions made while knowing their hand strength at the time allows us to understand the logic they use as they play a hand.

This is extremely valuable for future pots played with the opponent because careful dissection now can help us make great decisions later.

The other day I did a hand reading exercise with a student from The Poker Forge. In this hand, he faced off against a player who check-called the flop and turn with a nut flush draw (of course, we knew he had the nfd by paying attention to showdown). My student bet 2/3 pot on the flop then ¾ pot on the turn. When the flush hit the river, Villain donk bet for 3/4 pot and my student called. He lost with 2p, but by paying attention to showdown, we saw that this Villain plays the nfd passively from OOP, but is willing to call really large bets.

We took a player note from this hand that read, “OOP calls w/nfd vs big bets (VALUE BET BIG ON WET AND INCOMPLETE BOARDS, BEWARE OF THE DONK BET WHEN DRAW COMPLETES)”

Study Poker Hands Youtube

Now, my student has a new way to exploit this player or possibly to save money. He only got this exploit because we did a hand reading exercise off-the-felt where he lost a huge pot on the river with 2p vs the nut flush.


In your next 3 play sessions, for every showdown you see, run back through the action of the hand in an effort to understand the logic of the players. Did they get super aggressive with a ten high flush draw? Did they play the flopped nuts passively until the river? Try to learn something and take at least one player note for every showdown you see. Now, I challenge you to take action!

2. Showdowns Help Us Spot Bet Sizing Patterns

They give us some insight into a player’s choice of bet sizing. This is important because, whether they know it or not, the size they choose is often a subconscious reaction to the situation they’re in and they don’t realize they have patterns to their sizing.

Some players naturally bet bigger for value and smaller for bluffs. Other players min bet with every draw as a blocking bet so they don’t have to pay too much. Some players 3bet to 9bb’s with AA but only to 7bb’s with JJ.

Here’s a bet sizing example from a prior session:

    • 1st Hand: Villain made a ½ pot bluff cbet on the flop with AK.
    • 2nd Hand: Villain made a ½ pot bluff bet on the turn with a gs draw.
    • 3rd Hand: Villain made a ¾ pot value bet on the flop with a set
    • 4th Hand: Villain made a ¾ pot value bet when the 3rd spade hit the turn and he made a flush.

I took a player note that read: “1/2 pot = bluff, 3/4pot = value”.

The goal with taking a player note like this is so that in the future, I can get away from marginal hands when they’re betting bigger, and I can try pulling off some bluffs when they bet ½ pot.

3. Showdowns Help Us Learn the Tendencies of Different Player Types

You might face 8 opponents at a FR table, but those 8 opponents might be split among only 4 player types. There could be 2 LAG’s, 1 TAG, 4 Fish and 1 unknown. The unknown player is named Sam123.

Sam123 is an unknown, so how do you play against him?

Well, first you treat him like the average player. Maybe the average player calls flop and turn and cks behind with TP. Or maybe they check-call the flop and turn with any draw and either fold or donk bet the river when the draw completes. Maybe the average player doesn’t 3bet JJ or worse, but they always 3bet QQ+.

You can treat an unknown player like Sam123 just like the average player, at least until you get to know him.

After 3 rounds you’ve seen him play 27 hands, and that can often be enough to see what type of player they are.

If Sam123 is a 45/4 player after 27 hands, this tells me he’s super loose and passive. So, I’m going to treat him like a LP player.

Loose-passive players at my stakes love to see flops especially with pp’s and suited hands. They just love to set and flush mine. They also find it difficult to fold most draws. So, if I’m value betting, I’ve got to go big to get maximum value from their drawing hands. They also call down with weak TP and 2nd pair hands. If they wake up with bets and raises either pre or post-flop, I have to be careful because they only get aggressive with made hands.

So, this is how I’ll play against Sam123 until I learn differently.

4. Showdowns Confirm a Player’s Use of Exploitative Plays

Sometimes you’ll look at a player’s HUD statistics and you’ll catch a tendency of theirs that looks like an exploit they like to use.

An example of this is seeing a high Turn Float statistic of 60%+. In PokerTracker 4, a Float Bet is defined as the “Percentage of the time that a player bets in position on the turn after the aggressor fails to continuation bet on the turn.” So, they called a cbet IP on the flop. Then their opponent failed to double-barrel the turn. They pounce on this with a float bet intended to steal the pot.

It’s great when you catch an exploitative play like this. Seeing a showdown after they make this play with Ace-high or a busted draw tells you they’re capable of it.

Now, you can use this against them next time by check-raising instead of double-barreling the turn. Or, if it’s multi-way, you can raise them in-position as a bluff once they make the float bet.

The more showdowns you pay attention to, the more plays like this you’ll catch. Now that you notice them, you can learn how to defend against them or use them for yourself to exploit other opponents.

5. Showdowns Help Us Spot Tells (14:40)

Whether you’re a LIVE or online player, spotting tells helps us exploit others and earn more of their chips.

For LIVE players, when you see a showdown and remember how the player reached for his chips, paused, then checked with an open palm when he turned the nut flush, that can help you in the future. When they quickly 3bet pre-flop by haphazardly moving a full stack in with TT, but later you see them calmly slide a stack in with AA, that’ll also help in the future.

For online players, maybe you remember how your opponent timed down then over-shoved the turn with the nut flush draw, but in a different hand they quickly bet 2/3 pot on the turn with the set.

Study Poker Hands Book

If you have a hard time remembering the action that just occurred, you’ve got to start paying more attention and try to remember their actions. Tell yourself you can do it, then practice doing it.

Recite the action in your head like a play by play announcer: “The BB called pre-flop, then donk bet for ½ pot on the A92r flop. On the turn he just checked and when the flush completed and on the river he quickly bet out 2/3 pot, like he liked that river card.”

Now You Can Exploit Their Range

Hand reading is the basis for all exploits against other players.

These exploits can start preflop or at any other point in the hand.

Study Poker Hands Chart

Preflop: If you assign the player a very wide raising range, you can exploit this knowledge by 3bet bluffing a lot. If they call vs most 3bets, instead of bluffing, you can value bet really big to exploit their calling tendencies.

Post-flop: If you know they cbet the flop a lot but only double-barrel with strong hands. On a hard to hit flop like J62r, you can call and when they check the turn, take the pot away with a bet. It’s a hard to hit board and they’re turn honest, so bluffing here is an easy exploit to make.

Study Poker Hands Games

Because there are so many important factors, it takes loads of practice to become a skilled hand reader. Let’s get you started…

I challenge you to 5 hand reading exercises, one per day for the next 5 days. Taking action and doing your own hand reading exercises is the only way you’ll learn this skill. Now, I challenge you to get to work!

Support the Podcast

Christopher Urie, Phil Munos, Daniel McVicker, Albert Lee, Robert Fogel, Nick Court, Todd Doiron, Teddy Winstead, Sean Sluggett, Asher, Tomas Fagerstrom and Mantas Kurpius picked up the best poker software, PokerTracker 4. My favorite since 2006! In appreciation, I sent them each a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4. Along with the growing database of hands to study, the Smart HUD is a powerful tool in anyone’s poker toolbox.

Crittenden Ewing, Joseph Bursey, Andrew Dowling, Kevin Cogan, MJ, Patrick Keaveney, Larry Lynn, Ollie Peters, Todd Caten, Peter Oaten, Krishna Mandava, Graham Rock and Normunds Pukinskis purchased the Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4. It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.

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