Online Poker Tells

The Language of Online Poker Behavior

Online Poker TellsPoker tells have been called the body language of poker, but tells have never been just about body language. Online players have no bodies to betray their thoughts, but actions do. Tells are simply the act of inadvertently betraying information. You don't need to be seen, or even have a body for that.

A tell can be any activity that that reveals useful information to your opponents. I first wrote about online poker tells around the turn of the century, the caveman days of online poker. One of the tells I mentioned then was The Stall. Back then, when players played at two tables at a time at most, The Stall was one of the most comically obvious, predictable and exploitable actions online. Inexperienced players would stall before betting the river when they had a powerful hand, as if they were unsure of what to do. Many years later now, The Stall is used just as often now by more experienced players as a reverse tell, to try and pretend to have strength. This makes The Stall now fairly unreliable, but it still is a tell nonetheless. It is just harder to decipher what it means.

Also, now that some players play as many as eight games at a time, slow play is more of a regular occurrence. The value in observing a Stall now occurs when a player breaks from their usual betting patterns. For instance, if a player has been playing crisply -- apparently with a good connection and only playing one game -- but then suddenly goes into a Stall, this will almost always mean something. On the other hand, if a player who has been playing slowly suddenly is making bets promptly as soon as it is his turn, this means something also. It will not have the same meaning in all cases, but simply being aware that an opponent has altered their normal behavior will almost always be helpful in that it should wave a caution flag in front of your eyes.

Analyzing betting patterns is an enormous part of playing winning online poker: speed of bet, call or raise, sizing of bets in pot limit or no limit. A large percentage of online players now are regulars. They play a lot, which means they get into rhythms or habits. Their standard rhythms are exploitable, but any deviations from the norm represent the key moments to focus on. You don't want to call someone's all-in bet when they deviate because they have the nuts, but you do want to call when they deviate because they have a busted draw in a key pot... and you don't want to be clueless about the very fact that they have deviated!

The Rant. Many online poker tells are the result of bad players telling you that they are about to play even worse than normal. How nice of them. The most obvious of these announcements is The Rant. Flawed players go on tilt in all sorts of poker games, and online is no exception. The thing about online is loudmouths and bullies can't glare at, roll their eyes or do some other belittling physical action. But via the chatbox they CAN insult their opponents. They can't say "change the deck" but they can rant about software being rigged against their genius-level play.

Boiling it down to the basics, a player who goes on a rant about stupid opponents or rigged software might just as well paint themselves purple with ten inch letters: "I am on tilt". Besides obviously horrible opponents, ranters are THE players to target in any game, even more so than obvious multi-tablers. You want to play against people on tilt, but you also want to be sure you don't take them off tilt by playing a weak hand at them that helps them to calm down. Go ahead and goad abusive players in the chatbox. These are almost always players who think they are far better than they are, and play considerably worse when losing than when winning. They will often make the game. Treasure the ranters. To a large degree, winning poker is about defeating people who act stupidly. Ranters are at the top of the list.

Chat revoked. While not a subset of the rant, a small number of online players list "chat revoked" or something similar as their location due to the cardroom blocking their chat privileges for some prior immature or rude chat outburst. When you see one of these players who needs to tell you that their chat is revoked, you know you are dealing with an immature person. They are also more likely to tilt (though not necessarily, they could have had chat revoked for racist or misogynist talk). If most chat revoked players lose a pot in an ugly way, you KNOW they wish they could call their opponent an idiot or worse. The WANT to rant. They WANT to insult. They want to exacerbate the tilt impulses they are feeling. You can even push them further by saying something like "nice hand" to the winner. You should be able to see the steam coming out of the chat revoked player's icon.

The Gloat. While not universally true, players who like to gloat after winning a pot are normally significant, longterm, weak-tight losers. Someone who regularly wins doesn't need to draw attention to that fact. Someone who is seldom a significant winner and needs to draw attention to that fact will be insecure as well as weak-playing. Gloaters are much easier to bluff after they begin to gloat, because they hate to now seem like a loser. They don't mind folding on the flop, or on the turn when an overcard hits, because they can pretend they got sucked out on. What they hate to do is be beaten on the river by an opponent with a superior hand. Gloaters can go on mega-tilt if they start losing after gloating, but more often they tighten up and enjoy their moment. They don't get them very often.

The Whiner. Chatbox-whining players are different than the above. People who whine in public, to a group of strangers who couldn't care less, are very likely used to whining. In other words, a whiner is not likely to be on tilt when losing. A variation of The Whiner is The Challenger who whines "let's play head-up" any time someone beats him two hands in a row, or three of so ugly hands in an hour. Both these types are serious, long-term losers.

The Rocket Scientist. Any player who sees fit to lecture about how to play, and then is blatantly wrong, is a short term target. These players almost never last very long, are often first-timers and are seldom exploitable over time.

Online tells almost always give you information, but don't confuse "it means something" with "it means the same thing in every situation." Using the "in turn" betting buttons is a good example. Using the auto-check almost always means weakness, but the auto-bet and auto-raise buttons can have very different meanings depending on the street where the betting occurs. Auto-raise before the flop is surely always a sign of real strength (unless a player is a maniac or obviously tilting). Auto-raise on the flop will more often be a sign of false strength, where someone is trying to protect a marginal hand.

Some tells carry over from casino poker, like a player impatiently taking the blind out of position, or right before having to take the big blind the next hand. Other tells are pure creations of online poker, though perhaps not tells per se, like using a statistics program to see an opponent's flop percentage.

When playing online you can't see your opponents, but you can see what they DO. Just like in the rest of life, what people actually do is what matters. How they act reveals their confidence, skills, backbone, maturity and level-headedness. The betting actions and chat behavior of opponents offers a goldmine of information that you can use against them. It may not be easy to decipher online tells but that is the very fact that makes them all the more important.

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