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How to Read Poker Players When You Play Online

How to Read Poker Players When You Play Online

Many people see online poker as a depersonalized version of the game where it is harder to pick up reads.

It is hard to argue with this point of view.

However, there are many subtle poker tells you can still pick up when playing online that many fail to notice.

By such "tells" I mean that there are many signs online players give off to indicate whether they are recreational players or regulars.

Having this information about an opponent can go a long way toward helping you make better decisions in key pots.

In this article, I am going to discuss my top seven ways to get better reads on opponents when playing online poker.

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1. Table Count

At most online poker rooms, there is a 'search a player' feature.

One of the easiest ways to get a better read on what type of players you are up against is to search them right there on the site.

  • If they are only playing on one or two tables, then there is a good chance they are recreational players of some sort.
  • If they are playing on 10 tables, though, chances are better they are regular grinders or even professionals.
  • If they block themselves from being searched (an option on most sites), chances are also higher that the player is a decent regular.

The 'search a player' technique is not a foolproof tell by any means, but often the results are pretty revealing.

Key takeaway: don't let other players find you.
If your poker site features the 'search a player' functionality, find a way to block your account to be found. While this will not help you win more, it will add a little something to your image.

2. Stack Size and Auto-Rebuy

Another common tell that online poker players give off is with their stack size and if they make use of the auto-rebuy feature.

Typically, most regulars will buy in for the maximum amount at an online poker table, usually 100 big blinds (in no-limit hold'em games).

The reason why is pretty simple — if you are properly bankrolled for the game (which you should be) and you are one of the better players, then having the most money in front of you is going to allow you to win the most.

Recreational players, on the other hand, are usually not properly bankrolled and they will often just buy in for some random amount that is less than the maximum.

Also, unlike regulars, they will not make use of the auto-rebuy feature when their stack size drops below a certain amount.

Key takeaway: get more chips.
The size of your stack is one of the (many) information pros use to identify and classify the players at the table. If you don't want to give away your lack of experience, buy in for the maximum.

3. Postflop Bet-Sizing

Another easy way to spot recreational players is by the bet sizing they use after the flop.

Most good regulars will rarely bet less than half the pot postflop in a cash game.

Weaker players will frequently bet much less, sometimes even just making the minimum bet amount.

This shows a lack of understanding of the math of the game and is typical of players who only play the game for fun.

Key takeaway: learn how to bet.
The size of your postflop bet is important. Bet too little, and your lack of understanding of the game will be obvious to everyone.

When in doubt bet 1/2 the pot.

4. Posting a Blind Out of Position

Another sure-fire tell that online poker players give off is through how they post the blinds.

Regulars will pretty much always wait for the blinds to come to them before posting. Recreational players, on the other hand, will frequently post the blinds before this — that is, as soon as they arrive at the table.

This is the poker equivalent of voluntarily paying your taxes twice.

Nobody who takes this game seriously would ever choose to do this. Take a note right away when you see somebody post the blinds out of position.

Key takeaway: be patient.
Don't post the blinds before you have to. Paying the blinds to play a hand as soon as you sit at the table is downright stupid.

5. Chat Box Tells

I am typically not a big proponent of using the chat box when playing online poker, as I feel it can be distracting and sometimes exposes you to nasty, unpleasant comments.

However, there can be some merit to switching it on from time to time in order to get a quick read on your opponents.

The large majority of regulars will never say a thing as they have the chat box turned off.

The recreational players are much more likely to make use of it, though. They will be more apt to use the chat box to vent about their "bad luck" as well.

Key takeaway: use the chat as a bait.
Drop a couple of messages and see which players try to start a conversation. They are going to be your next victims.

6. Passive Play

Another common way to read players in online poker and spot a recreational player is by 'passive play'.

By 'passive play' I mean calling a lot preflop and postflop and then folding without going to showdown.

This style of play will significantly harm your 'red line' (or non-showdown winnings) and is typically not a very profitable way to play the game.

By contrast, the regulars will be much more likely to make aggressive three- and four-bets before the flop.

They'll be more inclined to remain active after the flop as well, with more betting, raising, and bluffing.

Key takeaway: be aware of 'passive play'.
Think about your game: do you often call preflop and postflop to then fold before the showdown? You might have a problem there, champ.

7. Timing Tells

Lastly, online poker players unknowingly tend to give off all sorts of timing tells when they play.

The best regulars will try to mask timing tells by taking a similar amount of time for their actions whether they are betting for value or bluffing.

Recreational players, though, will often make erratic snap decisions that give away the strength of their hand.

Take, for example, the old instant call on the flop. When somebody calls me at the speed of sound, this tells me the player took zero time to think about other options in the hand (such as raising or folding).

This indicates to me the player probably has some sort of mediocre hand like middle pair or a draw.

Therefore, I will be much more likely to apply pressure on later streets in order to move the player off the hand.

Key takeaway: timing is everything.
Try to take a similar amount of time for your actions - regardless of the strength of your poker hand. This way, you will not give away too many information.

Final Thoughts

While online poker is played on computers and on mobile poker sites and we never actually get to see our opponent, nearly all players still give off subtle tells.

These can give us an idea of not only what type of players they are, but also clues about the strength of their hands.

None of the methods above is meant to be 100% foolproof.

You will encounter professionals who for whatever reason are just playing on one table. They also might decide to buy in short or get active in the chat box.

However, more often than not, the seven tells discussed above will give you a better read of the type of player you are up against and a better idea about the strength of that player's hand.


Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Sharelines
  • Nathan Williams (@BlackRainPoker) shares some "tells" players unknowingly reveal when playing online.

  • Buy-in amounts, bet sizing, chat box usage -- each can reveal something about your online opponents.

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