If You Play Online – Don’t Tell
Playing online gives you anonymity and, if you’ve selected your screen name carefully, a cloak of deception regarding your age and gender. But are you needlessly giving online opponents valuable information in ways you haven’t thought about? If so, online tells are costing you money.
And if your awareness of tells has until now been limited to only those clues picked up from opponent mannerisms in live physical games, you’ve also been missing bets to be gained from observing the online tells of your adversaries. Of course, if you haven’t played online much, you may be wondering: What’s an online tell?
For online games, we need a definition of an online tell that goes beyond the physical. I offer the following: An online tell is an online preference or playing habit indicating a player’s likely hand or how the player may play this or other hands.
By this definition, you don’t have to “see” or “hear” a player in person to spot a tell. You just stay alert for anything distinctive or habitual in someone’s Internet play.
Suppose you’ve been playing in an online hold’em game for the last two hours. Though you’re probably doing other things between hands — watching television, reading the paper, daydreaming, eating, working on a report for the office, talking to your kids or your dog or your husband or boyfriend — you’ve somehow become bored and frustrated with the game. In fact, after suffering through a seemingly endless streak of terrible cards, you’re so disgusted that you’ve taken to clicking the “fold” pre-action button the moment you see ugly cards.
But when a pair of aces suddenly appears above your seat, your enthusiasm returns. Moving out of autofold mode, you give the game your full attention and eagerly follow the action until it gets to you. Someone in early position calls. Two players fold, then someone else calls. The action is almost to you now.
But “EasyGal,” the player just to your right, hasn’t acted, and she’s taking what seems like forever to make her decision. Is she thinking or does she have an Internet connection problem? Or could she be stalling, pretending she’s pondering a borderline holding when she actually has a huge hand? Then again, maybe she’s simply in another game and occupied with a hand elsewhere. You really have no idea what the delay signifies, nor can you even make an educated guess, because you’ve paid little attention to the game. Twenty seconds pass, then 25. Then, right on the wire, just before her cards can be swept into the void for not acting in time, she raises.
Meanwhile, you were so impatient to raise while waiting for EasyGal that you clicked the “Raise Any” preaction box out of frustration. So within a tiny fraction of a second after EasyGal acts — in fact, to the other players, it’s as if EasyGal and you acted simultaneously — it’s three bets to go for any player after you.
- An online tell is an online preference or playing habit indicating a player’s likely hand or how the player may play this or other hands.
Those yet to act take the hint and fold, as do both blinds. Even one of the two original callers folds, though the other calls. EasyGal hesitates, then just calls rather than cap the bettering. It seems you’ve lost some business. Hmmmm.
When the flop comes J-x-x rainbow, it’s checked to you and you bet. The first player folds, but EasyGal calls, then calls both the turn and river as well. At showdown, she clicks her “Show Cards” button and reveals a pair of black kings. When your aces take the pot, she types into the chat box: “I knew it, but I had to see them.”
OK, what’s wrong with this picture? Why is EasyGal so sure you have pocket aces, and why did you lose your other customers in this hand so quickly?
What’s wrong is that you have two big glaring online tells. Both involve timing. Tell No. 1, using pre-action check boxes to discard most hands in rapid-fire fashion, tells opponents they’re dealing with a very tight player. By never hesitating to fold pre-flop, you show that you reject even borderline hands and await only premium holdings.
Tell No. 1 alerts adversaries to anticipate Tell No. 2: When after all those folds you suddenly “Raise Any” using the pre-action buttons, especially to make it three or four bets, you’re sure to have a huge hand — probably kings or aces. You might as well type into the chat box, “I finally have pocket aces after all these rags, and I’m so excited I can’t wait for the action to get to me so I can raise it up.”
If you have obvious timing tells like these, your play is like an open book to astute opponents. Fortunately, it’s easy to shed them once you’re aware of them.
First, don’t use pre-action check boxes except on those rare occasions when you need a few extra seconds to do something out of the room between hands. Second, strive to take the same amount of time each time you act, regardless of what action you take. Some experts recommend first counting quickly to five before acting, no matter what, since opponents then won’t be able to learn anything whatsoever from observing the amount of time you take to act.
Finally, let timing tells work in your favor. Keep track of opponent pauses and of any hasty bets or raises. Then think about what these may mean. Especially note any bets, raises or re-raises implemented by the use of preaction check boxes — the superhuman speed is almost unmistakable once you start paying attention. Check your guesstimate accuracy rate by watching what cards are revealed at showdown, and don’t hesitate to ask for hand histories, which show all hands in called pots, not just the winner’s.
Profiting from Opponent Tells
Eliminating any online timing tells of your own is a big first step. But now it’s time to become the hunter rather than the hunted, to spot opponent timing tells and other online tells and turn them to your advantage.
For example, if another player habitually uses the “Raise Any in Turn” pre-action button whenever he has a big hand, and also uses “Fold/Check in Turn,” whenever he has rags, those are two glaring tells. If he acts ahead of you, you’ll know to respect his pre-clicked bets and raises by folding all but your very best hands, but to bet after him with little or even nothing at all if he autochecks when you’re heads-up.
Sometimes you can use this strategy against more than one opponent. If you’re in late position and several rapid checks from pre-action buttons ahead of you indicate that nobody has anything, you might take the pot with a bet, no matter what cards you hold.
As an exception to my advice against using pre-action buttons, you might try a well-timed “reverse tell.” To do so, lie in the weeds with a strong hand by clicking your “Check in Turn” or “Check/Call Any” button when you’re up front or in middle position. This will give you the perfect opportunity to check-raise when someone behind you bets. The maneuver works best when you’ve noticed an aggressive player in late position who always bets if rat-a-tat-tat checks have made him believe nobody else has anything.
Online poker offers the convenience of auto-posting your blinds or antes. When players use this feature, the game is considerably faster. Although you should avoid giving unnecessary information through the use of the other pre-action buttons, it’s considered rude not to auto-post. That said, here are a few auto-posting tells:
1) Failure to auto-post indicates either an Internet newbie or the opposite — someone savvy who intends to play only a round or two. Beware of the latter, especially in a pot-limit or no-limit game: the new player may be hoping for one good hand to make a quick score.
2) A player who has been auto-posting all along but suddenly stops is usually preparing to leave the game. This is especially true if he’s been winning in a potlimit or no-limit game. Beware if such a player bets or raises, for he’s likely to be ultra-cautious in protecting his profits. If he gets involved, assume he’s got the goods.
3) A player who has just stopped auto-posting and is also otherwise taking too much time to act is not only preparing to leave but has become quite inattentive to the game. This player may have just entered a higher limit game or a tournament. If you find yourself headsup, aggressive play on your part will often take the pot.
Originally Published in Woman Poker Player Magazine’s Print Publication