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Texas Holdem Poker Tournament Strategy - Online Poker Tells
Are You Using These? Are They Being Used Against You?
Let's have a closer look at online poker tells in online games like Texas Holdem. These online tells differ quite a bit from traditional ones, as we'll soon see. If you don't know about these particular poker secrets and you play online poker, then you're at a significant disadvantage vs. your competition. Chances are, experienced online players have been using these against you for quite some time without you ever even knowing it...
What is a "tell"? A traditional poker tell is any habit, behavior, or physical reaction that gives other players more information about your hand. In offline poker, a shaking, nervous hand is often an indication of a player with a strong hand. Another common poker tell would be looking down at my chips when I first see my pocket cards or the flop - a sign that I'm thinking about betting and have a good hand, so I'm seeing how many chips I have to work with.
Several of the poker tells listed here are useful for both online and offline poker. However, since we lack the ability to read opponents physical expressions and reactions when playing online, the number and type online poker tells actually available to us are much more limited, and so the ones we do have available become that much more important to be aware of and recognize.
Caro's Book of Poker Tells is the classic treatise on the subject. Most of the poker tells that work in offline games rely upon physical observations of how a player reacts or behaves, so these kinds of tells don't help online since we can't observe the player physically. So when playing online, there are other telltale signals that we can watch for that give us an edge.
According to a recent survey, the top three online poker tells are:
* Quickness to respond, reported by 76% of respondents - a very fast check can indicate a weak hand, quick bets on the turn or river can often indicate a strong hand.
* Slowness to respond, reported by 73% of respondents - a pause followed by a check can often indicate weakness, while a delay followed by a raise often indicates strength.
* Automatic play, reported by 68% of respondents - a lazy approach to the auto buttons lets a player slip into a set pattern of play. Any breaks in this pattern are clear tells.
So, what can we actually use as online tells?
Using Check Boxes to Gain Information
Online poker rooms offer the use of check boxes for actions such as "Fold", "Check/Fold", "Raise", or "Raise Any", etc. While convenient for those of us who lack the patience to focus on the game for extended periods of time, the use of checkboxes can be very damaging to your overall winnings. You can determine when a player has used a check box, because their action comes immediately after the player before them acts. You can use this knowledge to your advantage if a player consistently uses checkboxes.
When a player has pre-selected "Check" or "Check/Fold", it should be obvious that he doesn't have a strong hand that he cares much about, and is likely on a draw or just waiting to fold, so you can determine the player likely has no hand or a weak hand. If their hand is immediately folded after the prior player acts, you know they are using checkboxes and can begin watching this more closely. When they don't use a checkbox, then they're taking more time to consider how to play a better hand...
Similarly, a player who uses the "Call Any" check box is likely to be on a draw and not yet made a good enough hand to bet or raise with, but is definitely not ready to fold at this point.
Poker tells are not 100% accurate, yet they often provide us with enough additional information to help us confirm what we may already suspect. Over time you can get a sense for how these players use checkboxes and begin to draw conclusions about your opponents hand strength and mode of operation as a result.
If you detect that someone is on a draw, for example, you can often bet or raise the pot a bit and push them right out, since it'd be too expensive to continue with their draw without free cards or calling minimum bets.
The fact that a player feels so strongly about a hand (good or bad) to make a decision before even seeing the how other players will bet or act is a poker tell about this person's inexperience with online play and often about their hand strength.
If you use checkboxes, be highly self-aware of how they'll be perceived by the other players and use them to your advantage. If you have a good hand that you're wanting to slow-play, use a check-box to quickly "Check" or "Call" with, feigning weakness. If you have a weaker hand, are on a draw, avoid using the checkbox altogether and act like you're really thinking about how to play that hand.
If you're bluffing, make a raise quickly and confidently (using a checkbox, if applicable), to signal confidence in your hand. Of course, it's always best to mix things up a bit so players can't predict your actions. The idea is to keep opponents guessing or throw them off in the wrong direction so you can profit from their mistake - that's how winners operate, through carefully orchestrated deception and mixing things up constantly.
Speed of Play
Online poker rooms limt the amount of time each player has to take action. Often, the speed at which a player responds can be a good poker tell. Generally, a quick bet is a sign of weakness. A delayed bet or action can be a sign of strength since the player is spending time calculating how best to play what is perceived to be a good or strong hand, how much to bet, etc.
Keep an eye on how much time it takes players to make their decision and take action and remember it at the end of a hand. Then, when you get a chance to see their cards in a showdown, verify what kinds of hands they act on slowly and what kinds of hands they act quickly upon. Speed of play is the most common and easiest online poker tell to spot.
The instant call after you bet: Most players who call your bet immediately have a weak calling hand. These players want you to believe they have a stronger hand and hope that you will not bet into them again.
The delayed check: Most players who take longer than normal before checking to you do not want you to bet. They are attempting to display strength because they want to see the next card for free.
The delayed bet: When an opponent thinks for a long time and then bets, they will usually be holding a strong hand.
The instant bet/raise on the river: The player who utilizes this move will usually be holding a very strong hand, often times it'll be trips. By raising or betting so quickly, they are trying to make you think they are bluffing. This move can also be used on the turn and generally, though not as frequently, denotes strength.
The bet into on the turn: When a player has checked and called on the flop and then bets into you on the turn, it can indicate weakness or that they've made their hand. This type of bet often means that they picked up their draw or that they are semi-bluffing with a draw they picked up on the flop. Strongly consider raising if you have a decent hand.
What about your online play style? Do you exhibit these kinds of online poker tell play behaviors and patterns? If so, be aware of it and deliberately mix things up so that you're decision-making processes aren't so easy to spot and lock onto, or simply take a similar amount of time for each action you make, preventing people from drawing any kind of conclusions at all based upon timing.
Opponents Starting Hand Fold-to-Flop Ratio
Keep an eye on whether or not a player folds a lot of garbage starting hands (a 'tight' player) or is playing at just about every pot that comes along - a 'loose' player. This information can be used to help determine the strength of a players overall game. If the players folds most of the time, beware since this player is pretty tight or solid and only plays good hands.
If the opponent plays most every hand, then you can probably take advantage of this and win if you play good cards consistently against such a player. These kinds of loose players like to gamble, and sometimes they'll get lucky and pick up some cards. It's best to just remain patient and wait for your opportunity. You're better off just playing the odds and good hands in order to take advantage of this player's aggressive, loose style when you land a good, solid hand.
Just like in offline games, the "chattiness" of a player can be used as a tell. Generally, a player who is highly chatty that suddenly goes quiet is now busy thinking about playing some good cards, figuring out how best to play the hand.
Alternatively, a player who suddently becomes antagonistic may be bluffing and hoping this demonstration of exhuberance will add to the strength of his bluff and cause you to fold. When you recognize a tell, generally do the opposite of what you think the player is trying to cause you to do.
It's important for you to remain aware of your play style and table image at all times. It's best to keep everyone off balance by mixing things up. Become suddenly aggressive and play looser (and risk the minimum amount you can, usually early in the game before blinds go up if it's a tournament), then become tight again. Keep everyone guessing.
Being aware of how you use check-boxes, the timing of your decision-making and action-taking, and controlling your play style deliberately instead of going into "auto-pilot" repeatitive mode will help you avoid providing others with the advantages of the tells discussed here.
I hope these insights into online poker tells have been helpful. Keep them in mind as you play in your next online game or tournament.
Until next time - - - Good luck!
Rick Braddy is an avid writer, Texas Holdem player and professional software developer and marketer for over 25 years. His websites and Texas Holdem poker software helps people become better Texas Holdem players. If you're a poker player, be sure to visit his Texas Holdem poker poker today and learn how you can play better Texas Holdem poker, too.
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