Speeding online

We explore what can be inferred from the speed of bets in online play

What makes the truly great online players so consistently successful? Being continually observant of not only their opponents’ patterns, but also their own. Last month I discussed how the use of the automatic action buttons might stereotypically be a sign of weakness, but that occasional use at the correct time can hide serious strength. To conclude the idea that you can create situations in which your opponents think they are using the information against you – when really you are setting them up for a fall – I want to deconstruct that most seemingly basic of online tells: speed of betting.

Many players, if they feel they are behind and drawing, will take a fair amount of time to make their decision. Rest assured, this is not just thoughtless conjecture, I have gleaned this from thousands of hours of online play from the lowest to the highest stakes. Obviously the higher the level you go, the less prevalent such behaviour is. Nevertheless, it does exist. Typically, the vast majority of players’ delay means they are not too comfortable with their hand. It follows then, that a longer delay implies weakness. More often than not the observant player can follow through to push their opponents off their hands if their opponents have shown a track record of folding after longer delays.

What’s the hold up?

An example would be that you have raised pre-flop and got multiple calls. After the flop has come down, you make a continuation bet and your opponents think about it for quite a while. If they call, you follow through again with a decent-sized bet on the turn and they then fold; your opponents have displayed a propensity to fold after taking so long to decide on their action after your flop bet. This is an observation you can make on the majority of players if you are watching their play closely. You cannot however, take the delay as gospel information that your opponent is drawing. If you are playing a very good online player, the delays they are using may be to throw false information at you in the hope they induce a follow-through bet.

The better players will mix up their speed of action to confuse you and set you up – and if you want to become a winning online player, you should be doing the same. Set up your opponent to see your delays as a weakness then spring your trap after a longer delay by either inducing another bet, or raising your opponent after a longer delay. By delaying for a period of time before you raise your opponent, you may just be telling them that you are not too sure of your play, thus inducing a call. Moves like this need to be done sparingly; it’s about mixing up your play.

One of my favourite plays is the insta-call or quick action following a flop bet. This can be an intimidating play that you can use on your opponent because it appears so thoughtless. It often has the effect of slowing an aggressive opponent right down – so much so that you will often get a free card on the turn. It can be used to try and demonstrate you have landed a piece of the flop, or that you are holding a strong hand. It is the closest you can get to the live strategy of being so eager to get your chips in that you’re almost acting out of turn.

If you make this move when you really do have a hand and it goes to the showdown, then the next time your opponent sees you insta-call, you can do so with next to nothing in your hand. If nothing else, quick action can confuse your opponents into playing their hands weaker than they usually would. It is yet another little trick in your deception arsenal that could gain you chips or dollars at the table. When watching your opponents you have to be observant enough to not only pick up on these little online tells and betting patterns, but be wary enough of the more experienced players that will use those tricks and online tells against you. They will use them to confuse and set you up, jockeying for every little edge they can get on you and others at the table.

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