A common gripe from poker players preferring live poker to online poker is they believe the latter is much more difficult to obtain reads and pick up tells on their opponents in the online version of the game. While this is true, you do have less information available to you when playing online, there are a number of timing tells that you can use to judge an opponent’s hand strength, or use to disguise your own.
Before we continue, you must be aware that not every poker tell is 100% accurate. Some poker players are very savvy and will often act the opposite way to a known tell in an attempt to throw you off the scent – known as a reverse tell.
Other factors influence the speed at which an online poker player acts. They could be playing on several tables at once, perhaps on a number of different sites (they should only be playing at partypoker, obviously!), or they may not be giving their full attention to what they are doing as they could be watching TV or browsing the internet. It is your job to figure out whether a timing tell is exactly that.
The following online poker timing tells are common knowledge, and while not 100% accurate, knowing about them and being able to use them yourself to keep your opponents guessing is a handy bit of ammunition in your arsenal.
Timing tells: The instant check
This postflop timing tell is more reliable if it occurs on the turn or river if your opponent is out of position and has called before the flop and on the flop. An instant check is usually indicative of a player going into check-call mode and are not considering any other option available to them.
Using the other information available to you, such as your opponent’s typical starting hands, you can use the instant check to work out if they have a piece of the board and want to get to a cheap showdown, or if they are trying to hit one of their draws. If you have a strong hand then you may want to bet slightly more chips than usual as your opponent has shown they are likely to call you down.
Timing tells: The instant call
If an opponent instantly calls your bet then it is likely they have one of two hands: (1) A draw, or (2) a relatively weak hand they are trying to get to showdown with. Poker players often call quickly because they know that calling is the only viable route to take with their hand, often because there is nothing really to think about.
Timing tells: The instant check-raise
We mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago that the instant check is often a sign of weakness as it indicates that your opponent has gone into check-call mode and is looking to hit a draw or get to showdown. However, a check followed by an almost instantaneous check-raise is a show of strength, particularly if the check-raise amount is for the minimum.
The reasoning behind this is the player is so excited about the strength of their hand that they cannot wait to click the raise button. It is worth being aware that if you see this timing tell from an opponent who has position on you on a draw heavy board that they may be attempting to buy a free card on a future street cheaply.
Timing tells: A pause followed by a check or small bet
Both checking and betting small, often the minimum, after a pause is often a sign of weakness. The pause is usually because your opponent is trying to convey the message that they are mulling over whether to check or bet so when they do check, they hope you will check behind.
Similarly, a min-bet or a small bet in relation to the size of the pot after a pause can be a ploy to get you to call with good but not the strongest of hands, narrowing down the range of hands you may have.
Timing tells: A pause following by a raise, especially an all-in bet
Again, the pause is an attempt to make you believe your opponent is pondering what to do next and that they have a tough decision to make, maybe even a borderline decision. But, and here’s the but, when they follow that pause with a raise, especially an all-in bet, you will often find they have a very strong hand.
How to avoid giving off timing tells
If you are looking to avoid giving off timing tells to your opponents then the easiest way is to take the same length of time to act regardless of your decision, but don’t dwell or waste too much time (like some live poker players do) otherwise you slow the game down and start to frustrate players.
Another way is to mix up your play. Perhaps use the pause followed by a raise move when you are strong, but also do so occasionally when you are weak. You can also mix up your play by taking different lengths of time to act regardless of what your action is going to be. Humans tend to adhere to patterns even when they are trying to be random so use something such as the actual time to base your actions on. By this I mean take a look at a clock and if you are 20 seconds into a minute take two seconds to act, but if it is 45 seconds into a minute take four seconds, and similar. Your opponents won’t pick up on this, but you have a natural way to add variety to your game.
What other timing tells are you aware of?
Are there any other timing tells that you’ve seen players show at the online poker tables? Are you guilty of doing any of the above, or perhaps you use the above timing tells as a reverse tell to keep your opponents guessing about where they are in a hand against you? Let us know in the comments box below or on social media, we’d love to hear from you.