UPDATED ON: by James Worden

Poker hand skillsPoker is different from most other gambling activities in that it is a game of skill. It not only requires some mathematical logic but also a psychological understanding of your opponents. A little bit of acting is sprinkled in there, too – as master players have perfected their poker faces. If you are looking to improve your game, then it is important to learn how to properly assess your poker hand.

There is an art to getting this just right. You will need to remain focused, have patience, and be able to prioritise. We are going to be discussing what some of these priorities should be when you are assessing a poker hand in your next match. Keep reading to find out what they are and hopefully improve your game.

Your Turn

If everyone only bet when they had a good hand to play, poker would be a very boring game. As a result, there are certain rules in place that can keep a round flowing. Every round, one player will be the Big Blind and the other will be the Small Blind. These are the “guaranteed” bets, for lack of a description. The players will have to put money forward to play here, whereas the others around the table will be able to fold and duck out if they get a bad hand.

You might be one of the Blinds, so you are going to have to put a bet forward. However, you receive your pocket cards and you discover that you have a terrible hand. Do you proceed and see if the community cards can make it a bit better, or do you just take the hit to your chips before the bets get too big? This is an important consideration to make when a Blind comes to you. Even if you want to push your opponent and bluff a little, you need to make sure that you are not going to be sacrificing too many chips or you could run the risk of knocking yourself out of the game too early.

The Maths

At its absolute core, poker is a game of mathematics. To be a successful poker player, you need to make sure that you have an understanding of the mathematics behind the game. As each card is uncovered, your brain needs to kick into action, and you should start thinking about the hands that you could get as the community cards are revealed.

Though you might come out of the first round with pocket aces, there is no guarantee that this will be the winning hand. There are many different choices that you could make, and so you need to understand the probabilities that are presenting themselves. Even from the moment that you see your pocket cards, you should start assessing whether or not you are going to be able to make a successful play.

Previous Hands

Poker isn’t just played in the present. You will need to consider the past and future as well, anticipating your opponent’s actions based on their past strategies or previous cards. Make sure to consider these factors when assessing your own poker hand. Keep track of all the previous cards that have been played, including the ones you have laid down. This makes it easier to eliminate possibilities and guess the hands of those surrounding you.

Of course, doing so isn’t an option for live players. If you are playing on websites like GGPoker, it is easy enough to jot these things down. When doing so, make sure to consider and compare ranges. The range is all the possible hands that your opponent could have in that very moment. You can make a more informed decision with your next move by calculating what their potential range could be.

Even if you are going to play live, you need to also bear in mind how the cards are handled between turns. When playing with friends, you might only use one or two decks. In a casino, it is not uncommon for six or seven decks to be mixed together in one shoe. Trying to keep track of this would be a herculean effort, and one that few players would be able to do. On top of this, a casino might choose to reshuffle their decks between hands. This means that there is a chance that you could receive the same cards back for the next hand, and thus making it impossible for you to take previous hands into consideration.

Change Perspective

The best poker players are constantly finding new ways to evaluate their hands and the situation overall. This helps them to establish what the different outcomes of the situation will likely be. Most professional players recommend assessing a poker hand from 3 separate perspectives. The first is the optimistic perspective. You consider how you should go about the situation if your opponent theoretically has a disadvantage.

The second perspective is pessimistic, where you evaluate your poker hand and consider what you could do if your opponent has the advantage. Finally, we have a realist perspective. This combines the optimist and pessimist to find the most accurate result. If you have found that even in the worst-case scenario you come out strong, then your poker hand is definitely a good one.

Other Players

Poker is a game of psychology, and you need to be able to read your other players to be able to successfully assess your own hand. This is harder to do when playing at an online casino as you cannot physically see your opponents, but there might be a couple of tricks and patterns that you could pick up on. Everyone has a tell, and you might be able to spot one even if you cannot actually see the players.

If you are playing at a table, you have the perfect opportunity to assess the other players and try to identify their bluffs and tells. There might be some who are willing to push their luck on a not-so-great pair of cards, whereas there are others who have a more cautious approach. Remember, a pair of pocket aces might be the best hand to get dealt in a game of poker, but that does not mean that you are guaranteed to win the hand!

Ask Why Not What

Have you found yourself in a tricky position with a lacklustre hand? If so, then you are now probably wondering what you should do next. Stop right there! Asking ‘what’ questions are wholly unproductive in a game of poker. They prevent you from accessing the critical part of your brain, so you cannot come up with a creative solution to your current problem. As a result, you become stuck in a rut of ‘What’.

Instead, we recommend asking yourself ‘Why’. Why don’t you like your hand? Why do you think that your opponent has an advantage? Why do you dislike what your current play is? Why should I make this next move? These questions will help to provoke the analytical part of your brain. It is also worth asking why questions when seeking advice from other casino gamblers, as it requires them to give a more detailed response than simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Reflect and Grow

You also need to take a moment after play to think back on your hands. If possible, try to keep track of your own hands per turn and the combinations that worked. You should be able to analyse your play for leaks and other weak areas that might help to make things better. There are so many little improvements that you might be able to make to your poker game, but you need to be prepared to put the work in to find them.

If you allow yourself to make the same mistakes over and over again, you are never going to grow as a player. Track down what it is that you need to do to grow as a player, take the time to identify where your gameplay might be a little weak, and make some active choices to improve.

Learning how to assess a poker hand is not going to be easy. However, this is one of the aspects of play that you can’t afford to let slip. There are so many little things that could affect whether or not you are going to be able to grab a win, but it can often come down to your ability to assess your hand. You need to know when you have a good hand on your side, and what you can do to make a bad one good again. Whether you are playing a Blind or just throwing your hat in the ring on the back of a pocket pair, the ability to assess your hand is crucial. If you can’t analyse this aspect of poker, you might struggle with some of the other decisions and observations the game will throw your way. Improve your poker game now!