In real life it's easy to spot tells from your opponents. Some of them hold their breath heavier when they bluff. Other players snap off Oreo cookies or flare their nostrils when they have the nuts. Too bad none of that applies in the online poker world where you cannot see your opponents and you lose the advantage of obtaining information based on players' physical movements and reactions. By now you've seen those Party Poker commercials where they say, "Got a bad poker face?" That's one of the reasons why internet poker is a haven for players who have a difficult time controlling their expressions and temperament at the table.
If you play online poker, you have to use pattern recognition in order to collect information on your opponents and pay more attention to the little things such as their betting patterns and the speed on their bets. Here are a few online tells that I've picked up on over the last few years:
1. Speed matters. The old adage, "Strong is weak and weak is strong," also applies to the amount of time it takes a player to bet in online poker. Someone who pauses for a few moments before they check is weak and wants a free card. Don't give it to them. If they were going to check-raise you, they would have quickly checked. If your opponent bets after a pause, they have a very good hand especially if they raise. Quick raises on the river indicate strength and you might be running into the nuts. If there's an ace on the board and your opponent checks/calls your bets, there's a good chance they have a weak ace. On a board with a flush or straight draw, a quick check/call is also an indication of a draw. On some of the bigger online sites, novice players will quickly check/call with second pair.
2. Check Box/Auto Play. Find out if your opponents use the action buttons such as "call" or "fold to any bet." Your opponents are usually distracted doing other things like surfing the web, reading poker blogs, or playing on other tables. They frequently use the "check/fold" button when they want to muck. They'll use the "call" button when they have a medium-hand or a draw and use the "raise/raise any" button on strong hands. Take advantage of your opponents who are lazy and utilize the auto-play buttons. Attack when you know they are weak and get out of the way when they are strong. At the same time, you have to mix up your play so your opponents don't put the same read on you.
3. Chatty Players. Don't try to pick up information in the chat box. It's not like in real life where you can gauge the strength of your opponent's hand based on the inflection of their voice. Players that are berating other players in the chat are usually having a bad session and are on tilt. Some players that type a lot in the chat and talk about general things are lonely people and are playing for recreational purposes.
There are two important disclaimers to these online tells. The first deals with internet connections. Some people play at home on a dial up modem, while others play at wi-fi hotspots in cafes and in hotel rooms. The bottom line is that everyone plays at different connection speeds so there might be a lag in the time it takes them to act. The second involves players who play more than one table at once. If multi-table players have slower reaction times, they might be involved in another hand at a different table. Just take these two facts into account when determining if they guy you're playing with is bluffing or is having connection problems.
Read more of Dr. Pauly at: Tao of Poker