A poker tell is generally any change in behavior at the poker table that indicates how a player is feeling during a particular hand. Understanding what these physical and behavioral signs mean helps you gather information about your opponents and outplay them at the table.
But if you play online poker, it’s impossible to use body language to figure out what’s going on with another player. That’s where online poker tells come in.
Explore what online poker tells you should be looking out for, what they could tell you about your opponents, and how these tells differ from live poker tells.
What Is an Online Poker Tell?
An online poker tell is any change in behavior that could indicate a player’s hand strength or strategy. All online poker tells generally fall under one of three categories: timing tells, bet sizing tells, or behavioral tells.
How Reliable Are Online Poker Tells?
Like in live poker, you have to establish a default profile, or a baseline of typical behaviors at the table, for each opponent. For example, pay attention to how long they usually take to make a decision or how much they usually bet.
You have to play at least a few hands to gather this information. Then, you can start to track deviations from the baseline you’ve established. But you’ll spend a lot of time collecting information before you can consistently spot online poker tells and use them to make smarter decisions.
Like live poker tells, online poker tells are not an exact science. That’s because it’s all about interpreting a player’s decisions and behavior. It takes a long time to establish a baseline, and even after you’ve done that, you can interpret things wrong. But that just means you need to gain more information about your opponents and study up on poker psychology and what poker tells tell us.
13 Online Poker Tells
Keep an eye out for these 13 common online poker tells and what they could mean:
Making a bet larger than the pot size
Betting an oddly specific amount
Checking first, then immediately calling
Taking a long time to make any decision
Tanking before calling
Tanking before checking
Tanking before raising
Advising you in the chat
Not talking in the chat anymore
Having an odd bankroll
1. Making a Bet Larger Than the Pot Size
Two general situations could be happening here. First, they could be bluffing with a bad hand and hoping to scare you out of calling.
Or, they have a strong hand. Maybe they’re trying to make it seem like a bluff to trick unkeen players into calling or raising and to make more out of their hand. Alternatively, they could be placing a “make-up bet” if they were checking or betting passively before.
2. Betting an Oddly Specific Amount
Again, there are a couple situations that could be happening here. The first is that you’re dealing with an amateur player who is trying to end the round with an even number in their bankroll because they have a bad or marginal hand.
You could also be dealing with a skilled player. Experienced players usually use hotkeys to quickly make wagers based on fractional portions of the pot, especially when they’re trying to bluff or are drawing for something. They usually reserve hyper-specific bet amounts for when they’re serious about a good hand.
3. Checking First, Then Immediately Calling
If a player starts the hand by checking and then immediately calls after the flop, they probably have a moderate hand with some potential to improve. But they’ll fold if it doesn’t pan out after the turn or river.
This online poker tell is a 50/50 split — they could either have a great hand or be bluffing with nothing. You’ll have to combine your other notes on the player to figure out which it is.
5. Betting Immediately
Generally, players who quick bet are drawing to get a specific card, so their hand is likely medium-strength with potential to get better. But if they raise immediately, this could indicate that they’ve got a strong hand (if the raise makes sense based on their default profile) or they’re bluffing.
6. Taking a Long Time to Make Any Decision
Taking a while to make a bet is known as tanking. This move doesn’t always indicate something nefarious. In fact, it can often mean that a player has a potentially strong hand and is truly considering their options. Especially skilled players may tank as a way to show hesitation or uncertainty, thus conveying weakness, when they’re actually confident about their strong hand.
Or, it could very well mean the player is just away from the table, probably playing multiple tables at once or distracted by something else. That’s why it’s so important to track response times over multiple hands (or games) and take note of each players’ average response time before making any rash interpretations.
Think through all timing tells, especially tanking, very critically.
7. Tanking Before Calling
Waiting a while before calling could also mean that a player is really thinking it over. But what you’ll likely glean from this move is that they don’t play a lot of marginal hands — they play a bit safer.
8. Tanking Before Checking
This online poker tell typically indicates that a player just wants to see the next card without having to pay for it. Maybe their hand could connect with the table if the right card is flipped, but they don’t want to risk a wager or accidentally give away their hand strength by their bet size.
9. Tanking Before Raising
More often than not, tanking before they raise means they’re pretending to think about their options and are trying to bluff you into thinking they have a weak or moderate hand. But they’ve actually got a really great hand, so watch out!
10. Donk Betting
A donk bet is when the non-aggressor in the hand makes a small leading bet, usually after the flop. You’ll have to use your knowledge of the player’s skill level to really take advantage of this online poker tell.
If they’ve shown to be a novice player, their lead likely means they’ve got a weak hand. If the player has exhibited some serious skill, they likely have a hand with enormous potential and they’re not interested in letting you have the hand for free.
11. Advising You in the Chat
Just like in live poker, how much someone talks and what they say can be a good online poker tell. If someone is using the chat to give you advice on how to play a hand that you’re both competing in, do the opposite. If they’re talking about how they’re not sure they’re going to win the hand or that you should fold because you have no shot, they’re probably faking. And they’ve just given away the strength of their hand.
12. Not Talking in the Chat Anymore
If you notice a particularly chatty player has suddenly stopped chatting, this could indicate that they’ve got a great hand and are really focusing. So be cautious.
Alternatively, it could also mean that they’ve stepped away or are playing (and chatting) at another online poker table.
13. Having an Odd Bankroll
Always check other players’ buy-ins. Most experienced and bankrolled players buy in for 100 big blinds. Many others have the auto buy-in feature on. So when you see someone with an odd-numbered bankroll, like $49.55, they probably only have that amount left and are looking to burn it up. Or, they just don’t have the auto buy-in feature on. Both situations generally indicate that they’re an inexperienced player.
Online Poker Tells vs. Live Poker Tells
Many of the general behavior tells in live poker exist in online poker. For example, the idea of acting “weak when strong, strong when weak” applies in both online poker and live poker. That means you should always try to see through moves that convey either weakness or strength to see if they’re actually bluffing you. But since you can’t rely on physical appearance and ticks, you need to focus more on timing and bet sizing tells when playing online poker.
There’s nothing wrong with friendly banter at the table, but talking in the chat is usually an amateur move, especially if they’re talking shop. So, if someone is really active in the chat, this could indicate that they’re newer to the game or not as serious about strategy. Pay attention to their decision-making skills and bet sizing to double-check, though. And keep chat open at all times so you can see the conversation, determine a baseline, and identify outlier behavior during each hand.
Lastly, the biggest difference between online poker tells and live poker tells is that you may also be looking for tells that could indicate whether you’re playing against a poker bot or other AI. Some signs include consistently timed bets to the point where it seems inhuman, uniform betting patterns, or 24/7 play. Ready to look out for online poker tells and use them to beat your opponents? Find your new favorite online casino in New Jersey that offers online poker using our in-depth casino reviews.