As poker keeps getting tougher and tougher, every piece of additional information you can get at the table becomes that much more precious. This is why reading your opponents and learning how to identify their strengths or weaknesses can be so beneficial to your game.
Obviously, it is a lot easier to read your opponents in live games, as they’re actually right in front of you and you can make judgment calls based on what you see. Moreover, there are far more live poker tells that are open to interpretation. Even so, you can gain a lot of information about your opponents while playing online as well, if you know where to look.
In this article, we will be covering the most important factors of looking for online poker tells. Once you master them, you’ll be better able to make the right decisions and identify weaker players when playing poker online.
Spotting Tells in Online Poker Cash Games
In cash games, it is essential to notice poor players on your tables immediately so that you can extract as much value as you can. Here are a few ways to quickly identify which players at your table are likely less skilled.
From my experience, there are only two possibilities when you see someone playing without a full stack. Either they are professional short stack players or recreational players. Thus, it’s important to identify which is the case.
Luckily, this becomes easy once you take a close look at their stats or watch how they play. Professional short stackers usually play a tight-aggressive style and will most of the time be raising or 3-betting when entering the pot. By contrast, recreational players tend to play way more passively and far more hands in general. Therefore, if you see someone playing every second hand or limping, you can be pretty certain that it is a recreational player, and you should adjust your play against them accordingly.
Much like with the first point, if you notice someone not reloading after they lose part of their stack, you can be sure that you are facing a weaker player.
Almost all online poker rooms allow you to exercise the auto top-up option, which automatically adds chips to your stack when you fall below your initial buy-in. Almost all professional players use this option so as to have a full-size stack in order to maximize their potential winning opportunities against weaker players.
Therefore, if you see a player falling from their initial buy-in and not reloading, you are probably up against a recreational player.
Posting Blinds Out of Position
This one is probably the best indicator of a weak player. Whenever you see someone arriving at the table and choosing to post the big blind without waiting for their “natural” BB position to arrive, you can be sure that you are playing against a very weak player.
For obvious reasons, no professional players ever do this. So, if you ever notice this, be sure to immediately take note and mark that player as a recreational one.
Spotting Tells in Online Poker Tournaments
Noticing tells is a bit trickier in online poker tournaments. However, if you are using tracking software, you can more quickly identify weaker players from their passive play or an unreasonably high percentage of hands they choose to get involved in.
While identifying weaker players is crucial, it is even more important to know how you can interpret their play and what indicates weakness or strength in their games.
Weak players use very uncommon bet sizing, and it is tough to give fixed rules as to what that means. Therefore, as a rule, you should be actively looking to absorb all the information you can from showdowns that you see and notice any changes in their betting strategies.
There are a few things in particular that you need to take in consideration:
Recreational players almost never bluff with very small bets. While regulars understand the importance of balancing ranges and that small bet sizing could look very strong, weak players are not on that level of poker thinking and don’t consider things like that. In other words, by betting small they are just trying to get more value from you. Therefore, when facing such a bet from a weaker player, you should not be calling too often.
The second point worth noticing is overbetting. Some weak players try doing this as a bluff, while others do so purely for value. Thus, it is your job to figure out how your opponent plays. Again, remember that these players do not balance their ranges and almost never overbet both strong and weak hands. Therefore, when you notice that a player’s big bet sizing means weakness one or two times, you can be sure that his range will not contain many strong hands when he overbets, so you can look to bluff-catch more liberally.
Amount of Time to Make Decisions
The amount of time it takes someone to make a decision is one of the most overlooked factors in online games, which is a shame, as it can give you a lot of valuable information. Therefore, whether someone usually acts very quickly or very slowly, it’s a factor you ought to consider.
With regard to acting slowly
When people spend extra time to think and then check, they are often quite weak. Most of the time, they are just trying to imitate that they are thinking about the bet, while in reality in most cases they are just giving up and waving the white flag.
However, if someone bets after taking an extended period of time to think, it surely indicates strength. People naturally want to hide the power of their hand and intuitively try to pretend that they are thinking for a long time about value betting or bluffing, while in reality they’ve already made that decision a long time ago.
With regard to acting quickly
If your opponent bets quickly, it is likely he has already made his decision about how to play the hand before even seeing the community cards (or next street, in stud games). Thus, you will likely be facing a stronger range than usual. Contrary to this, if your opponent quickly checks, he is more likely to have a medium-strength hand or a draw and wants to see if he can improve as soon as possible. Thus, subconsciously, he’ll make that quick action.
Summing It Up
An important disclaimer; there are no absolutes with getting reads online. The lessons, tips, and strategies above are based on my years of experience both playing and coaching online poker, which have proven to be true over time and my sample size.
With that said, it is nonetheless extremely important to identify if you are up against recreational or regular players and adapt your strategies accordingly. You can get tremendous help in this from reading my article about GTO poker vs. exploitative play and understanding the benefits of different approaches.
Once you know your opponents and take all of this information into consideration when making decisions, your “educated guesses” will be right much more often and you will enjoy the rewards of your improved skill.