Seven Ways to Spot Online Poker Tells
Following the pandemic and expanded legalization for gambling in the U.S., online poker continues to see strong growth. By 2025, online poker is expected to become a $112-billion industry. As the game becomes more popular, new players are constantly emerging, whether they’re playing in-person or on their computers and smartphones.
However, though the rules of the game don’t vary much depending on where you play, the strategies can be immensely different. One of the biggest aspects of poker – reading your opponents and predicting their moves – becomes significantly different when the game moves from felt to screen. Deciphering online poker tells can be difficult, but by knowing what to look for, players can improve their skills and win more pots.
In a previous blog post, we featured insight from body language expert Mike Carter, who dissected some of the tell-tale signs of lying. The challenge grows for online poker, as the lack of in-person interaction removes several opportunities to a get a read on those who you’re playing against. Even for experienced players, using opponents’ activities and behaviors to predict future plays is no easy feat. In this post, we’ll examine seven opponent habits and traits to monitor while playing online poker, citing insight from Replay Poker’s Poker Marketing Manager 19-year poker veteran Jonny Chapman.
The size of someone’s bets are some of the biggest indicators of how good a hand is, but that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest to utilize. The basic logic is that someone will be more inclined to call or raise if they believe their hand is strong enough to beat out other players’. But it’s better to use this information to first determine how experienced your opponents are. If someone’s making consistently small bets, even when they show strong hands, there’s a good chance the player lacks experience. Inexperienced players may not be as knowledgeable of opponents’ tactics, which would result in a more timid, conservative approach to playing. Keep track of how your opponents typically bet, as well as how this changes in relation to the amount of chips they have left. Identifying cases where they stray away from their norm can help you make safer decisions about how to respond.
One aspect of online poker sites that Jonny finds useful is the replay function. By reviewing replays and monitoring how players’ bet while holding a certain hand, you can identify those players’ tendencies and use them to your advantage. Having more knowledge about other players at the virtual table will grant more opportunities to make adjustments to your strategy when noticing patterns.
While this strategy requires more time played with specific opponents to be useful, identifying how often someone bluffs can help players maximize long-run winnings. The art of bluffing is a staple to all forms of poker, but many fail to do so convincingly. If, after a few hands, you notice that someone is rarely bluffing, it’s a good sign that a big bet often means a good hand. However, if someone often bluffs successfully, it’s a good indication of the rest of the table’s habits. If other players often fall for bluffs, adjust your strategy accordingly to win a few more pots when the prime bluffer isn’t a factor.
According to Jonny, spotting frequent bluffs can create opportunities to knock them out of hands. “Once I have identified ‘over-bluffers’ by observing the table or watching the replay, I will change my strategy against them to just checking and calling their bets,” he says. “If you raise a known bluffer early in a hand when you are very strong, you will scare them off and they will fold. The trick is to keep allowing them to bluff, and you can’t do this by springing a trap. Use their aggression against them.”
Checking is a staple of the game, but online poker offers unique opportunities for spotting tells thanks to features that allow players to automatically set their next moves depending on what the rest of the table does. While you’re bound to see plenty of players check when they can, the speed at which someone checks could give away the quality of their hands. In online poker, if someone checks immediately, it’s a good sign that they’re using the check/fold feature, which means they will fold once it’s their turn to bet if someone else raises along the way.
Instant checks can be an obvious sign of a weak hand, impatient player or both. Identifying this sign will help you weed out the strong and weak hands remaining on the table. To manage expectations for yourself, avoid checking too quickly if you do have bad cards. It’s also good to understand when to use the regular check button as opposed to check/fold, as properly using both will keep opponents guessing on your hands. It can also lead them into believing you have a weak hand, catching them off guard and adding more uncertainty to the mix.
“If someone checks very quickly on the river when out of position and a draw has missed, they often have the missed draw,” says Chapman. “In these situations, I often make a small bet as a bluff when I don’t have a strong hand myself and will often take it down.”
With online poker sites’ pre-select features, players are able to fold instantly upon receiving a hand they’d deem unfavorable. So, when someone folds instantly, it’s a good sign that they hand they were dealt triggered the auto-fold. But inexperienced players often rely on this too heavily. If you notice a frequent instant-folder breaking the patterns and raising pre-flop, it’s a good indication that the person is entering with a strong hand.
By keeping an eye on this, Jonny sees this tendency as an opportunity to adapt. “You can be sure that if a player auto-folds the button or cutoff most of the time, they are a very tight player, whereas those who routinely raise these situations are more likely to have weaker starting hands, and can be attacked with a re-raise by players in the blinds,” he says.
Time Between Bets
Similar to identifying how quickly someone checks, monitoring how long it takes players to call or raise could also be beneficial. One example is a near-instant raise. If an inexperienced player has a strong hand, they can be immediately willing to raise the pot. Conversely, if someone waits a while to call, it can be more indicative of a weaker hand, as they believe their hand is worth keeping but it’s not as sure of a bet and not worth raising.
Beyond just letting you know how specific hands will play out, identifying how quickly someone usually bets can offer valuable insight into their experience as a player. In today’s age of ubiquitous online poker, playing multiple tables at once is a common practice. This could lead to certain players taking a while to place bets. A good indication that this is happening is if there are consistent delays between someone’s bets, but the bets themselves are otherwise predictable. If the person is playing multiple tables, there’s a decent chance they’re more experienced than the average player, meaning you should keep an especially close eye on their activity. Experienced players can also use timing to throw their opponents off. Keep track of how often players take a while to place bets to determine if this could be a possibility.
Most online poker platforms allow players to chat with the table. While friendly interaction can often enhance the experience, the messages aren’t always so positive. Like other forms of online gaming, poker is no stranger to toxic players who can easily make things uncomfortable. Constant trash talk is often a common sign of an immature player. This could lead to instability with their play, so knowing how to take advantage of this would be useful. When the chat activity is related to a specific bad beat, the player could be on tilt, thus more inclined to take risks to win other big pots and recoup the losses. If their ranting seems to target a specific player, they could make further unwise moves in attempt to get revenge.
Though the specific formats may differ, online poker sites require players to make profiles, which can offer useful insight into their experience levels when examined wisely. An obvious aspect would be a player’s rank. Giving a quick scan of opponents’ rankings can tell you which players will likely give you the most trouble. Proceed with caution against those with impressive resumes.
“If a player who is ranked number one on a site makes a strange looking play, you can be sure they know what they are doing, and it’s not a random action,” explains Chapman. “The higher the ranking, the more you should respect their bets, until you are shown a reason to do otherwise.”
On Replay Poker, the endorsement system also presents a chance for players to guess how skilled others are. Players can reward others with “Helping Hand,” “Good Sport,” and “Poker Pro.” While the first two can mean others have had positive experiences with a player, “Poker Pro,” is the one to watch. If enough people offer the same endorsement, it could be a way for the community to warn other players. Knowing this, be wary of players with a lot of such endorsements.
With the pandemic forcing many to seek online poker alternatives, the industry became flooded with players looking to make their name on a new scene, which can be dangerous for those who don’t know how to properly predict opponents’ behaviors and mask their own. Even experienced traditional players will have to learn how to identify tells and act accordingly. The lack of face-to-face interaction eliminates a major aspect of reading opponents, but it’s still possible to do in online poker when you know what to look for. While actual play is the best way to build experience in spotting online poker tells, proper research always helps. Online poker’s growing popularity also means expanded education resources for experienced players, including guides, blogs and forums that allow players to share ideas, experiences and strategies to learn from people all over the world. To access Replay Poker’s online community, head to our website.