Online Poker Tells
In casino poker, tells are plentiful if you know how to spot them. These tells can be categorized by their nature: tells based upon
your opponents physical actions, or “visual tells,” tells based upon your opponents speech, or “verbal tells,” and based upon your
opponents betting patterns, or “betting tells.” Of these three types of tells, the visual tells are the most common, and the most
difficult for your opponent to conceal, making them
the most useful type of tell to the brick and mortar player.
Online poker is characterized by a complete lack of visual tells. This is because you cannot see your opponents’ reaction to play as
it is ongoing. Verbal tells are also greatly reduced online. You may gain some valuable information from the chat box from time to
time, and it is certainly worth monitoring, but you will not get the same amount or quality of verbal tells that you would get in a
brick and mortar poker room. This means that when you play online, you will be relying primarily on betting tells. If you are
experienced at reading players in a casino, this may seem like a huge disadvantage to you. After all, two of the three main types of
tells are virtually non-existent online. While losing out on these types of tells is a disadvantage, it is a disadvantage that all
players share, leveling the playing field. The good news is that tells that are available online are often subtle and not understood
very well by your opponents. You can regain your advantage by closely examining all of the tells that are available to you online.
Windows - Mac
As we discussed, your primary source of online tells will be betting tells. There are three main types of betting tells: tells
resulting from how much your opponent bets, tells resulting from how long your opponent takes to bet, and tells resulting from your
opponents’ use of the “in turn” boxes. If your opponent is an experienced online player he will be aware of this and may try to
manipulate the situation by giving intentional “false tells.” Be on the lookout for players who try to do this, and take notes so that
in the future you will not be fooled.
Obviously, you need to be able to tell the difference between a false tell and the real deal. This is done by looking for
idiosyncrasies in your opponents’ pattern of play. Many players do not use false tells at all. If you can identify them, you can be
confident that the betting tells that you get from that player will be accurate. Other players are full of moves. They may either
stall or insta-bet frequently. They may check-raise when you would expect a continuation bet. They may adjust bet sizes in an effort
to be misleading, and so on. On the surface this player may seem tricky, and difficult to read. But all players have idiosyncrasies
and play in patterns (especially the good ones). If you can identify these patterns and describe them in your player notes, you have
unlocked the ability to evaluate tells from even the trickiest of players.
The most common trick is the fake stall, followed by a bet or raise. Luckily, this is fairly easy to identify. This is often used by
players who have a very strong hand, and are worried that they will not be paid off. When it is their turn to act, they will take an
extra long time, pretending to think, and then will make a large bet or raise. You may have seen this move in a casino or on
television as well. This tell is easy to pick off, because most people are naturally bad actors who are prone to over-acting.
Similarly, online players will over estimate the amount of time required to represent genuine thought. So, a long pause followed by a
large wager is often a very strong hand. Big bet bluffs are generally made either quickly, or after a short pause.
A pause can also
indicate weakness under certain circumstances. This is known as a “reverse tell,” because it is the opposite of what you would normally expect.
If you see a player produce a weak hand after a pause, put it in your player notes. You will see this tell from newbies who have yet to discover
the wonderful world of tells and are unaware that they are giving them off. You will also see this tell from multi-tablers who are giving priority
to their stronger hands. This generally happens to players who run five games or more. Most sites have a “find user” search box, which will allow
you to see how many games your opponent is playing at any given moment.
The most reliable online tells result from your opponents’ use of the “in turn” boxes. The first thing that you should be aware of is
that the people who use these boxes are usually multi-tasking. Quite frequently, they are playing multiple games and are using the “in
turn” boxes in order to improve their efficiency. They are also giving up extra information when they use these boxes, information
which can be used to your advantage. Let’s take a more detailed look at the tells derived from the use of these boxes.
The first thing that you need to do is to determine which “in turn” box your opponent has likely marked. This may depend on what type
of player your opponent is. Consider the following situation. Your opponent is in the big blind, the pot is unraised, and when the
action gets to him, he insta-checks. Depending upon the site where you are playing, your opponent may have checked one of three boxes.
He could have selected the “check” box, which only activates if the pot is unraised. When a player selects this box, if the pot is
raised, the player is subsequently presented with his normal option to re-raise, call, or muck. The second “in turn” box he could have
marked is the check/fold box. If a player selects this box, the software will insta-check if the pot is unraised, and insta-fold if
the pot is raised. The third possibility is that the player could have marked the check/call any box. When this box is selected, the
software will insta-check if the pot is unraised and insta-call if the pot is raised or reraised. How can we tell which box was
selected? The answer is that we can never be 100% sure. But we can tell which box was probably not selected, by the type of player
your opponent is. First, you should know that only the loosest players will ever use the check/call any box. This is because this box
will automatically call all raises up to the cap. Most players will not call a cap with a hand that they would otherwise check.
Therefore, most players never use this box. So we can discount the likelihood that this box was selected, unless the player is really
loose. Also be aware that many players never use the check/fold box. This may be because they do not want to give “in turn” box tells,
or it may be because they are not sure if they are defending their blinds until they have seen all of the action in front of them. So
if you see a player insta-check, it does not give you that much information, but if you see a player either insta-call or insta-fold
from the blinds, that tells you something about that player. If you see a player insta-fold, you should be more inclined to steal this
player’s blind, because he probably frequently uses the check/fold box, and doesn’t defend his blinds very often. If you see a player
insta-call, you should be more inclined to raise or reraise a moderately strong hand preflop because he will often pay more than his
hand is worth.
Similarly, you can gain information from your opponents’ insta-bets and insta-raises when he is not in the blinds. If the action
checks to your opponent and he insta-bets, he has either marked the “bet in turn” box or the “bet/raise in turn” box. Be aware that
the “bet in turn” box will only activate if the pot is unraised. If the pot is raised the “bet in turn” insta-bet will not activate.
In this situation, your opponent will be presented with his normal options to call, fold, or reraise, and you will never know that he
has even used the “in turn” box. You will gain much more information if your opponent uses the “bet/raise” box. You will know when
this box was selected because the software will insta-raise when it is your opponents turn to act. An insta-raise usually indicates
one of two situations. Either your opponent has a strong completed hand (often the nuts), and his intention is to raise no matter
what, or more likely, he has a very strong drawing hand (often to the nuts). The insta-raise is much more commonly used on drawing
hands than made hands. This is because players want to get paid off when they make a strong hand, so they don’t insta-raise, in an
effort to disguise the true strength of their hand. Players will often insta-raise a strong draw, in an effort to represent a made
hand and to disguise the fact that they are still drawing. A few players will insta-raise on a total bluff, but this is relatively
rare, and you should write this into your player notes if you encounter it.
People who think there are no tells online simply can't be paying attentio. Betting patterns also reveal a lot in casinos, but online
they are more critical to observe for a simple reason: people bet more often. In particular, people playing multiple games make an
awful lot of bets in an hour, or a career. Such a volume of anything leads to repetition, as any assembly line worker can attest.
Watch an opponent long enough and you should have solid clues to their holdings, and especially their interest level in the
Player Notes: The Good, the Bad, and the Idiots
When playing casino poker, we see our opponents. I seldom forget a truly good or a truly horrible player. Online, all we see are
little icons, many with similar or extremely non-descript
names. Plus, we play against thousands of players from
literally all over the world, playing at all different hours of the day or night -- all at the same time! Player notes offer a way to
remember notable players. For me "notable" means the best players -- and the worst
goofballs. For the most part, the vast majority
of players are interchangeable
weak-tight lemmings. You don't really need to
keep track of them. But strong players and terrible players come in much smaller numbers. Also, since I play mostly Omaha8, I keep
track of super-tight players. These players aren’t "strong" players, and may not even win, but when one bets an 876 flop, I know to
put my A3 in the muck. Depending on the game you play, you might also want to keep track of other player categories, such as habitual
bluffers, but I definitely suggest you track the best and the worst. Most cardrooms now make this easy by including a "Notes" feature
where just by right clicking on a player's icon you are able to then make notes about that player that are permanently stored on your computer.
A written description of the action of previous hands, called “hand histories,” is available to you by clicking a link on the game
window. Depending upon the site, hand histories may also be requested by email. These are valuable in a couple ways. First of all,
they are useful for reviewing how your opponents are playing against you, in real time, as you play. Secondly, they are useful for
evaluating your own play over the long run. They will help you re-evaluate the decisions that you have made and help you to fix holes
in your game. You can go back over your old hand histories, to look for what works and what doesn’t, and use that information to
develop better strategies in the future. They are also the source of the data used on commercial tracking software.
When legitimate, an all-in occurs (besides the obvious when a player has no more chips) when a player loses his or her connection to
the game, either because of being bumped offline by a flaky Internet connection or because the cardroom is having server problems.
Sometimes you'll lose pots due to legitimate disconnects, and other times you'll win, but this will even out over time (as long as you
have a reliable Internet connection). If you suspect someone illegitimately times out because they don’t want to call a bet (or two or
three), contact Support. Such a person may get away with it once or twice, but eventually they will be stopped. To prevent this type
of shot-pulling, many online card rooms now offer games without all-in protection. This is an attractive option for high limit,
pot-limit and no-limit games, where an all-in shot can be costly. Games without all-in protection are notated as such in the lobby.
Some sites have even eliminated all in protection altogether. For the most part, tournament players are not afforded all-in protection.
How To Deal With Support
Online Support is generally pretty good. However, you must understand that they are not floor supervisors. They don't directly see
problems; they don't have a chance to ask multiple players or dealers about problems; and, they have literally hundreds of hands and
issue that they are dealing with. Some problem that is plain as day to you, might not be clear to a Support person who didn’t see what
happened. Most sites ask that you contact support by email. Be sure to be clear and concise about what happened and what you perceive
the problem to be. Always include the hand number, table name, time of day, players involved and other relevant information. Be
prepared for them to take one to several days to get back to you.
Don't be shy to bring matters to Support's attention. If you actually are "right" about some problem, very often they will correct it.
If they determine collusion has occurred, they will take appropriate measures, including freezing the offender’s account, and reimbursing players
when appropriate. If the problem is rude, offensive, or inappropriate chat, they may permanently block the offender’s ability to chat.
Support is the closest equivalent to a floorman. If some player is being belligerent, if you think some collusion might be going on,
if you think some player is playing consistently slow just to be annoying... tell Support. It is their job to make our online poker
experience pleasant and fair. They can't do their job without our help.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
Online poker has one fundamental thing in common with casino poker: most players lose. But the way players lose online inevitably
leads to some delusional paranoia. For instance, in casino poker, most players can effectively fool themselves about how they are
doing. The money they buy-in or cash out mixes in their pockets. They win some days and lose others. It's easy to say: "I break even,
or win a little." Online the bookkeeping is in black and white. Your losses are documented; your wins are sent to you in a very
deliberate way. You know if you are winning or losing.
Rather than admit the legitimacy of their losses, some of those players who delude themselves about their poker ability in a casino
end up charging the online cardrooms with some truly amazing practices. Most of these charges are hopelessly illogical paranoia. The
fact of the matter is, the amount of money a semi-successful online cardroom can make is staggering. The idea that a hugely profitable
multi-million dollar enterprise with relatively small overhead would jeopardize its goose that laid the golden egg for a few more
punishing people for cashing out... ideas
like this are just ludicrous. (At least one rogue online cardroom used bots and did not declare that fact, but this was easy to
discover and they are out of business as of this writing).
Online players should install firewalls on their computers. (If you have DSL or cable, you should have one anyway.) Check out this
page for links and information on
Firewalls, Spyware & Internet Security. If you
are the type of person who worries about the grassy knoll a lot, a firewall should ease some concerns. It is possible for a firewall
to interfere with your connection to the poker room’s server. This can generally be fixed by changing the configuration of the
firewall to allow all types of connections to the poker room’s software. If you experience problems connecting to the poker site, or
if your firewall seems to be blocking the program, contact support at the poker site, and they should be able to help.
Cheating can occur in online poker, just as it can occur anywhere poker (or any other game) is played. Some people are dishonest, that
is just a fact of life. What you should be concerned with is how likely you are to be cheated when you play, and if you will be able
to detect it. In my opinion, you are equally as safe playing online as in a casino. In other words, cheating is rare, but it does
occur, and you should be aware of it but not afraid of it.
A major type of cheating is collusion. Collusion occurs when two or more players agree to share information or agree to operate in a
manner which violates the rules. It is easy for cheaters to collude in a poker game. It is difficult for them to pull it off
undetected. First of all, everyone is watching for suspicious betting patterns. If something seems fishy, the players will notice
right away. In addition to this, the sites have multiple security systems, including software which tracks unusual betting patterns,
which are designed to detect and stamp out collusion.
are amateur losers, especially at the lower limits. These are people who are unable to beat the games legitimately, and will do
anything to stay in action. These players are not capable of establishing, and maintaining an effective cheating ring. It just isn’t
that easy to do, especially when all of the players and the site’s security department are looking for it. Most attempts at cheating
of this kind end up in miserable failure. The cheaters quickly get caught, go broke, or both. Occasionally, a more sophisticated
cheating ring or scam will be discovered. These typically occur at higher limits, and rarely, if ever, occur at limits below $10/$20.
If you are playing in a game where you suspect that there is cheating going on, leave the game and contact support. You should have
some sort of evidence (such as betting anomalies) to back you up. Be sure to include a detailed explanation of why you suspect
cheating. Do not contact support to make random or frivolous accusations.
If the site does suspect that cheating is going on, they will take action. The first thing that they do is freeze the accounts in
question and launch an investigation. They look can look at many things during the investigation: hand histories, betting patterns,
player groupings, etc. If they find that cheating did occur, the accounts in question will be closed, all funds will be confiscated,
and affected players will be reimbursed.
While the amount of money the house rakes from each pot is
pretty small, because of the speed on online games the gross amount raked is pretty incredible. Fortunately, there is a whole world
of players to contribute. Even though some of the worst players get chewed up too quickly, never to return, overall the rake is very
favorable for winning players, especially since there is no tipping.
A prop or proposition player is a live player who is compensated
by the house for helping to start or save games. Some of the smaller sites use props, and they compensate them by giving them all or
part of their rake back. Props are not affiliated with the house in any way other than being compensated for playing where the house
asks them to. Generally, this compensation is added directly into their poker account either weekly or monthly. Props must be willing
to play short handed, and may be restricted to playing in games specified by the house.
Showing down the best hand is only one way a winning player makes money. The same holds true online, but the logistical ways a
thoughtful player increases his or her win rate are mostly quite different. When playing AK against your opponent's J9, you aren't
just sending one hand value against another. Players who only earn the value of the hand strength of the AK over the J9 will fall well
behind the much more successful players who do the logistical groundwork of lobby monitoring, player notes and the rest. Hand value
profit is only the tip of the iceberg.
If you are a winning player, there is plenty of money to be made playing online poker. In fact, many professionals who formerly made a
living inside casinos now play mostly online. Remember, you can play several games at a time with each game running at three times the
speed of a live game in a casino. This makes it easy to leverage a small edge into big profit. Remember that online poker is a
different animal than casino poker. If you are coming from the casino environment, you will have to make some adjustments. There may
be a learning curve, during which time your profit may not be what you expect. My advice to you is to stick with it. Read books,
blogs, and magazines. Share your insights with other players. Over time your profits and returns on investment will gradually
increase. Play different games at different sites to find your best spot, and then leverage it by adding multiple games. If you are
good enough, you will make some serious money.
Playing winning online poker is the science, craft and art of
mastering things most players don't even think about.