Ever had an intricate hand stuck in your head for hours after you played it? Perhaps we feel that we played incorrectly somehow but have no idea what we should have done differently.
Or, maybe there is a possibility that we did play ok but simply got unlucky. The easiest way to put such matters to rest is through structured hand analysis.
Here we share our top tips for running hand analysis:
Table of Contents
1. Keep a Log Of Hands
To review our hands correctly, we need a decent record of that hand. In the online world, this is usually straightforward. Not only can hand histories be saved using poker tracking software, but poker clients such as 888poker allow us to see our recent hand histories in a re-player.
For live players, reviewing a hand is not always so straightforward. We might remember the overall gist of a hand but realise that many of the finer details are fuzzy. We’ll forget exact bet-sizings, board textures and effective stacks.
Trying to run an analysis without having the full picture is difficult at best. Live players should either carry a notepad around or make use of an app to record their hands (depending on the casino).
2. Use an Equity Calculator
An equity calculator allows us to see how particular hands stack up against other hands or even our opponent’s range. This tool is especially helpful in scenarios where we are closing the action by calling. The only thing that matters in such situations is our pot odds and equity.
Take a look here to recap on equity in poker.
Knowing our equity can be useful in many other situations, however.
For example, it can help when deciding the following -
- Should we value bet?
- Should we semi-bluff?
- Should we call with our draw despite not closing the action?
A basic hand vs hand equity calculator can be found here although we may wish to branch out to commercial software for more advanced calculations.
Many equity calculators allow us to store ranges for the future, speeding up our analysis. They also provide advanced functions such as next street analysis and range vs range equity distribution analysis.
We might not know how to use the advanced features right off the bat, but the more we work with the software, the more proficient we will become.
3. Improve Hand Reading Skills
“Hand reading” in poker refers to the ability to put our opponent on a range of holdings. The more accurately we can define his range, the easier it becomes to find the best play.
Newcomers often assume that hand reading is some sort of mystical process that involves staring into our opponent’s soul and just knowing which cards he holds.
On the contrary, hand reading is a logical process of deduction.
When reviewing a hand history, there is a lot to be gained by going carefully through the hand and putting our opponent on a precise range in every spot. We may gain some insights regarding the best play that we initially had overlooked.
Take a look at this guide for advice on how to improve hand reading abilities in poker.
If we work carefully on our hand reading while off the table, it will also help us to make better decisions on the fly.
4. Discuss with Buddies
It’s no secret that the power of several connected minds is greater than the power of one mind alone. A fresh set of eyes on a problem can help us to address every angle when running a hand history analysis.
Many players make use of popular messaging services (Skype, Discord) to create groups of players who are at a similar level. When a problem hand comes up, it can be posted in the group for analysis by everyone.
Other options are available. Forums are a very popular medium for discussion and analysis of tricky poker hands. Even if we have no hands to review ourselves, we may find it beneficial to read the evaluation by others or even generate our assessment of posted hands.
Working with a private coach could also be a valid option if we want to get the benefits of working with someone significantly better than us at poker. One standard coaching format is to mark a range of problem hands for review then spend the session going through each with the coach.
5. Review Training Content
An abundance of poker training content exists out there in the form of books, videos and written articles. Indeed, we won’t find content on our exact hand,but it’s typically likely that we might discover content dealing with our precise problem.
Imagine, for instance, we are trying to decide whether we should fire a continuation bet on the flop in a given hand. We won’t find content on our exact hand, but we will find videos and articles on the topic of continuation betting. Improving our c-betting strategy by considering those resources will help us to run a more focused analysis on hands.
We should try and avoid thinking in terms of isolated scenarios (which will likely never crop up again). We can use hand histories as a tool for improving an overall component of our strategy (c-betting, for example).
6. Search for Similar Hands
Once we start to think in terms of overall components of our strategy (rather than isolated hands), we’ll see the advantage of reviewing similar related hands.
There are a few reasons why this can be beneficial -
- Reviewing groups of similar hands is perfect for long term memory retention. Jumping from topic to topic is not a great way to improve at poker in general.
- We may find analysis posted on very similar hands to the ones we have played, allowing us to understand the key concepts involved in our hand.
- We can perform database analysis on related spots.
The last point is a potent technique that can give us surprising insights into the effectiveness of our current strategy. Using tracking software, we are able to run filters on related scenarios to see how we are performing on average.
For example, if our hand involves a preflop 4bet, we can run a filter for all the hands we have 4bet and see which are making us money. This information will give us keen insights into whether our decision was profitable or whether we need to make some changes to our entire strategy.
Making long term improvements to our overall outlook is always more valuable than simply knowing how to play one specific holding in one particular scenario.
For more ways that statistics can be utilized in hand analysis, check out this article.
7. Experiment with Solver Analysis
“Solver analysis” is the new trend in poker right now. Poker solvers have been around for quite a while, but they have surged in popularity over the last few years.
What exactly is a poker solver?
It is a tool which can run calculations on a specific poker scenario and provide an approximation of GTO (game theory optimal) play. This type of analysis is often worth doing, but it’s imperative to keep in mind the pros and cons of poker solvers. Many players end up using them poorly.
- Solver analysis allows us to understand what a theoretically correct response looks like given a specific game tree.
- Solver analysis allows us to extrapolate essential poker principles that can help us to adjust in-game to different variables.
- It’ difficult to extract the relevant data (in fact, solvers should mostly be used by advanced players). Many players are making their game worse through incorrect solver use.
- “GTO” play is not incentivised in 99.9% of hands. We usually have a better exploitative option. A common mistake players make, is to try and incorporate solver output directly in their game.
- Solvers are harder to use than other tools (such as equity calculators). If we are new to poker, this form of analysis is not necessary (nor even recommended).
Summary of Hand Analysis Tips
Here is a quick recap on the different ways we might analyse a problem hand in poker:
Keep a Log
Use tracking software, poker client re-player or notepad/app.
Use an Equity Calculator
Use the 888poker odds calculator or download some commercial software.
Improve Hand Reading
Use hand analysis as a way to improve our ability to put Villain on a range.
Chat with Poker Buddies
Use chat apps, forums, or even private coaching as a way to discuss poker with others.
Look for Training Content
Search for videos, books or articles that deal with the topics involved in our hand.
Find Similar hands
Use database analysis to find similar hands and analyse their profitability.
Use a GTO Solver
For advanced players – Run solver analysis on the hand and deduce theoretical concepts.
This list might not be exhaustive.
See if you can think of additional ways to analyse a poker hand history.