It was a picturesque mid-Autumn evening
of 2005 in Mexico City. Falling tree leaves were propelled through the sky by a warm breeze that brought a lazy shower to our
neighborhood. The air was filled with both electricity and tranquility – and with drawn-back curtains and admiring eyes, I took in the
view from an open window in my computer room.
Attempting to grasp or take control of the positive energy and awareness that was channeling itself through my body that evening would
have been fruitless - I was simply along for the ride. While in an almost surreal state-of-mind that is every poker player’s dream, I
found myself dominating the online tables at Poker Stars in such a manner that motivated some of my opponents to praise the way I was
For 50 minutes, I had scratched, clawed, and re-raised my way to a heads-up confrontation versus a decent (and somewhat tricky) player
in a 9-handed Sit & Go tournament. Without the benefit of cards, I arrived at this particular heads-up battle with a very slight chip
lead. The blinds were 100/200 with 25-chip
Ante, and each of us had over 6,500 chips (out of a
possible 13,500)… That’s when “The Hand” happened.
Out of the small blind, I picked up A3 offsuit and immediately bumped it up to 550 and got a quick call from my opponent. Now, it would
be a pleasure to tell you that I had a specific plan or idea in mind when I made this raise; but the truth is that it was a purely
‘generic’ pre-flop raise and my opponent’s subsequent call didn’t really provide me with any type of information.
We saw a rainbow flop of 993, and my opponent fired out 700 chips into a pot of 1,150. In most situations I would have probably raised a
healthy amount (maybe even pushed all-in) with my baby pair of 3’s. But remember, I was “in the zone”, so I smooth-called his flop bet
with the intention of extracting more chips from him on the turn.
Well, the turn came 993, and once again my opponent wasted no time in tossing 2,000 chips into the 2,550 pot. It was at this point
when I made a horrible mistake and misplayed my hand… by foolishly cold-calling the turn bet. In my opinion, just about ANY action would
have been better than calling at this juncture. But for some reason, I had allowed my emotions to replace common-sense; thus setting up
one of the most defining moments in my online poker career.
At this point, I was playing the hand blindly, and I knew it. There was no read, no logic, and most importantly, absolutely no positive
expectation that could be exploited by playing the hand the way I did. It entered the back of my mind that this would be the end of my
current session, regardless of the outcome. I was now more in the mood to enjoy a quiet evening at home instead of playing online poker.
So with a numb perspective on the current business at hand, the river brought 9936[J], and my opponent uncharacteristically took over
five seconds to push all-in. I remember thinking to myself “What in the world is taking him so long? What is he up to, anyway?” And
then, it HIT me! Through some weird combination of foolish play and dumb luck, I had stumbled upon one of the most obscure online poker
tells I’ve ever known. My opponent had rags! It was obvious and clear why my opponent had taken longer than usual to act.
So, “What was this great online poker tell?” you ask. “Can I incorporate it into my own game?” Well, I admit, I haven’t had such a
moment of pure inspiration at the tables since that rainy evening. You see, my opponent didn’t act immediately because he was too busy
getting ready to throw slime in my face. Instead of just pushing his rags and getting it over with, my opponent had brought up the Poker
Stars Main Lobby window and un-checked the ‘Muck Winning Hand’ option; thus allowing him to show me his rags if he happened to bluff me
off the river. That’s what caused the delay.
So I called his all-in bet with my pair of 3’s and won the tournament against his failed attempt to outplay me with 72 offsuit. What
ensued after that was one of the most-heated arguments I’ve ever seen displayed in a chat box. Of course, he called me an idiot (and
some other things) for making that call on the river, but he completely lost his composure after I told him how I picked up on his tell.
He became furious and called me a cheater, saying the only way I could have possibly known his actions (bringing up the Main Lobby and
un-checking the ‘Muck Winning Hand’ option) was if I had hacked into his computer, etc.
Ironically, this same player gave up on his online poker game shortly afterwards, and has never attempted to recover the skill he once
had; let alone improve or consider new ideas. His opinions can be found on numerous online forums, where he begins poker conspiracy
theories and tin-foil hat (shiny-side-in) scenarios that earn him much more ridicule and pity rather than the respect and credibility he
Many online players seek out lists of “Tells” in hopes of finding an easy solution to difficult situations. Most would be surprised to
discover that reading a tell online is an art form rather than an exact science. Re-evaluating the hand described above, there’s no
way I knew with 100% accuracy that I was correct – however, picking up on that particular tell converted an “iffy” call into a very
elementary decision. After all, I only had to showdown the winning hand 25% of the time to break-even. Basically, I was risking about
3,300 chips for a chance at winning close to 10,000. So it’s highly improbable I would have folded the hand on the river regardless
(especially after having played against this opponent before, and knowing he was capable of an all-out bluff).
In poker games such as No Limit Texas Hold ‘em, where advantages and edges are often miniscule, picking up tells is a useful means of
altering the numbers and percentages of probability in order to arrive at a more-concrete conclusion. For example, if you’re completely
lost and don’t know what to do on the flop (but in position), your opponent’s actions can sometimes turn a 50/50 situation into a 60/40
one; in turn allowing you to be more comfortable with betting, raising, or folding your hand depending on your interpretation of that
specific internet poker tell.
Gaining or removing ten percentage points may not seem like much to the casual observer, but 10% is definitely worthwhile… and anything
over 10% is very good. On very rare occasions, you might be able to flip a 30/70 situation into a 70/30 one; which is huge. By
consistently combining tells with one’s ability to make reads, extract value and manipulate opponents, a player may significantly
increase his/her long-term expectation at the tables. And that’s what it’s all about!
List of Online Poker Tells
1. An opponent’s timing or rhythm when checking or betting – can sometimes show weakness or strength along with hesitation.
2. The amount your opponent bets – often used to decipher just how much a player likes his/her hand.
3. Time bank usage – be careful with this one, it can be very misleading.
4. Chat – can be very informative in revealing an opponent’s general tendencies or pre-flop hand selection attitude over an extended
period of time (as well as detecting tilt), but I’d be careful about applying this for one specific hand (in cases where your opponent
is talking to you when it’s your turn to act)
5. Percentage of hands played – this can be very illuminating when trying to label a specific opponent’s pre-flop starting hand
selection. In most cases, it shouldn’t take you longer than a few orbits to calculate whether he/she is playing the cards or playing the
6. Multi-tabling – the more tables your opponent is playing (starting at 4-tabling), the less likely it is that he/she is being tricky or deceptive
7. Action on the turn – can sometimes provide a more-accurate indicator of your opponent’s hand strength than the flop or river.