Online Poker Table Tells Part 1: Betting Speed
What is a tell? In poker jargon a tell is something a player accidentally does to give away their hand or playing strategy. Tells in a live game are usually some unconscious tick or habit that reveals a bluff or some other aspect of play. Learning to read other players is a vital skill if you want to obtain a mastery of poker. This is no less true for online poker than poker in the offline world. True, body language is unreadable via broadband, but the medium of online poker offers tells of its own.
It is well worth your while to pay strict attention to the other players’ online betting habits, especially their betting speed. Whether a player or players quick check, pause and check, pause and bet, or quick raise or re-raise on the river will give you loads of vital data. However, before delving into this data, some caution is warranted. When it comes to betting speed in an online poker room, it is critical to distinguish between what the betting style and speed says from what it is not saying. Sometimes players will be disconnected or lagged throughout the game. Slow betting in this instance is not a tell, but a happenstance. Furthermore, if you know a player is engaged in multiple games slower betting is again merely a product of circumstance (though it does ‘tell’ you they are multi-tasked, which is useful in itself).
When players quick check this generally means they hold some weak cards. If your hand is decent and all the players before you quick checked, your chances of taking the pot are pretty good. Be wary, nevertheless. Sometimes players utilize the quick check as a trap. If an opponent tosses a re-raise into the pot after a quick check they most likely have a strong hand; the quick check was most likely a ploy to draw more money into the pot.
When a player pauses and checks (also called slowbetting) it is often to give the impression that they hold a strong hand and that they are taking their time to decide what to do with it. In reality, however, these pause-check tactics generally mean the player has a potentially strong hand, which the turn or river might just realize. The pause and check is, in reality, an attempt to cow the other players into checking instead of raising and thus keeping the cost of the next draw down.
The pause and bet is similar to the pause and check in that it is an attempt to trick the other players into thinking the person’s hand is something other than what it is. The person who pauses and bets often has a monster hand, but is trying to give an impression of indecision and weakness. In this way her or his opponents are lulled into betting into the monster hand.
The player who quick raises or dramatically re-raises on the river is often meta-bluffing –that is, they do in fact have a strong hand, but they are hoping others will think it is a bluff and throw yet more money into the pot. This tactic tends to work rather well against loose players who tend to assume people are always bluffing.
Of course, no discussion of online poker betting tells is complete without at least a mention of pre-action buttons. You can usually tell a player is using a pre-action button if their turn finishes instantly. Pre-action buttons are exceptionally easy to read, and can generally be interpreted as follows. A pre-action check is probably a weak hand. A ‘call any bet’ pre-action is probably a good hand, and a ‘raise’ pre-action button is probably a killer hand. Liberal use of the pre-action buttons may also indicate the player is not fully focused on the game, and will therefore not be engaged in a lot of trickery or subterfuge.
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