Until you become a consistent winning online poker player, your main concern should be developing a strong set of starting hand standards and learning how to play those cards properly. However, once you reach the next level of your poker game you should begin to look beyond your own cards and try to find additional methods of extracting the most profit out of your opponents. Of course, you won’t have the advantage of picking up physical tells when playing on the internet, but there are a few simple online poker tells that you can pick up on if you know what to look for. You can also give off tells to confuse observant opponents.
The first, and most obvious, online poker tell is the use of pre-selected actions in the poker software. These usually exist in the form of “check/fold”, “check any”, “call any”, “call/raise any”, and “raise any”. Some software has more options than others but the check/fold button is pretty universal. Watch for players that use this – especially out of the big blind. You’ll know when a player uses it by seeing an instant check when it gets to their turn. This usually indicates a very weak hand.
Since the big blind had to put it money regardless of his hand, he’ll usually be holding trash. If you see an instant check preflop and a quick check on the flop, go ahead and bet out regardless of the board. Much more often than not you’ll pick up the small pot right there. This works especially well when there’s a face card on the board. Of course, you can manipulate this by occasionally clicking the “check any” from the big blind when you have a strong hand. Your opponents will believe that you clicked “check/fold” and you can set them up for a check-raise on the flop.
On the other hand, you might occasionally see someone put in an immediate raise. This happens most often in limit hold’em, and you should be wary when you see this at your table as it usually indicates a strong hand. This can be also be used as a bluff if you don’t overdo it. Some of your opponents are also savvy enough to use this as a bluff so think about fighting back if you see this move from a frequent bluffer.
Another important tell in online poker is the time it takes for your opponent to take an action. If your opponent always acts quickly on his turn and then suddenly hesitates when you bet into him he’s giving you a huge tell. He’s letting you know that he doesn’t have a simple decision. Use this information along with any notes you have taken on the player to help you make a decision. A long pause and then a check usually indicates weakness whereas a long pause and then a bet/raise usually indicates strength. My favorite way to manipulate this is by hesitating and then just calling when I’m in position on the flop or turn. This conveys that I’m probably on a draw and usually elicits another bet when they think that I missed or still drawing. At this point, you can throw in a raise. Of course, you should realize that better opponents will also do the same thing.
You can also find out if your opponents are playing at multiple tables. If your particular poker room software doesn’t have a Find Player feature, just look around at tables of similar limits. If you find them at 3 or 4 other games, this can affect your strategy. Multi-table players are usually a bit more distracted and don’t have time to make sophisticated plays. They usually play more of a straightforward game so you can get a fairly quick read on their style. Remember to take notes and try playing more aggressively against them to take advantage of their distraction.
The chat box may also give you insights on your opponents. If a player is constantly chatting it up he probably isn’t paying as much attention to his game. Another common occurrence you’ll see is a player steaming about a bad beat, swearing, and being an overall nuisance so you can obviously peg him for being on tilt. Opponents who like to downplay the strength of their hand are usually holding a strong hand. I don’t recommend trying to fool the table using the chat since it’s just downright childish and players can easily mute your commentary. On a side note, I find that disabling the chat altogether helps cut the annoyance factor in half.
Finally, and this is the least credible tell you can pick up, is the player name/avatar chosen by an opponent. Players with the word “TILT”, a picture of a fish, a wacky face, or similarly loose-seeming characteristics are often tight and conservative players. As I said, this isn’t completely reliable but these visuals tend to somehow dig their way into poor players’ subconscious. Occasionally, you can elicit that extra call or two when you have the nuts just by portraying a loose style visually.
In online poker, psychology doesn’t factor in nearly as much as at a brick and mortar cardroom but there are certain tells you can still pick up on and manipulate. Remember that the instantaneous check usually means weakness so try it sometime when you’ve got pocket Aces. Watch betting time such as the slow check (weak) and slow raise (strong). Keep an eye out for multi-tablers, and go for the throat on chat box tilters. Finally, “FishyFred” could be a better screen name choice if you want the occasional extra call. Remember, master your online poker game first and then take your game to the next level by spotting weaknesses and tells around the virtual table.