Hand reading exercise for teaching basics to new players

Background: I’ve been playing poker daily since late August 2018. I’ve improved as a player by leaps and bounds, and still have a lot to learn. I think I’m pretty good, but I’ve always thought I was pretty good. While I’m probably wrong about how good I am at any point in time, it’s good to have a positive self-image and be an optimist. My hand outcomes have messed with this optimism quite a bit, but despite that I’ve managed to win chips over this time.

I talk to my girlfriend about my play, and she’s not a poker player, so she doesn’t have a great deal of understanding about the game, isn’t familiar with terms and jargon, and it’s been an obstacle to having meaningful conversations.

We’re practicing social distancing due to the pandemic, and so have been looking for activities that we can do that don’t involve going out, and learning how to play poker was one of the items that made it to the list.

First, I just tried to explain how a hand of NLHE is played. This didn’t go so well. I’d start dealing the hand and explain what’s happening at each step, and get bombarded with questions that would derail the hand playing out to the extent that it was hard to get through the hand. The questions weren’t bad, by any means, but just getting through explaining how a hand is played was not giving her the picture that would help answer most of those questions.

After getting through a hand, we tried playing a few, heads up. I didn’t try to play advanced strategies, she didn’t have any idea bout how or when to bet. Eventually it devolved to she’d call any bet because she just wanted to see the cards.

The fun wasn’t there, and it was clear what she needed was just to see how a hand is played, without having to be in the position of making a decision. We ran through a few face-up hands, and I’d try to explain, street by street, seat by seat what a player will be thinking and how that would influence their action, and how to read that action. Again it was too much information, and all I was doing was sucking all the air out of the room.

What we ended up doing was just deal single hands. I’d issue the hole cards, face up, and ask her to evaluate her hand strength. I’d ask her what cards she’d like to see on the board with these cards, and she could answer that question easily.

Then we’d deal the flop and I’d ask her to re-evaluate the strength of her hand. Did she hit the flop for anything? What cards would she most like to see on the Turn and River? What cards in an opponent’s hole would beat her? What cards in her opponent’s hole might continue in the face of a bet, rather than fold?

Then I’d proceed to deal the Turn card, and ask her the same questions, re-evaluating her hand strength and what new information she now has. And so on with the River. I’d offer some basics on how to figure out the odds of drawing to her strong draws, what outs she had, and eventually worked into it what outs were a mirage or counterfeit given the board texture. (Such as when drawing to a straight, but there’s a flush implied by the board texture, or when drawing a pair to your bottom card improves your hand strength, but doesn’t make you any better against Top Pair, etc.)

After running through a few of these hand-reading exercises, my girlfriend told me that this was fun to her, which I considered a win.

So, if you’re teaching someone how to play poker, I think running through some solo hands like this is maybe a great way to do it, as opposed to try just starting them out playing real hands or practice hands with a full table and actual (or pretend) betting .

I think it’s also a fun exercise to run yourself through solo, as “homework” when away from a real table.

If we do more lessons, I’ll see how we can work into how to create a learning exercise that can teach how to decide whether to fold, call, bet, and how much. That’s much more complicated, and becomes more advanced the more you’re able to learn about the game, so I’m not really sure yet how to introduce those concepts at the “shallow end of the pool”.



Don’t discuss your hand strategically but Do discuss it for fun & to release steam over a loss or celebrate a big win!

When teaching someone to play poker dumb it down. Its possible to play decent poker with a very basic poker understanding.

3rd paragraph: I’m guessing your playing IRL with a deck & chips? Play some open hand poker. Even add some imaginary friend opponents in. Print a list: hand strengths & what beats what. IMO: try & teach watered down very basic ABC poker strat & philosophy. What should other players do etc?

Next par: play open handed. Even if your strat isn’t great your still teaching the game & basic strat. You: have a basic strat & understand the game - share that. More importantly its about thinking. Your GF might dev much better skill or strats than you but if you push in the right direction she will get there faster, much faster. Push to think: Qs & As.

Hindsight: great starting place. I like basic concepts, rather than deep mathematical formulas for poker. It doesn’t pay to gamble. Stupidest poker saying. Play better & make opponents gamble more = Winner Winner!!! Chicken Dinner!!!

Sounds good. Maybe even try a black jack kinda hand Vs hand limit betting. This demonstrates that stronger cards win more which is generally true of poker. Also adds a competitive component to the game.

I’m not sure how much your GF got out a practice poker but maybe some more open handed would be beneficial. Its actually very similar to how the pros analyse hand play etc.

Try some basic comp games.

In terms of more lessons. I’ve learnt a lot more when I was a noob with basic ABC 101 concepts & sayings. C-bet, position, dont draw to an inside straight etc. There are so many and super easy to remember. Most players are bad, so you dont need to be very good to beat them.

Most lessons came from others, some I learnt myself. Everything helped to improve my game.

When I started playing I didn’t even know what beat what in poker but a list of hand classifications was enough to start playing 6MAX SnGs, & do good.

As a side note I’d be interested in player opinion. Best poker training ground: ring, SnGs or MTT?

Personally I’d pick SnGs for a few reasons. This was my training ground.

What do others think?

I like the SNG format better than ring. Finding a good ring table is hard, and it gets pretty boring. Some people like it, I can only stand it for a short time. I’ll pretty much only play them if I can’t find a SNG table to fill at an odd hour.

I think fixed limit rings are the best starting point. The math is easier, mistakes less deadly, and you are forced to play a technically sounder game.

No-limit rings introduce new concepts that build on your fixed-limit foundation. This makes them the next step in a logical progression.

Tournaments add an additional layer of complexity, including ICM considerations. I think MTTs are generally more forgiving, and let you gain experience in the various tournament stages. Early game, mid game, prebubble, and so on all last longer in MTTs, giving you more opportunities to learn.

SnGs are more compressed, so mistakes are more costly. They can be a great way to practice final table, short handed, and heads up strategies, and can be an important tool for those wishing to up their MTT game.



The structure of SnGs I think is generally good. Players mostly play their preferred format & dev bad traits/habits as a result. Rings tend to put very little pressure on players. In a ring you can fold all day & wait for very strong cards bc stacks are much deeper & blinds don’t raise. SnGs force more action etc. Also they aren’t long & boring like MTT.

I would consider SnGs short & fun little lessons. Its not hard to win or place in an SnG with a little luck even playing average/badly poker. A little work + a quick reward.