Monday, October 26, 2015

15 Smart Ways to Get a Better Read on Your Opponent at the Poker Tables

How to read your opponent in poker.
Everybody knows the power of reads or tells at the poker table. But sometimes it can be difficult when playing online to make a read on a player until the HUD data starts rolling in. And a few poker sites these days disallow HUDs altogether so what do you do then?

Similarly, when playing live there will always be an information gap when you first sit down to play. Furthermore, unless you are a really experienced poker player you might miss out on some important tells as well.

So in this article I am going to discuss 15 ways to help you gain a better read on your opponents even if you have just sat down at the table.

1. Stack Size Below 100bb

You can tell a lot about a player just by looking at the size of their stack. Good players who are confident in their abilities will always want to buyin for the maximum or cover everyone at the table.


Because if you believe that you are the best player at the table (which you always should) then having the maximum amount of money in front of you will allow you to maximize your skill advantage.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody with a short stack is a terrible player. There are a variety of reasons why they might be low on chips. They might even be trying to employ some sort of “short stack strategy” as well.

But by and large, when you see somebody at the table with a short stack it is likely that they are a weaker player. They may also have an insufficient bankroll and therefore be playing on scared money.

2. Number of Tables

If I am playing online and I am curious about a particular player one of the first things that I will often do is check to see how many tables they are playing on.

Some poker rooms will allow you to block yourself from being searched but only good players are likely to take advantage of this. The fish (even if they know that this option exists) likely won’t care either way. So if you search someone and they are blocked this is actually a player type tell in and of itself (it's a reg).

Most recreational players will be unblocked though and they will be on one or two tables at the most. While there are exceptions, most strong regulars online will be playing 8+ tables.

3. Avatar Selection

This might sound silly but there are dead tells in online poker based on the type of avatar or picture that someone uses. Common avatars that fish will use include:
  • Pic of their kids
  • Pic of their dog
  • Pic of a famous TV poker player
Again, there will be some exceptions. There have been some hilarious cases of really strong online poker players using this to their advantage as well. But by and large these are dead tells that it is a recreational poker player.

4. Age in The Screen Name

This is another online poker tell which might seem silly at first. However, it is surprisingly effective. Many people will put their birth year at the end of their screen name.

Now at the risk of sounding like I am age bashing here (I am not exactly a spring chicken myself) it is generally true that a lot of fish are older poker players.

This makes sense of course.

Middle aged men tend to have a lot more disposable income on average than younger guys. Also, they are more likely to come from an old school live type background and therefore they might struggle to adjust online.

Again, there will be exceptions but when I see “1962” at the end of a screen name this is usually the type of player who I want to be playing against.

5. The Super Quick Call

Timing tells and betting patterns are some of the top ways to get a read on your opponent whether you are playing online or live.

One of the easiest ones to spot is the super quick call preflop or postflop. This is almost always a mediocre hand such as a weak pair or a draw.

If they had a really strong hand or even total air it is much more likely that they would take some time to consider the best way to get value or to run a bluff.

So if I am getting insta-called the whole way this is a great spot to go for sick value on the river if I have a reasonable hand or to go for a bluff if all the draws missed.

6. Location, Location

Again, it might sound silly but there are certainly some real location tells online. There are a ton of Eastern European grinders these days for instance playing the lowest stakes online.

These are typically countries where the cost of living and average wage is extremely low and a lot of these players are grinding out a side income or even a living. They are often tight regulars who can easily be bluffed but if they fight back you should proceed with a high amount of caution.

Players from a country like the one I am from though (Canada) are much more likely to be fish. The same goes for many other prosperous Western nations. People from these countries tend to have more disposable income. Micro stakes poker is also much more likely to be a hobby for them since you can't pay the rent with your NL5 winnings.

These are sweepingly generalizations of course (just like the age thing) but the location tell is certainly something to consider in many cases especially at the lower stakes.

7. Sunglasses, Hoodie, Hat

The live tell for the internet poker player is wearing attire like this. Often they will have the headphones in as well and tend to keep to themselves.

If I am playing live I am not going to specifically avoid these guys. Just because someone is young and fits the internet poker player profile does not mean that they are necessarily good.

But I do expect to deal with a lot more online poker style aggression. Therefore, I will do my best to make sure that these players are on my right and not my left.

8. Limping

Limping isn’t something that good players really ever do anymore in a ring game online. As soon as you see somebody limp in almost any situation you can peg them as a weaker player.

Some decent regs at the lowest stakes might still limp behind or complete the small blind with a speculative hand especially after a limp parade.

However, even this tells me that they lack certain aggressive attributes in their game. I will peg them as a weaker reg and probably try and run some bluffs against them in the future.

9. Min Betting Postflop

It used to be the case that mini-betting preflop online was a sure sign of a fish. However, times have changed and the mini-raise open is now very popular and actually standard at higher limits.

However, no good player will ever make a minimum bet after the flop. A bet of $1 into a $15 pot for instance is only something that a recreational player would ever do. This is because it is a meaningless bet size which literally gives me mathematical odds to continue with any two cards.

10. The Delayed Turn or River Raise

There are very few players in small stakes cash games whether live or online who are capable of raising the turn or the river as a bluff. This is especially the case when they do the whole Hollywood thing (taking their time and pretending that they have a hard decision to make).

When you get shown the nuts enough times in these spots you will realize how easy it is to throw away top pair or even two pair when the nit raises you. Small stakes players are notoriously passive and they are bluffing much less often than you might think.

11. The Bizarre Buyin Amount

One of the easiest ways to spot a fish online is when they buyin for a bizarre amount. For instance, $17.23 at an NL25 table.

This is clearly their entire bankroll.

Having your entire bankroll on the table is not something that any good player would ever do. Somebody employing a proper bankroll management strategy would buyin full and have at least 20 more bullets behind.

12. The Big Table Talker

Live poker is of course a fundamentally more social game than online. So being a big table talker is not always a sign of a fish. Many good live players will in fact use table talk to their advantage.

However online it is almost always a sure sign of a recreational player. Most good players have the chat turned off altogether. They don’t have time to be socializing anyways with action on multiple tables going on.

If you are playing online and somebody is constantly yapping in the chat box it is likely that they are a weaker player. This doesn’t mean that they are a huge fish but they almost certainly are not a strong reg.

13. Isolating the Isolater

If you see somebody who is constantly isolating a recreational player (raising up their limps) then you can often profitably isolate them right back with a few light 3Bets.

Since I recommend isolating the bad players frequently you will know that I often have a less than stellar hand. So a quick way to pick up some easy pots against somebody who is pounding on the fish like this is to start re-raising them light.

It is important as always though not to take it too far and force them to start playing back. We aren’t specifically trying to start a war with the reg here.

Although, that is ok sometimes as well.

14. The 3Bet Monkey

3Betting up a storm has become all the rage in recent years especially online. Many people at the micros take it too far though.

If you see somebody 3Betting with a high frequency then you can take advantage of this by flatting lighter in position and playing back after the flop.

You can also toss in a light 4Bet or even a cold light 4Bet if you are extra sneaky from time to time. This works just fine in a live poker game as well.

15. Timing Out

If you see a player who is frequently running their timebank online just to fold 72o preflop this is a sure sign of a mass multi-tabling nit. They are usually playing on way too many tables and therefore they are often overly tight and easy to bluff.

Like with all nits though it is important to proceed with a high degree of caution when they start to fight back. They have 18 other tables demanding their attention. They didn’t decide to just pick on you out of the blue.


There are many ways to get a read on your opponent even when you have just sat down at the poker table and have no HUD data or history with them. Hopefully a few of the tips above will help you get a better read on your opponents in these situations live and online.

Let me know in the comments below if you know of any other ways to get a tell on your opponents when you have limited information on them.

Lastly, if you found this article helpful then please do me a big favor and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter below!

How to get a tell on your opponent in poker.


  1. Great post as always Nathan. Just one thing about the Super Quick Call - I always thought that might be the sign of a player being over-excited at having a strong hand and looking to get their chips in quickly as a result of being unable to slow play?

    1. Thanks Mario! Ya I agree it can have a different meaning in some cases. Strong players especially could be savvy enough to manipulate timing tells. I was more referring to bad players with this tell. When they call really quickly it is usually a weakish hand. Thanks for the feedback!

    2. Hi Nathan,

      Great post as usual.
      My comment to the point #4 : Most of the cases I open a new account as "akosh74" but sometimes as "margaret58" or "Hong Yun Fat", so be careful with the nicknames.
      Anyway, a name like "Rivercrusher" or "4betKing" can mean that the account owner might have heard about "River" or "4Bet" already...



  2. Hey Nathan, I think #1 and #2 are the most pretty straight forward ways of marking fish as you have stated on previous posts. Between that and the "limp party" I've found myself surrounded with recreational player a lot more often. Best of lucks to you! Take care!

    1. Thanks Jorge and I hope you are doing well in those good games!

    2. Hi Nathan what about those player with strange stats like 50/48, 3bet 10-13, with normal WTSD % (like 20%), ag 2, blocked search function... I mean, they look super agro fish if I look to the pre flop stats, but on the other streets they seem to be "normal". Because of the pre flop range is difficult to read them e.g. on wet boards when they become aggressive... Thx a lot!

    3. Hey Omar,

      Ya those players can be tough. If the search is blocked it is probably not a fish. I would say there is a decent chance that it is somebody who plays higher limits and is just screwing around playing extremely LAG.