If you’re looking to win at online poker, then you’ll need to improve your poker skills. When looking at ways of how to improve at poker, betting patterns at the virtual felt often play a big part. From timing tells to bet sizing and positional play, if you can interpret the information on offer at the felt, then you’ll know how to improve your poker skills and make your opponents pay.

The Fundamentals of Online Poker

Online poker is perhaps the easiest way to play poker, and in particular No Limit Hold’em. Depending on which website you choose, you can begin play with all manner of bonuses that reward you with free tournament or cash game dollars as you progress. Playing poker online relies on you being able to quickly make decisions. On average, a live cardroom will deal 30 hands per hour. Online, this could be as many as 120 hands per hour.

When playing online, you’ll usually be playing with a timer, that is to say a clock that is activated when it is your turn to act and counts down to a point where it will automatically fold your cards if you don’t make a decision. Sometimes you can activate a ‘time bank’ which will give you an extended period of time to make tough decisions. Use this wisely, however, because it will run out.

Playing poker in your local home game, poker club or casino differs wildly from the virtual felt. In a live environment, you could look for physical tells, looking into the whites of your opponents’ eyes, reading them face-to-face. Online, you must rely much more on other tells such as the size of their bets, the time it takes them to make their decisions and crucially, the position they like to play and the range of hands they choose to face flops with. If you’re looking to improve your poker skills, then playing online is the fastest and most consistent way to do it.

Betting Patterns: The Blueprint of Strategy

Put in the simplest terms, the best way to take money from other poker players is to bet when you have the best hand and fold when you have the worst. How can you know which one you have more often? Well, the best way of knowing how to improve at poker is to know your opponents. Betting patterns are the most revealing way of doing this. There are many ways to take note of what players do in certain situations, but the advantage of doing so online is that, as we have already discussed, you are going to see three or four times more deals to make your decisions upon. This increase in sample size means that you’ll get more information from players online than live. It’s all about funnelling that data down into useful knowledge.

Firstly, make sure that you’re always watching what hands players play. This doesn’t mean get in every hand and take them on – you should have a VPIP (money put voluntarily into the pot) of between 18-22%. Instead, take a note whether mental or physical of the hands they go to showdown with. Once you start to see dozens of hands and know which opponents play what sort of hands (low suited connectors, premium pairs or suited one-gappers, for example) you’ll have what is known as your opponent’s range. Knowing which cards they like playing along with the texture of the board you’re looking at will help you make a more informed decision about how to play back at them and whether you should fold, call or raise in certain spots.

Many players can play aggressively, betting big pre-flop, continuing almost every time post-flop and frequently trying to double barrel or triple barrel their way to the pot on turn and/or river. Against aggressive players, you must learn to get out of the way for as little as possible when you can but make them pay the maximum when you have made hands you believe are strong er than theirs. Don’t let them bully or intimidate you with their more forceful betting strategies – the cards are all that count.

If a player is the opposite and generally bases their game on passive betting strategies, then you can exert the type of pressure we’ve helped you play back at above. Press when you have position, bluff more often and c-bet more frequently, just be prepared to back away if they start to come over the top of you – this is a major red flag from a passive player. If someone folds most of the time and is raising you, then it’s highly likely they have the goods.

With mixed or balanced strategies, situational play is much more of an indicator as to what you should do. Many players have made huge money in their career out of knowing not what to do and when, but how to adapt to each player on each street. The Danish EPT champion Mickey Petersen once fielded questions from the media and he picked up on one question in particular about how he played a certain pocket pair. His reply was that the best way to play was to be open to the situation changing wildly across all three streets, as well as pre-flop. How his pair looked pre-flop against one player’s range might be very different against how the same hand looked after five community cards had fallen. Adaptability is key.

Deciphering Timing Tells: The Unseen Language

One of the biggest leaks when playing online poker is to look back on the hands that you lost without paying any attention to the timing breaks between actions. Let’s say you lose with pocket queens to jack-ten on a board of J-8-2-6-T. On the surface of it, this appears a hugely unlucky way to lose a hand of poker and if you were to share the hand using a number of websites that grab the information about the hand for a point-by-point replay, it might look suitably unfortunate should you show it to friends (or backers!).

In reality, however, how long did the player take to call your raise pre-flop and what did this indicate? Why did they take so long calling your c-bet post-flop and what did this mean when stacked against their previous hands? On the river, how much time elapsed between your check and their bet and based on previous winning hands for them, could you have folded knowing that this ‘timing tell’ often indicates huge strength for their hand? There are a number of factors that go into timing tells and they are vitally important to understand.

If someone is quick with their decisions, it can often indicate – especially at lower levels – that they simply want to see another card for free. They will check more often, bet only if they hit and on the river, often shove because they panic about the right size bet for their hand. Without knowing this information, you might assume they are strong, but over time, by watching quick bettors, you’ll be able to underpin their actions with the strategies you identify in weaker players.

Delayed decisions can often mean that ether a bluff is coming, or a value bet is imminent. Of course, if you’re the one that has to make a decision after this protracted decision from your opponent, it can be difficult to know which. This is why you watch the betting strategies of each player carefully, because if they slow it down when they river-bet for value with everyone else, they’re likely to be doing the same with you.

Several players demonstrate inconsistent timing when it comes to playing online. Sometimes this can indicate a lack of comfort or familiarity with either the game or the stakes. Taking too much time to make a relatively simple decision can cost players time bank minutes or simply flow in their gametime. It can also be an indicator that they are playing only one table rather than multi-tabling, something more experienced players do.

Combining Forces: Betting Patterns and Timing Tells

Knowing what we now do about bet sizing and timing tells, how can we use that information? If you going to improve your poker skills then you’ll need to implement actions on a consistent basis which are based on the information that you are interpreting correctly.

Let’s look at an example of knowing an opponent in a specific spot of gameplay. If you know that a certain player tends to bluff quicker than they bet for value on rivers, and you also know that they like to play pocket pairs and not drawing hands, then on an unpaired board which fulfilled your flush on the river, they may well be bluffing if they shove quickly on the river without giving any regard to that third card in the same suit.

Writing down ranges, observing how often players bet pre-flop and post-flop (maybe they avoid the turn as a street because they don’t feel comfortable betting with only one card to come) and combining the information you’ve mined on players when it comes to both betting patterns and timing tells, you’ll be in the perfect position to take advantage of any habits that they slip into. The best thing about spotting a habit in your opponent’s play in poker is that any habit is bad. As Mickey Petersen once said, it’s all about adapting to the hand, and the card in question.

Dropping into patterns is a fool’s path to losing at poker.

While we’d encourage you to make the most of identifying betting patterns and timing tells, using the combination of them to provide you with a playback plan, there are some common misconceptions and pitfalls to avoid in doing so. Near the 55-minute mark, most online poker multi-table tournaments (MTTs) go on break. This can lead to players stepping outside of their patterns and often add-on or rebuy timings can throw other observations into confusion.

From a purely technical perspective, players can lose connection. If someone sits out for two minutes while they reboot their router, it should give you cause to think differently to when they timebank for two minutes instead, for example.

Tools and Technology: Enhancing Your Analysis

Playing online poker with a HUD (Heads-Up Display) gives you a wealth of information about your opponents and often at the click of a button. With thousands of software packages available, choosing the right HUD for you is all about what level of a player you are, what fits inside your budget and what you’re looking to take from adding a HUD to your online poker arsenal.

Tracking betting patterns pre-flop, post-flop and through the whole board can only enhance your capability to deal with opponents and when utilizing HUDs for real-time data, it’s important to know what you’re doing. It’s also important to consider the ethical implications of doing so. Do you consider it a level playing field? Do you care? Playing with a HUD can make simple decisions easier and help your analysis when it comes to betting patterns and strategi moves a lot. Are you happy to do so even if your opponent doesn’t have access to the same information?

Psychological Aspects: The Human Factor in the Digital Realm

As ever when it comes to improving your online poker skills, analyzing the psychology behind betting patterns and timing tells is important too. Whether a player is experienced or not counts for a lot and you can find out a little more about the human clicking buttons by using a poker results database such as Sharkscope online.

If you can identify your opponents’ mental vulnerabilities then you can exploit them. So much of poker is about adapting to your surroundings at the online poker felt and if you know the game your opponent is playing, then you can beat them easier. Take for example a good player who when the multi-table tournament that you’re playing reaches 18 players (two full ring tables) starts to get aggressive. Are they mixing it up or simply out of control?

It could be a bit of both. Perhaps you’re playing a $44-entry tournament and they satellited into the event for $4. Maybe they’re used to playing $5 tournaments only and in this case, getting down to the final two tables is causing them to panic. Some players go into their shells when out of their comfort zone. Others go aggressive and hope to gamble their way through the discomfort.

While battling betting patterns, timing tells and online pantomimes are all factors in online poker success, emotional intelligence is another, perhaps even bigger indicator. Playing a big online cash game session, running deep in an MTT or topping the leaderboard in a tournament are all mentally taxing places to be. Make sure that you are aware of your own mental strength and wellbeing. Play happy, calm poker and observing your opponents, grow your ability to decipher their behaviour at the virtual felt – just don’t do it at the cost of your own mental or physical health. Take regular breaks, be mindful of your emotions and keep them in check at the felt without letting tension build up.

In Conclusion

Playing online poker, the role of interpreting betting patterns and timing tells might initially seem less important than studying the push-fold charts or prioritizing game selection. It is by no means any less crucial to your success, however, and the more you include the study of betting patterns and timing tells in your opponents, the less visible your own will be and the better you’ll be able to play when faced with a critical decision.

Focus on building an information base on your opponents and consider the use of HUDs in your online sessions. Study when and how you opponents bet and how quickly they make their decisions. These crucial indicators fill in many of the gaps between real-time information you’ll get at the live poker table and can have a huge positive effect on your online success at the virtual felt.

Did this article deal you a winning hand?

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Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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