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This Week’s Lesson: The Art of Observing Unseen Opponents AKA Online Tells
What is up, Elite Poker University! This prestigious institution invited me back to instruct and discuss a subject matter near and dear to my heart, Tells. The wonderful aspect of poker is a player is competing against other people and not the “house.” This is why it is vital to gain a read on your opponent. His or her actions tell a story. Of course, the bulk of this story is dictated by their play at the table, but this is not the full story. Their mannerisms, banter and betting pattern often reveal what is behind the curtain. At live-action tables, this is much easier to discern (although, it still takes hard work and talent to master). However, while playing online, there still exist factors that can reveal intentionality as well as hand type. Online tells are there to be seen if you look close enough!
Armando Marsal wrote a fantastic piece on Playing Your Opponent (Lesson 8). I would suggest reading his article before you continue this one, as his depictions of player types serve as an excellent background to what follows. But, if you are lazy, here is a quote which ties it all together, just as the rug did in The Big Lebowski:
Something I do online, once I have played enough hands with a player and have identified a consistent part of his/her game, is write a note on the player’s profile with my observation.
By following this suggestion, it (a) keeps you organized; (b) frees your mind to concentrate on other aspects of your game; and (c) serves as a hub to record the tells you think to be true. Finding these tells is certainly more of a challenge online, and the art of observing unseen opponents only comes with repetition. The great thing in our favor while playing online is more time to pay attention and peg people out. You have zero chips in front of you to organize and keep track of – although, I do miss not being able to shuffle my chips and roll one around in my hand. When you step away for a smoke or to get a drink, the game comes along so you can continue your observations. Just don’t be bringing your phone or tablet to the bathroom cause that’s just nasty, you dirty mother… Enough digression.
What are these online tells in which I keep referencing? Funny you should ask, as here are my five most common tells to recognize for successfully (and regularly) profiting at the poker table, the rationale behind them, and what they could indicate!
Online Tell #1: Chatty Chatterson
Similarly to live tables, there are always those guys or gals who talk your ear off. Only in online poker play, this goes down in the chat thread. Subsequently, a barrage of messages may flow your way, but what do they mean? Here are a couple of theories. The chat is meant to seek information from you (just like sitting at the table), which to me indicates they are not confident in their hand and are weak. Of course, they could still be pumping you for info while sitting there with the nuts in order to elicit a call. But for the large part, I side with the prior.
Theory #2: Chatty people are there for the party and not so much the sport. Hey, people wanna unwind, especially during these challenging times we now face. They wanna get away and throw some money around. With limited options, an online poker boom has occurred. Of course, EPU was all over it from the get-go! These players live in the chat thread and may or may not be paying close attention to their hands. These folks are often the ???? of the table. Once recognized, utilize them as one would utilize an ATM.
Theory #3: They are trying to distract you and cause a mistake. DON’T LET IT HAPPEN! If it gets too much, mute their ass! They may be winning the war of words, but you can dry your tears with their cash.
Online Tell #2: Contrived Hesitator
We all know the type… those who take that long pause only to follow it up with a raise. A golden rule in poker is a strong opponent will try to act weak, while a weak opponent will try to act strong. In this case, your opponent is attempting to act weak, urging you to call or reraise. Don’t fall for this cornerstone tell. The irony is, by using this strategy, they are actually tipping their own tell. Logic says this screams strength. When a big hand is on the table, players will whip out this strategy, further giving away their intentions. Here is an example:
You have a flush or straight draw and make a bet. Your opponent hesitates for 20 of the 30 seconds allowed and then makes a raise. Hmm, maybe it was a mistake, a mishit on their device ????♂️. In reality, he might as well be saying: “Hmm, there’s a flush possibility on the table and you’ve bet into it. I have to ponder this because you possibly have a strong hand! Oh well, I think I’m beat, but I *guess* I’ll raise…”.
I *guess* I will fold… peace out, cub scout!
Online Tell #3: Automatic for the People
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are those who side more with the rabbit than the tortoise. They insta-call, insta-raise or insta-check, all of which indicate various tells.
- Insta-call: You’re beat… get out while you can or move onto the next hand.
- Insta-raise: ???? This usually indicates a very strong hand. Your opponent more than likely had the ‘bet/raise all’ button selected. Although this can be used by maniacs and bluffers, in a majority of cases, it is an indication of confidence in their hand. So much so, they are willing to bet or raise regardless of the action. Tread carefully and consider folding or check-calling this down.
- Insta-check: This is a weak or folding hand. Most players use the ‘auto-check’ button when they are willing to fold their hand. You may see a call after insta-checking but not often. Make a strong bet and rake in those chips (well, sort of… I’m still hung up on missing my chip shuffling as referenced above).
Online Tell #4: Suspect Bets
Unusual betting patterns can put you on high alert and make you feel ever so uncomfortable. Getting caught with your pants down, the clock may expire before you make an informed decision. Doesn’t have to be this way when you know what these variations may indicate!
For example, through playing countless hands, I have noticed a few things in my old age (Disclaimer: I’m only 41-years-old… I’m in my fucking prime!). When your opponent bets the pot 3x, their aim is to push you out rather than get a call. Yes, sure, they could have a monster too, but more often than not, they want you to go away. If they want you to call, you will often see a ½ pot bet (or min raise preflop) to suck you in! If you see that and take the bait, followed by the aforementioned 3x pot bet, then this is an entirely different story and you may be on the hook. Wiggle, MF!
When you see an odd number bet, such as $24.75 instead of $25, associate this as a neutral hand. This occurs often in online no-limit games, where fractions of a dollar come into play. If you see this happen, don’t make any strong convictions. The aim may be to throw off their opponents or make bet sizes look more intimidating (induce folds).
Speaking of bet size, it does matter and often equates to degree of strength. Very small bets most often indicate weak hands, but beware, as sometimes there are ???? lurking in the shadows. Whereas, massive all-in bets vs. size of pot bets can indicate either a monster or a bluff. In order to tell the difference, pay close attention to hand selection and type of player as referenced in Armando Marsal’s article linked above. Less experienced players will wait until they have a monster hand, then push all-in, hoping someone will call. A sign of this is they haven’t played a hand in quite some time and their bet eclipses the size of the pot (all-in for $74 when the pot size is under $10). Don’t be stupid and call!
Online Tell #5: He’s a Shower, Not a Grower
I’ll make this final one brief. We all know the player who shows his hole cards after virtually every single hand. Don’t say you haven’t known this person cause I’m calling shenanigans. Furthermore, directed at these players, NO ONE CARES YOU WOULD HAVE MADE THAT STRAIGHT WITH 5,2 OFFSUIT. But that’s not their intention, at all. They are pumping you for information again and trying to get a read on your game. Their hands are mediocre to poor. They want you to return the show or go in the chats and give a clue which will help them defeat you in the future. Don’t bite and keep your advantage!
The one time I’ll show is if I’m asked to show the bluff. If I had the nuts, I’ll show if it serves me. If I was truly bluffing, I’ll do the same. That being said, every opponent only gets *one time* from me. This isn’t an art gallery. Then again, maybe my game is a work of art.
In closing, physical tells can be unreliable. A player may be blinking frequently, and you are certain it’s a tell – but does it indicate a strong hand or a weak hand? Folks overrate the physical tell, or maybe it’s just a means for the professionals to sell you on their coaching services. If we assume falsity or at least uncertainty in these physical tells, then online tells can be even more revealing. The advantage of being live at the table may merely be a myth.
If you ever have any poker questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @Rob_Povia. Impossible to capture all that filters through this head of mine in one given short, to-the-point article!
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