Reading hands is the premier skill, the one you must develop to be more than a mediocre player, and the one at which all great players excel. But first thing first, before you sign up at a poker room, you have to make sure you choose a reputable one. Use the pokerstars marketing code to join the number one online poker room, there is no risk. Note that there is no rakeback at pokerstars, but they have an internal VIP Club program that more than compensate for that.
Because poker hands have relative, not absolute value, you must first estimate what the other players have, and only then take action. This distinction between thinking and acting means that there are two independent dimensions, one in your brain and one in your heart. Your brain determines your skill, how accurately you can read their hands, but your heart determines whether you have enough confidence in your judgment to act decisively.
The best players are high on both scores. The worst players have very little ability to read cards, but lots of confidence in their own bad judgment.
Among players' profiles, the nerd has extremely high skill, but no confidence. He has great card reading skill, but is so unsure of himself that he gets little benefit from it. We have all heard him say: "I know I'm beaten, but I've got to call. Or I don't know why I didn't raise. I knew I had the best hand, but I was afraid that you might have four eights (or some other extremely unlikely hand).
The expert player has both extremely high skill and confidence. He reads cards extremely well and has the confidence to make great moves. He folds good hands when he thinks he is beaten, but calls or raises with hands that most of us would fold. We rarely realize how good he is because he doesn't show his hands or talk about them. He knows he is good, but does not want us to know it.
The average player sees some signals, but misses lots of them, and he often misunderstands the ones he sees. Once in a while he makes a great or a terrible play, but most of his plays are merely routine. He calls with acceptable hands, raises with very good ones, and rarely does anything imaginative.
Do you see bits of these caricatures fitting you? Think about your ability to "put people on hands." How well can you figure out what they have? Are you willing to act on your card reading? When it is not obvious what you should do. For example, do you call if you think there is a decent chance that someone is bluffing when you have a hand that can beat nothing but a bluff? Of course, for all of these decisions you have to consider the size of the pot; a difficult decision in a small pot may be a "no-brainer" when the pot is huge.
Confidence is the most difficult quality to rate. In large pots you should frequently call even if you feel that it is likely your hand is second best.
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