Timing Tells In Online Poker

Many online poker players give little or no thought to the amount of time opponents take to make decisions

This is particularly true of beginners and inexperienced players, but it’s safe to say many online poker fans can be too busy working out how to navigate their way through a hand to consider the implications of so-called timing tells.

In order to keep the game running smoothly and to avoid players having to wait too long for a hand to be played out, the convention in online poker is for there to be a fixed time a player has to make a decision. More often than we might imagine, the strength – or otherwise – of a player’s hand is related to the amount of time they take to act. The same can be said for changes in a player’s cadence, such as quickly checking the Flop, then going into deep thought on the Turn.

Of course, this issue of timing and its possible significance is an inexact science, and it’s important to add a proviso when contemplating this subject that, whatever logic we derive from our analysis and the decision we ultimately make could be based on zero evidence! When an opponent who routinely plays quickly suddenly goes into the tank when a scare card appears we need to be thinking about why, and our conclusion might be to approach the rest of the hand in a different way than had they continued to act at the same pace. As a consequence, we could lose a pot that we would have won had we not adjusted according to their timing tell, and for it to turn out that their much longer ‘thinking’ time was in fact a result of spilling their coffee, or being distracted by a video of a cat playing the piano.

Timing tells are more definable at lower stakes games

However, the fact remains that timing tells are so called because much of the time they do indeed furnish us with very useful information. Many players absolutely do become predictable in terms of the time they take making decisions, and our not putting some thought into this aspect of the game makes no sense. Any advantage we can get in online poker is worth the effort because such factors can be the difference that sees us winning a pot that otherwise would have gone to someone else.

An important point to make here is that we’re essentially dealing with low(er) stakes online poker. Experienced, stronger players are going to be much better acquainted with timing tells and, consequently, more than capable of using their more detailed, nuanced knowledge of prevailing, conventional thinking to mislead us. For the vast majority of us, however, online poker is a lot more straightforward, and there’s much less danger of us being led down the proverbial garden path.

So, what should our thought process be when an opponent’s thinking time deviates from the norm? Well, before that, we need to get used to observing the opposition’s habits in the first place. Admittedly, there’s enough on our plate as it is without adding an extra task, but c’est la vie. Once we are used to keeping an eye on other players’ thinking time habits so that we are able to determine an approximate baseline, we can add that to what we gradually pick up about their style of play and any other information we have managed to glean during the session. Consequently, when someone’s timing goes against their norm, we can at least think about whether there might be a specific reason for this, and in what way the potential ‘tell’ is indicative of that reason. For example, when a player who has thus far been reasonably quick with their actions suddenly thinks so much that they even go into their (extra) time bank, and then throw in a big raise, we can more often than not expect that to be a sign of something being different to the norm. As I said earlier, such an action at a high(er) stakes game, from a wily veteran who knows every trick in the book, could mean anything, or nothing. But at low and micro stakes online poker that’s very unlikely to be a factor to worry about, and chances are that these tells do indeed mean what the evidence often suggests they mean.

So, back to our opponent and their long think and hefty raise… as simplistic as it’s going to sound, the obvious assumption is probably the correct one, and they have a big hand. At least that would be the case with less experienced (and weaker) players – just as it would be if the same thing happened in a bricks & mortar casino. Where recreational players are concerned, more time usually equates to more to think about. It really can be that simple. This is why it’s common to see a player quickly call a pre-flop raise in the Big Blind, quickly check the Flop and then, when the Turn brings an Ace, or pairs up the lowest card on the Flop, go into deep thought – suddenly they’re thinking much more, because the Turn gave them a lot more to think about. If they’ve gone from nothing to a strong hand it will take a few seconds to readjust, then a few more to double check what we/other players could have that might throw a spanner in the works, then more time to decide whether to raise, then how much to raise…

Conversely, less time taken tends to mean fewer options to contemplate. Note that this doesn’t automatically equate to the player having a weak hand, rather a hand that can be played in only one feasible way, thus requiring little thought. A quick pre-flop early position call, for instance, could mean a small pocket pair. And players tend to quickly check the Flop with that same hand, too.

A rapid call on the Flop can indicate a made but mediocre hand like bottom pair, or a drawing hand that the player prefers not to get overly involved with. Meanwhile, a longish ‘think’ followed by a serious but not overly big bet – 2/3 of the pot, for instance – usually points to a strong hand from which they’re looking to extract decent value.

The list goes on, and the implications more complex, but it’s clear that timing tells are often exactly that, and it pays to give this subject some serious thought. Obviously, there’ll never be an easy failsafe way of coming to a confident conclusion on which to base this or that action, and often the time someone takes could be of no relevance at all to hand strength or strategy, or even anything to do with poker! However, the better acquainted we become with this part of the game, and the more experienced we become, the more accurate our assessments will be and, in turn, the more it will add to our success at the tables.

Have fun!

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About the Author

AngusD

AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

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The last changes of the page “Timing Tells In Online Poker” was made by AngusD on December 18, 2020

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