Table image is a strange thing to talk about when playing online poker, because it just seems like you’re playing against whatever icons people are using to represent themselves.
Even though I play a ton of hands against Mike, Worm and Teddy, none of that factors into how a player projects himself (or herself) at the table. You can’t pick up anything about a person’s physical appearance unless they have a picture of themselves as their icon, but who even knows if that’s really them? When you sit down to play against a table full of online strangers, the only way you can get a handle on their game is to pay close attention to two things: betting patterns and the speed in which they bet.
Any poker pro will tell you that paying attention to betting patterns (the amount people bet on each betting round) is the best tell of what your opponent is holding. Did they raise before the flop? If so, did they lead out and bet after the flop? Did they just check and call after the turn? These are the things that need to be going through your head after every flop you see. Eventually you will notice that people have a pattern. Some guys might never raise, even when they have AK. They might either be too scared or are trying to trap. Some guys might raise every time they enter a pot. The key is to watch their patterns and noting what cards they had when they played that way. By paying attention to every hand, not just the ones you play, you should be able to get a handle on most players by the end of your session or tournament.
The other key tell players have online is the speed in which they bet. With each hand you can usually pre-select what you want to do (call, raise, fold, etc.). Some lazy players out there will just click on one of these when they are sure about what they want their next action to be. The problem with this is the other players, if they are paying attention, can notice the speed with which these actions take place. If a player pre-selects something, the speed of which it happens is much faster than when a player is thinking about what to do. This is a great tell for you, because let’s say a player has automatically checked his box to call or check. If you are in the post-flop round and there is a flush or straight draw out there, you can be 90 percent sure that he is wanting to see the next card as cheaply as possible. That gives you the go-ahead to raise the pot and make him pay to see that draw. In that situation I will usually bet the size of the pot, because if he is drawing, mathematically he shouldn’t call a pot-sized bet with just a draw. If you notice that the player has checked the raise box quickly (indicating he said to raise the pot no matter what was done ahead of him), then you should be very cautious because he probably has a monster hand. To keep people guessing, you should almost never use those pre-selected boxes. The only time I use them is when I know I’m going to fold pre-flop (which is a lot of the time).
One other tell you can notice when you play online is when a player pauses for a long time before his next action. Usually when a player thinks for a long time and then checks, he’ll either be very weak or very strong. Most players do not check-raise very often, so usually a long pause followed by a check means they are weak. If you see a player check-raise, make a note of it and then be careful if he pauses and then checks to you. If a player pauses a long time and then bets big, that means he’s probably got a big hand and you should be careful.
The last thing to do in regard to online tells is to not give any away yourself. You should always vary your play so people have a harder time reading your betting patterns. If you always bet after the flop no matter what, people are going to pick up on that, so mix it up once in a while. Limp in pre-flop with a big hand every now and then. Throw a bluff in once in a while, and even if you get caught you’ve got people thinking you’re a maniac, which will only help you later on if you play solid. People will be more apt to call your strong raises if they think you might be bluffing.
One of the many great things about playing online is that you can take notes on the other players as they play. To me, this is one of the best things about playing online as opposed to live play, because your notes carry over to the next time you see that player. If you make a note on a player in one tournament, and you play against that player later on, you’ll know you have a note on him, which is indicated by some kind of mark on his icon. This is obviously very helpful, because if you play a lot you’ll see the same players over and over. By the time I’m done at a table I’ve probably made notes on at least half of the players there, and my library of notes on players keeps growing and growing.
One of the big keys to being a winning online poker player is to pay attention to all that is going on at the table. While you can’t see any physical tells, by noticing betting patterns, and the speed of the bet, taking notes and mixing up your own play, you can gain a huge edge on players who don’t do those things.