Using Timing Tells to Read Your Opponent

Tells are an important factor in live poker. Nervous tics, facial expressions, body language: they can be useful clues to the cards your opponent is holding.

In online poker, you obviously can't use physical tells like this. But there is one tell that plays a huge role in online poker and can give away a lot about the strength of your opponent's hand. The timing tell.


Observing Timing Tells

Timing tells are a great help to get a read on your opponents and you should always pay close attention to them.

Obviously, you have to take into account the average time someone typically takes to make a decision. A regular player who plays 12 tables at a time will act a lot slower than a beginning player who plays just 1 table.

If you know a player's baseline - i.e. the average time someone takes to make a decision - you can look for deviations. Does your opponent act a lot slower or quicker than he normally does? Then he's giving away a timing tell.

Note that especially recreational and beginning players often give away timing tells, as they tend to be unaware they're revealing information this way. Be more careful against more advanced players who may sometimes deliberately use a timing tell to try and deceive you.

The Insta-Check

​When a player who normally takes a few seconds to make a decision suddenly acts instantaneously, this can give you crucial information on his hand strength.

An "insta-check", for example, typically signals weakness. Your opponent is basically telling you: "I don't have anything and I'm not interested in this pot. Let's just move to the next hand quickly".

That's exactly what happens in the following hand I played in a $7 6-max Sit 'n Go.

$6.39+$0.61 USD Hold'em No Limit - Level IV (40/80 - ante 10)

Button: Hero (6922 in chips)
Big Blind: Villain (2078 in chips)

*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Hero [J♠ 7]
Hero: calls 40
Villain: checks

*** FLOP ***
[Q♠ 3 K]
Villain: checks
Hero: bets 80
Villain: folds

Uncalled bet (80) returned to Hero
Hero collected 180 from pot


I'm heads-up against a very loose-passive opponent. His VPIP/PFR is 45/9 and his post-flop Aggression Factor is 0.9.

Against this type of opponent I'm looking to play a lot of flops and value bet when I hit a piece of the board.

I have to slow down when I don't have a hand, because trying to bluff a loose-passive opponent is usually not going to be profitable.

A hand like J7o is a medium-strength hand that I can just limp from the button here. Limping is better than raising given my small amount of post-flop bluff equity against this loose-passive opponent.

We see a flop of Q♠ 3 K and villain very quickly checks to me.

Against a loose-passive opponent, I'd usually just check behind here. There are two overcards to my Jack and the flop is rather drawy with straight and flush possibilities. Passive opponents don't like folding so it's doubtful whether a flop bet will be successful. And I don't want to be in a situation where I may have to fire multiple streets to try and get him off his hand.

His insta-check on the flop, however, changes things. He checks to me so quickly that he effectively tells me he's done with the hand and has no further interest in it. So I make a small bet on the flop and take it down.

Trying to make a loose-passive opponent fold on a relatively dangerous board is generally not going to be profitable. But when he gives off a big timing tell like an insta-check, it becomes a pretty easy bet. In this case, his timing tell outweighs his loose-passive tendencies as a factor in my decision-making.

Timing tells play a big role in online poker and can give you important information about the strength of your opponent's hand.

An insta-check, for example, tends to signal weakness. It tells you that your opponent is done with the hand and just wants to move to the next one.

Pay close attention to any timing tells you see in-game and use them to your advantage.

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