Manipulating the Tells in Online Poker
At least you're only dealing with one species when you play at a real table. I've got to remember what it means when the octopus twirls his legs around himself at the same time as the swordfish is sticking his nose through the cards! Obviously, online poker players don't have the luxury of reading tells - at least in the physical sense. Lacking that important read on their opponent, online poker experts have started to list some guidelines for the online equivalent of tells. PokerHo provides an excellent resource on reading internet tells in the "Poker Tells" section. Are online poker tells reliable? And what do you do if you're afraid that your opponents are keeping a close watch on you? Put the hammer down and they'll be putty in your fins…
Three Online Tells
When you play online, there are only three tells you can really pick up from your opponents: their betting patterns, the time it takes them to bet, and their chat. While there are a great number of new players coming to online poker rooms every day, there will also be a number of players who think they're savvy enough to figure out your tells. Even new players aren't completely clueless. A big bet is supposed to represent strength and a small one is supposed to represent weakness. A very tough position to be in is when you raise with your A-K from early position, get a couple of callers, but the flop brings 3 rags. What you'll often see your opponents do in this situation is make a small probing bet, which is usually just the minimum bet or twice that. It's a probing bet because they're looking for information. This is usually a major tell. While it is perfectly reasonable to try to extract information, this isn't the best way to do it online. Of course, you could run into an opponent who's playing very strangely with a monster hand, but they're usually just unsure of where they stand when they do this.
When I have position on the preflop raiser and he makes a small probing bet, I'll often come over the top of him. If he's looking for information, I'll give it to him: I've got the nuts and I want your money. I'll do this regardless of my hand if the flop looks harmless and he's acting weak. Even if you've just caught a piece of the flop and hit bottom pair, that beats an unpaired Big Slick every time. Try to steal it on the flop, but be prepared to let it go if he puts up a fight. Betting patterns can be an obvious tell, so try to conceal your patterns as much as possible. One good technique is to raise the same amount preflop every time you choose to raise. You do it with Aces, but you also might do it with 6-7 suited if you're feeling frisky (I know that I feel frisky after sitting at one of these online weak-tight blind-stealing fests). If you're playing at a particularly loose table, increase the amount of your standard raise, maybe to as much as 4 or 5 times the big blind to discourage drawing hands. If you're at a tighter table, raise only 2 or 3 times the big blind so that you at least get some action on your good hands. Another unreadable option would be to always raise different amounts.
The easiest online tell, which is a player's betting speed, can also be the most effective to manipulate. While many players realize that their opponents could be disguising the true strength of their hand by betting very slowly, there are still plenty of others who always mistake this for indecisiveness or a bluff. If you have a real monster and have to act first, you might try to take your take and bet a small amount. Your opponents could read this as a trap, but if you've got unbeatable hand they might take the odds you're laying them with your small bet and draw to a lesser hand.
The Slow Check-Call
An even better situation is when you don't have to start the betting yourself. This is one of my favorite online moves that works time and time again. Instead of trying to check-raise your opponent into paying you off when you've got the nuts, try the slow check-call. From my experiences, this can be a very effective move that will make you more money than declaring your hand strength immediately. A note of caution: don't try this with a vulnerable hand or you'll be giving your opponent a great chance to draw out on you.
Let's say that you call with red pocket 9s from middle position. There are 3 other players in the hand and the flop comes out 9-K-8 with two spades. The first player bets the pot, the next player folds, and you take your time before you just flat call. The next two players fold and the turn comes with an A. This is a great card for you since it's likely that he has a hand like A-K, and your opponent bets about ˝ the pot. You think again for a few seconds before you finally call. Do you see what vibes you're giving off by doing this? You look very hesitant, and with a K and 2 spades on the board, you could have a mediocre King or be on a spade draw. It's unlikely that your opponent is on a spade draw by his betting pattern. The river comes with another 8 and you've got a full house. Your opponent almost puts in all his chips, and you make a small raise for the rest of them. He turns over A-K and gives you're his chips.
This is a simplistic example, but it shows the value of the slow check-call move. If you were just trying to slowplay and instantly called, your opponent would naturally be suspicious. However, that extra hesitation may have been enough to let your opponent think that he was in control. Also, by just check-calling instead of check-raising, you're giving him the chance to bet more of his chips on either a bluff, or what he thinks is the best hand. It might not always work, but try to manipulate the online time tell whenever you get a chance. You have nothing to lose by waiting a few extra seconds before making your decision.
Chat tells are probably the most annoying and unreliable tell available to you online. If people discuss the strength of their hand in the chat window, it's usually just a bad bluff. Would you really want everyone to know that you had pocket Aces? Other times, people try to manipulate this by actually telling the truth about their hand, hoping their opponents will put them on for a trash hand. Recently, I had a friend over to the cove who was playing online with his seabook (notebook) computer. I was playing on my own computer at a different site. He had a guy at his table that was just being a pest. He was playing recklessly, getting lucky, and gloating about it. Finally, a good player at the table busted him out and he instantly bought in a new rack. He went all-in preflop the next hand and put, "Now I'm on tilt," into the chat. The same player who busted him out called him. They both had A-K, and I was thoroughly disgusted with his pathetic attempt to get called. For these reasons, I keep my chat turned off whenever possible and recommend that you do the same if you want to minimize distractions and focus on your game.
There are a few online tells that you can look for in your opponents, but my advice is that you largely ignore them unless you are trying to manipulate them yourself. Trying to convey strength or weakness through betting patterns and how much time you take can be effective, so look for opportunities to exploit your opponents when you have a monster hand or just sense that you can steal a pot. Remember, cards rule online and I recommend that you don't get very caught up in reading your opponents' tells. A better way to read them is to watch what kind of cards they show down and play better ones. Just remember that octopi always flex their 7th arm when they're bluffing.
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