Some say you can’t pick up tells online. I do it all the time, and I’m not talking about patterns or situations. I mean honest-to-goodness tells with which other players let me know their holdings.
A pattern is the tendency of a player to do something regularly. For example, a player needs at least such and such a hand to open from under the gun. The player might be aware of position, and the hand he plays depends on what his position is. Another player might come in from any position with whatever hand she deems playable. Some players always limp. Some players always come in for a raise. Some mix it up. All of these actions fall into the category of patterns.
A situation indicates what a player does dependent on what has already happened. That is, some of those players who, in hold’em, limp with any two cards might not necessarily call a raise with the same hand. Some players always slow-play big hands after someone else is in the pot, hoping either to be able to reraise or to spring the trap in a later round. Again, in hold’em, some players never bet strongly on the flop, some bet strongly only with vulnerable hands, and others bet strongly with anything they plan on continuing the hand with. Some bet based on whether they showed strength earlier. All of these, and many others, fall into the category of situations.
I’m most familiar with draw poker online, so the patterns and situations I know come from that game. But you can extrapolate from my observations to whatever your online game is, because players exhibit tells in all games.
For patterns in draw poker, some players play any pair and any come hand (a draw to a straight — usually not an inside-straight draw, although many online players do play them — or flush). Others raise-open with any hand they play. Still others raise-open only with, say, a pair of aces or better, and limp with any other hand. Those are patterns.
For situations, some raise a limper with any hand of aces or better, and just call with something in the range of aces to about kings up if the pot is raised ahead of them. With anything better, they reraise if someone has come in for a raise. Others always slow-play big hands. If someone limps, they call with a big two pair or trips (or better), and then reraise if someone raises. Others reraise a raise-open with any hand they would play anyway in that situation. Again, those are situation plays.
They are not what I mean when I talk about online tells.
When you’re playing poker qiu qiu online, you can’t see your opponent. You can’t look into his eyes, and from there see into his soul. You can’t see how he tosses his chips into the pot — whether in a neat pile or scattered. You can’t hear if he sighs while betting. You can’t tell if he inhales and then holds that breath. You can’t see if his hands shake. You aren’t aware of whether he stares fixedly at that pot — or at you — or looks away. In short, you apparently have nothing on which to make a tell. So, why do I say that you can detect tells online?
What you have online is how quickly — or slowly — a player bets. And that can be worth a lot.
Some players are consistent enough with their betting speed that you can’t infer anything from it. But many give away their holdings by how long they take to check, bet, call, or raise.
The most common tell is hesitation based on lack of certainty. For example, a player who probably has small or medium trips bets after the draw in a raised pot to my three-card draw, and I raise. He hesitates and then finally reraises. The hesitation was because he didn’t know what to do. Did I raise because I improved to a better three of a kind? Should he then fold? Am I bluffing? Should he perhaps reraise in case I have two pair or even just one big pair? I now know what to do. If I have large trips, I can cap it. If I have two large pair, I can just call or even think of folding. Or, another example, a player limps with what is likely a small pair, and I raise. He hesitates and then calls. The hesitation was, again, because he didn’t know what to do. Since I undoubtedly have him beat, should he just fold instead of losing another bet and maybe more after the draw? Should he perhaps reraise on a bluff? And then it’s time for the draw. The player hesitates because he’s trying to figure out how many cards to draw. He might have an ace kicker and be wondering if he’ll slow me down by perhaps fooling me into thinking he has trips. Or, maybe he knows he won’t fool me because he didn’t reraise, but he’s still thinking about keeping an ace, hitting the kicker, and beating what he hopes is my smaller two pair. This kind of hesitation is almost always due to indecision, and you should learn to recognize it.
In a cut-and-dried situation, the same player does not hesitate. He limped with a big pair, I raised, and he calls immediately because he has what he considers a playable hand. Or, it’s draw time, and he has a flush draw. He doesn’t have to hesitate, trying to decide what to do. Or, he has two pair, and he knew all along that he needed one card.
Both of these (hesitation and quick decisions) are tells, and can be used to define the player’s hand. At the lower levels of online draw, maybe a fourth of the players exhibit this kind of tell. Hesitation before calling a raise means the player holds a hand that could be played in more than one way. You can infer from the player’s playing patterns what the problem is. If a player regularly limps with big hands and then always reraises quickly when raised, hesitation before calling the raise clearly means a substandard hand. You rely on the pattern — in this case, the lack of a reraise, indicating not having slow-played a big hand — and the tell to deduce the player’s holding. Hesitation at draw time means lack of a clear-cut way to draw.
Here’s an example showing three instances of this kind of tell during the play of one hand. TTom409 hesitates and then limps in from the cutoff position. Sometimes he hesitates before limping with garbage, and sometimes he hesitates before limping with a big hand. This tell, while it means something, hasn’t told me anything yet. I know it is a tell, though, because TTom409 opens briskly when he has a big pair. I have a pair of kings. I raise from the button. Since TTom409 limps with most small pairs and with any come hand, two kings is better than his hand most of the time. The two blinds fold. When the action returns to TTom409, he quickly reraises. OK, now I know what the first hesitation meant. He didn’t know whether he should be tricky and limp from late position with a good hand or just straightforwardly come in for a raise. Limping late is risky, because that gives the blinds a cheap or free shot to beat him, and also because with only a few players remaining, the pot is less likely to be raised. He thought about it for a moment, and decided to take a chance on being tricky, and, apparently, it succeeded, because I raised and he got to reraise. Now, it’s time to discard. Again, TTom409 hesitates. Again, I know he has a dilemma. If he had two pair, he would just straightforwardly draw one card. He has trips and doesn’t know whether to take two cards or disguise his hand by taking one. He hopes to fool me into thinking he has two pair, but he has already telegraphed to me that he has better than that. I take three cards. It’s time for the bet after the draw, and TTom409 hesitates one more time. I know he did not make a full house, because he would immediately bet if he did. He’s hesitating because his trips are big, and he’s wondering whether he should bet right out or try for a check-raise. Why would he think he could get away with a check-raise? Because he thinks his one-card draw has fooled me. He’s pretty sure I won’t call with only one pair, but if I make two pair and bet, he can win two bets. He finally checks, but I know what his plan is. I catch two deuces and check right behind him. He shows down Q-Q-Q-7-A and takes the pot. Had he bet, I would have folded. He had no way of getting that extra bet from me. But, had I been lucky enough to catch a third king, I would have won three bets (because I would have reraised), and maybe even four if he decided to cap. And, by the way, had I made the third king, we would have seen a rare fourth instance of hesitation in this hand. As he faced the third bet, he would have pondered whether three queens was worth capping. Did I make higher trips? The ace in his hand might have tipped him in favor of capping, since I was less likely to have made three aces, one of the hands that could beat him.
The hesitation due to indecision is valuable.
Even more valuable is deliberate haste or hesitation. You see this a lot, too, and here, your notes are invaluable. This kind of tell has different meanings for different players.
Hesitation from one player might mean one thing, and from another, exactly the opposite. Hesitation from still another player might mean something different each time. Keep good notes, and some players will regularly tell you what they have.
Hesitating for a very long time before finally betting the nuts is a common online tell. For example, I raise-open from the button with two jacks. BklynFan1111 calls from the small blind. He’s fairly tight and doesn’t usually reraise with two pair, so I figure I’m beat. SlickSally calls quickly from the big blind. She could have almost anything. BklynFan1111 draws one card. I’ve never seen him come in cold to draw to a straight or flush — except a straight flush — unless he has the big blind and is getting money odds for his draw, so I’m pretty sure he has two pair. SlickSally draws three cards, and so do I. BklynFan1111 waits for what seems an eternity online — perhaps 20 seconds — and finally bets. I’m pretty sure he just filled up. SlickSally calls. I know that she will call in this spot with any two pair. I catch two deuces, giving me J-J-2-2. Even though I am better than even to have SlickSally beat and am getting 5-to-1 pot odds to call, I dump my cards. BklynFan1111 shows 9-9-9-8-8. I check the hand history later and see that she made 10-10-7-7. Had they both checked, I would have bet and gotten two calls (assuming BklynFan1111 would not go for a check-raise here). So, long hesitation from BklynFan1111 means a big hand. Interestingly, a hesitation of about half that length of time means he doesn’t have a hand worth betting, but he will call after he checks. And a quick check means he has lost interest in the hand and will fold if there is a bet. This is all in my notes, and I use it to my advantage.
I use BklynFan1111’s tells against him in other ways. If he has the small blind on my big blind, draws one card, and instantly checks, I know I can safely bluff if I missed my own hand. If he pauses just a bit before checking, I then value-bet medium hands (like two pair) and better, but do not attempt to bluff because I know he will call. And the very long pause, no matter how big (or small) the pot or how many cards he drew, tells me he’s made a monster, and I respond accordingly. A quick bet from him almost always means a bluff.
Other players are just the opposite. A very long pause before betting means a bluff. A quick bet means a good hand.
You’ve got to be careful of one thing, though. Delays sometimes occur for reasons other than deliberation on the part of the players. Your connection may have gone down briefly, making it seem like BklynFan1111 paused for a long time, when in fact he bet very quickly. You fold two pair and some calling station calls with a pair of tens and takes the pot. So, you may be fooled into thinking there was a delay in someone’s bet when there actually wasn’t. If you’ve been seeing lots of delays and many timeout countdowns at your table, realize that a betting delay may not mean what you think. A quick bet, however, is always a quick bet, and if it comes from someone you know to delay until what seems the very last moment before betting the nuts, you can respond appropriately.
I know players who get upset when someone delays the game for 10 seconds or more at a time. A delay that wouldn’t even be noticed in a brick-and-mortar cardroom seems forever online. If someone delays that long on every decision, I too get annoyed. But if someone’s delays are not constant and provide me with tell information, I don’t mind.