One of the biggest and most important tells in online poker is the speed of betting.
I had to think long and hard about giving up this little secret because it's been such a profitable one for me. Many online players will literally give away their hands pre-flop or post-flop with the speed at which they bet.
I first noticed how important this aspect of poker was while sitting at a short-handed cash game with a few friends. I was on the button with a marginal hand for a short-handed cash game, A-J, when I decided to raise. The small blind folded, but the big blind instantly called me.
I was immediately suspicious at his lightning-quick call, but I flopped an ace and bet out. He immediately called again. On the turn I checked, and he waited a long time before betting. I called his big bet on the turn and rivered a jack for two pair.
Although I had made a very good hand, I was still suspicious of his betting speeds. I checked the river and he bet big again. I instantly called him knowing that I was beat, but just couldn't get away from a two pair. He flipped over aces.
Reading people is exactly like solving a puzzle. You want to collect as many pieces of information as possible before you make your final decision. In the abovementioned situation, the player provided me with three valuable pieces of information that I could have used to fold. First, he called me quickly pre-flop. Second, he instantly called me again on the flop. Third, and the most important piece of information, he waited a while before placing a big bet.
It's understandable to play the hand the way I did, but my beat could have been easily avoided if I had trusted my instincts. I now know how important betting speed is and use it daily to give myself an edge.
Here are some of my guidelines for reading an opponent's hand based on the speed of their bets:
- Quick Check = Weakness
- Waits Then Bets = Strength
- Quick Bet = Weakness (trying to show your strength)
- Instant Call = Strength
Remember, strategies are never foolproof. You only want to base about 25% to 50% of your final decision on such guidelines. It's a good idea to take into account how good the player is and how he's been playing at your table. Use all the information you have to complete as much of the puzzle as possible about a player and you'll be taking their money to the bank.