“If you can’t spot the sucker within 30 minutes of being at the table then you’re the sucker.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard this cliché before. It’s true that if you are a competent player, you will usually spot several mistakes made by your opponents at the table quite quickly. If you don’t spot any you should probably find a better game. Providing you are observant (or cheat by using Poker Tracker and a heads-up display) within half an hour you should have a good idea who the weak players at the table are.
This is all well and good, but in reality you can do far better than this. It is possible to spot weak players on the internet not only because they play badly, but also because they tend to share certain habits and mannerisms. This article will take a look at some of these other ways to spot the sucker. Things that you can spot long before you have had a good chance to study their play, maybe before they’ve even played a hand!
Of course, none of these ‘tells’ are foolproof. Some may have explanations other than that the player is weak, while others may be faked by a strong player wishing to look like a bad player. After each tell I will give a reliability rating out of ten, which will act as a guide as to how reliable that tell is.
When a player takes his seat at the table, the first thing you will see is their name. While seemingly irrelevant, the name that a player chooses to represent themselves can say a lot about them. It’s hardly an exact science; in fact most names won’t tell you anything at all. However, there are patterns and stereotypes that seem to exist amongst players with certain names. Beware of players who have self-depreciating names, such as ICall2Much, YourATM or the famous Neverwin. This is usually reverse psychology used by stronger players.
On the other hand, be on the look out for the following types of names, which usually belong to weak players.
– Names with a sporting reference, e.g. TerrelOwens, VikesFanIV and GoKnicks.
– Any kind of adolescent posturing or ‘leet-speak’, e.g. KewlDude, RoXXoR and GonnaPwnYa.
– Names that try to convince you that the owner is a good player, e.g. HoldemAce and PokerKing.
– Names that are all in capitals.
Of course, any of the above could actually be a good player who is trying to fool you, or just has a strange taste in names. You will have to ensure that their play lives up to their billing.
Reliability – 3
2. Small buy-ins
After their name, the next thing you see when a player sits down is how much they buy in for. Generally speaking, better players like to make medium to large buy-ins to ensure that they can extract maximum value from their good hands and won’t have to reload too quickly. Around 50 big bets is a good amount to choose to ensure that you won’t have to top up any time soon.
Weak players on the other hand often buy in for small amounts. This might be because they don’t want to lose too much in one go, or simply because they don’t have any more money in their account. Any player who buys in for less than 20 big bets is more than likely weak. Make sure you know what the default buy-in is for the site you are playing. On Party Poker for example, it is 25 big bets, so if anyone buys in for less than that it is because they have deliberately lowered their buy-in or they don’t have any more money.
Reliability – 8
3. Buy-ins of odd amounts
Similar to the above, poor players will often buy in for very strange amounts. A good player will usually pick a round amount for their buy-in such as $100, $600 or $1500 (obviously depending on what limit they play). However, a bad player might buy in for $79, $231 or $811 because that is all the money in their account. This is especially true on sites where the default buy-in is your entire bankroll.
However, there may be other reasons that a player buys in for a strange amount. Maybe they have moved table and they want to sit down with the same amount that they left with so they can keep score. Or maybe it’s the opposite, they deliberately buying in for strange amounts so they can’t keep score. An odd buy-in amount is not enough by itself to label a bad player.
Reliability – 5
If you want to play before the blinds get to you, then you have to ‘post’ a big blind, so most good players don’t do this. They will wait until they are in the big blind position anyway and join then. If they do post, it will be in the cut-off position (one before the button) where they will get the maximum number of free hands for their investment.
Poor players on the other hand will often just post a blind from wherever they happen to be when they sit down. Either they don’t see the disadvantage in paying a big blind before they see their cards, or they are just too impatient to wait. If you see someone post, especially from early or middle position, then it is highly likely that they are a fish.
Reliability – 8
Sometimes a player will sit down and then start talking non-stop. If you find a particularly chatty player, then there is a good chance he is also a bad poker player. I’m not saying that if a player participates in table chat at all then he is a bad player; in fact a lot of good players chat to some degree when at the table. However if you find a player who is constantly chatting about everything under the sun then they are far more likely to be fishy than sharky. There are several reasons for this.
1. It is likely that a chatty player plays the game partly for the social interaction and not to make money.
2. A strong player will spend more time concentrating on the cards than the chat box.
3. Strong players often multi-table and it is difficult to chat a lot while multi-tabling.
Of course there are a number of explanations why a strong player might also be a chatterbox. Maybe he has the ability to chat and still play well or maybe he uses chat as a diversionary tactic.
Reliability – 4
6. Using auto-action buttons
It has been argued that you can sometimes tell how strong an opponent’s hand is by how long they take to act. However, more often than not it turns out that the player taking a long time to act is surfing the net while playing, or is multi-tabling or has ISP problems, rather than necessarily having a weak (or strong) hand.
However there is one definite tell about response times. If a player acts so quickly that he is obviously using the auto action buttons, then he is generally a weak player. By using these buttons you are saying to an observant opponent that you were going to make that play no matter what the preceding action. Not only is this rarely correct from a poker standpoint, but those times that it is, you really don’t want to be letting your opponent know that. For example if you call a bet on the turn and the next player instantly raises, then he planned on raising whether you called, folded or maybe even raised yourself. This can give you extra information about your opponent’s hand (generally that it is very strong). Similar tells can be derived from auto-call and auto-check. The only exception to the rule is the auto-fold button. If you are going to fold regardless of the action then it really doesn’t matter what your opponents learn about your hand because it is no longer relevant.
Good players usually know the reasons that they should not use the auto-action buttons and so they don’t. You might find one who does, but it is rare. Occasionally you will see a player bluff using auto-action buttons to make their hand appear stronger than it is. However, it is still usually weak players that do this.
Reliability – 7
So there you have it, six ways to spot a weak player in addition to watching their play. Remember, the sooner you identify a weak player, the sooner you can exploit them. This may be as simple as value-betting harder and laying off the bluffing, or you may want to take stronger measures such as changing seat to get position on them. Remember every bet earned or saved is important at the poker table.
The next time you are at the table and THA_REDSOX sits down with 8 big bets and posts under the gun, you know where you stand. Don’t sit there and wait for poker tracker to confirm your suspicions.
Good luck at the tables
Ian Taylor, AKA “Piemaster is the Co-Author of the highly regarded Poker Psychology Book “The Poker Mindset”.
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