Online Poker Tells

In this article, guest writer Joe Benik gives us some insight into how you can even get a tell on a player while playing online poker through the power of betting patterns. He gives good examples of how different pre-flop raises can indicate strength or weakness. This is what online poker tells are made of.

Remember that it as important to hide your own tells from your opponents as it is to pick up on what they are giving away. Joe suggests standardizing your betting amount, which we think is some pretty good advice!

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Online Poker Tells

by Joe Benik

Okay, so youre a serious poker player. You have your chip tricks down, you've been taping the Travel Channel, and you're in a big home game against some friends who aren't even in your league when it comes to poker. You are looking around the room for their tells.

You're watching for them to glance at their chips, to reach for their cards early, to scratch their nose, to eat an Oreo cookie. But you don't see anything. Nobody is scratching anything, and there is nary an Oreo in sight. Are these amateurs tell-proof, or are you just not looking hard enough?

Tells are not always out there, even from amateurs. Usually, it takes hours, or even several sessions, to spot a tell on somebody, so be patient. In the meantime, you can make use of the Single Greatest Tell Known to Man.

This tell is highly reliable, difficult to fake, and rarely even noticed by the one showing it, unless they are made aware of it by someone else. It can be quite profitable, and doesn't take long to figure out, if you know to look for it.

What is it? Well, if you will send $99.95 to Greatest Tell; PO Box 234. . . .

Just kidding. Here it is. The Greatest Tell Known to Man, the most common way that players give away the strength of their hands is (drumroll please): Bet Size.

Think about it. Poker players, especially amateurs, will almost always bet certain amounts in certain situations. Why? Because they think that the amount that they bet is the right amount for that situation. If they have top pair on the flop, and the bet is checked to them, then the right bet is X. If they have the nut flush draw on the turn, then the right bet is Y. If they are under the gun with aces, then they should bet Z.

If these are the correct amounts to bet, then that's what they will be betting. After all, whoever makes the correct play the most times wins, right? Well, not exactly. Varying your play is important too, especially in big bet poker. But most amateurs are more concerned with making the right play than changing things up, and they are hard-pressed to make what they think is an inferior play just to remain unpredictable.

So, while you're watching out for facial ticks and shaking hands, keep track of the size of the bets your opponents make. Compare their bets to the size of the pots that they're betting into. And try to understand why they bet the way they do. When you see someone's cards, you should review every bet that he made, and understand what was going through his head in every single round. Odds are that you will find yourself in the same situation with the same player, and this knowledge can be a great help to you.

It is even more important that you don't give off these tells yourself. Not everyone will notice them, but if you find yourself up against better players, they can put you on a hand as easily as if they can see your cards. To prevent this, you may think that varying your play is the best way to go. That does help, but there is an even better strategy.

Ironically, changing one's play doesn't necessarily make you much less predictable. It only adds some complexity to the problem of figuring out what you are playing. Let's take an example. You flop trips with a low pair, and are first to bet. The ordinary amateur player would check raise here. So in an effort to vary your play, you might want to sometimes check and sometimes make a big bet of double the size of the pot. This would make it harder to put you on trips. Right? But what if in any other situation, you made a stab bet of half the pot? Whether you flop top pair, middle pair or nothing, you make a half-pot stab at it. Now, all of a sudden, you are either checking or putting in a big bet of double the pot. Well, I still know that you have trips, don't I?

For this reason, you are more unpredictable if you vary your betting patterns less instead of more. If you bet half the pot in every other case, you're completely concealed if you bet half the pot with trips. People who have been watching you will have no idea that you have anything, much less trips. And you will get more action than you can handle.

A better example of this is your preflop betting. If you are playing against newer players, you are probably seeing a lot of limping. Are people limping with big pairs or Ace-King? No, they are raising with those hands. They are limping with small pairs or K-J or suited connectors, hoping to see a cheap flop that will pay off for them. Well, when they do raise, they are giving their hands away, especially if they raise for different amounts for different hands. Many players have unofficial rules for the hands that they play in no limit:

Pre-Flop Hand Bet Size
Low pairs, suited connectors, and other medium hands Limp
Medium pairs or AK 3 x BB
Big pairs (jacks, queens or kings) 5 x BB
Aces 2 x BB

If you are one of these players, you are giving your hand away, even before the flop. You are better off using the following rule:

Pre-Flop Hand Bet Size
Low pairs, suited connectors, and other medium hands 3 x BB
Medium pairs or AK 3 x BB
Big pairs (jacks, queens or kings) 3 x BB
Aces 3 x BB
Rags (every once in awhile) 3 x BB

If you do this, you will be giving nothing away, and your opponents -- even the observant ones -- will not know what hand to put you on.

Observing your opponents' bet sizes is a useful habit to get into, and you will be amazed at how often players repeat their own patterns. Even more useful is to prevent your opponents from doing the same, by varying your play or by betting the same way in different situations. The more your opponents are confused, the more their chips will find their way into your stack.

To contact Joe, email him at