To celebrate two things, one of which is my bankroll finally exceeding my postcount, and the other of which is my becoming a poobah, I've decided to share some musings with my fellow uNLers.
As everyone knows, the concept behind hand reading in poker is putting your opponent on a range of hands given the line he takes. Aba20/SBRugby recently wrote an article in card player magazine on the subject that can be found here.
Reading hands can sometimes be difficult at the microlimits. Often you'll see people throw out stupid valuebets with hands like 22 unimproved on the river, that never gets called by a worse hand but that has showdown value given the way the hand was played. Such bets frustrate me because they are essentially a bluff, even if not intended to be one, and requires a certain degree of adjustment to deal with it. But even against bad opponents, you can put them on a range, although it will generally be much wider than against a good thinking opponent (and not just because they're looser).
The major factors influencing your opponent's range are his holdings, the way the board comes out, and his feelings on your possible holdings.
This last concept is one that I think isn't stressed enough: how a villain's range of hands is defined by the way that we're playing our hand. I generally separate this into two different themes: the lines you take on any given hand individually, and metagame.
Think of it this way: Villain is a 70/0/0 loose passive station that you could say "never folds". However, if you open shoved into him, he's mucking a lot more than 70% of his hands. No matter how bad your opponent is, his holdings will always be defined largely by how you are playing your hand. This doesn't mean you can get him to fold second nuts, but it does mean that through deceptive play you can increase his range of hands so that his range is wide enough to include a lot of hands that are much worse. One example of how to use this concept to your advantage would be when deciding how to play a set on the flop against an aggressive preflop raiser. Do you lead out, check/call, check/raise? If you were to check/raise, you've defined your hand as strong in your effort to build a pot. If you lead out, however, you're likely to keep your opponent on a wider range of hands going to the turn---he might even decide to bluff/raise you with air! If he then improves on the turn to a second best hand that will pay you off, you've profited by manipulating your opponent's range. Another relevant point is "raising for information." By definition, an information raise has little value in forcing a mistake from your opponent, but instead protects you from making a larger mistake later on by forcing your opponent to define his hand. By actually tightening the range of hands your opponent could be holding, you've narrowed the number of hands you beat, but allow yourself to play more perfectly against those hands, thus saving you money in the longrun.
So now we move on to metagame. For my purposes today, I'm going to define metagame as an amalgamation of your overall playing style and the way that you are viewed by the other players at the table. By playing aggressively, you eventually will force opponents to adjust by widening the range they play back at you with. Referring back to the example from before, if you're playing a normal TAG game and suddenly open shove for 100BBs, discounting the possibility of a misclick you're not going to get called down lightly. However, take the same line for 12 hands in a row and you'll find that smarter opponents will be willing to gamble a bit and call with a wider range--instead of just AA and KK, they'll call with AJ+ 77+, for example. Metagame is all about creating an illusion, and confusing opponents by playing a wide range of hands the same way. Take an example in which you are the Big Blind, and it's folded to the small blind who limps. If you start raising a very wide range here, you will generally either force your opponent to give you more walks, or to play back at you with a wider range. Because you have position throughout the hand, the betting impetus, and the disguise afforded by aggressive metagame, this creates a very profitable situation because your opponent will call you down lightly thinking that they're ahead of your range.
As a closing note, I think that many uNLers are asking themselves the wrong questions when they evaluate a hand. After they lose a hand where they flop top pair top kicker or an overpair or whatever and get played back at and are felted by a better hand, they start to question, "Am I ever ahead here?" The better question to ask is, "did I play my hand in such a way up until this point that would allow me to be ahead of this opponent now that he's playing back at me." Although the range varies from person to person (and again, depends on how you play your hand and how the board comes out), most players have a range of hands that they will be willing to felt, whether it's TPTK+, overpairs, two pair, whatever. If you're at the bottom of that range of hands, it makes little sense to be trying to play for stacks because you'll be behind more often than you're ahead. Instead, you should focus in these situations on keeping your opponent interested with a wide range while still protecting your hand and extracting value.
Bumping because I need to read this properly later, the link too[ ~2/3 down cardplayer page].
I particularly find interesting:
"did I play my hand in such a way up until this point that would allow me to be ahead of this opponent now that he's playing back at me."
Instead, you should focus in these situations on keeping your opponent interested with a wide range while still protecting your hand and extracting value.
I re- realised today that as I normally am very tight/aggr observant villans when they play back at me when I'm marginal/bluffing expect me on average to have a better hand than I really have so it makes folding easier vs heavier action.
Also, I particularly like srugby's openning comment about the essential maths of the game.
Another note to make that this is much less true against people that play multiple tables as they will not be paying attention. It will also be less true against really horrible players because they won't know how to adjust to your playing style.