Chat Box Tells
The subject of so-called ‘tells’ crops up all over television nowadays and is by no means limited to poker coverage. The idea that some kind of uncanny people-reading skill affords you the power to bring criminals to justice is a trendy television theme if Lie to Me and The Mentalist are anything to go by.
Studying tells is indeed very useful when it comes to live poker, but in online poker is there anything to be gained from observing what appears in the chat box? Are certain types of comment or players’ tones of conversation indicative of something we can exploit? Of course there is no definitive guide or table we can refer to, and chat can mean anything or absolutely nothing, but as we gain experience it is true that there are tells to look out for even against invisible opposition.
First, while not being a deep and meaningful tell, the fact that some people constantly chat away with their cyber table talk is perhaps the most reliable giveaway of all. Clearly, if a player is so busy typing while playing, having to switch his gaze from the screen to the keyboard, both making sure his spelling is correct and following what other players are saying (these players don’t like making chat box errors, and need to keep track of who is saying what), then it is safe to say that here we have an opponent who isn’t properly observing the game itself. He may follow those hands he is involved in but can’t be focusing on the rest of the game and, consequently, won’t have noticed a few of our continuation bets, for instance, meaning he will follow up a pre-flop call with a fold to our c-bet unless he has a good hand. Other players’ bluffing tendencies, calls, limping, aggression, passivity and all manner of useful information simply passes the super-chatter by, so as well as being able to directly exploit his play, we might also notice when someone else is trying to do the same. Ironically, some players make a point of chatting all the time to engage other players and generally distract the table, but more often than not this is to the detriment of their own play.
Remember that we shouldn’t get caught up following chat, rather take note of it and then concentrate on focusing on the game.
Insults and over-reactions are not unusual, the worst being followed up by a poker manager giving a warning that continued abuse will result in a chat ban. Such comments could well be the manifestation of a player’s anger, in which case we simply note that this particular player might not, albeit temporarily, have enough emotional control and that this might subsequently lead to some risky, irrational play not too far in the future. It might also be a completely level-headed attempt to put off the opposition by getting them involved in some heated, lengthy argument about who is the lucky idiot and so on; it could be a bit of both.
It is easy to see which players do allow themselves to be distracted by getting involved, and their play will almost always suffer as a consequence – even if it means they fail to follow the play for a while as they continue to argue their position or comment on someone else’s play/behaviour.
As for the one who started the chat box frenzy, we should keep an eye out for when they suddenly go quiet or tone down their behaviour while they are in a potentially significant pot, because it is likely he now needs his full attention for playing his hand. Note that this doesn’t automatically indicate a strong hand, as it is possible (as would be the case with similar behaviour in a live game) that he is engineering a bluff of some sort and wants to avoid giving something away while chatting. Note that it is more difficult to chat while working out how to present a bluff than it is to simultaneously chat while betting a strong made hand. With this in mind, a player who is happy to chat while contesting a pot tends more often than not to actually have a proper hand.
Of course all this needs a sensible approach when contemplating whether or not this or that player’s chat indicates anything exploitable, and we must remember that with online poker it is much easier to mislead. But by observing certain comments and behaviour and how this relates to actual play we can find useful tells.
And don’t invest so much energy on looking for chat tells that it causes us to lose focus on the game; rather we should quickly note any possibly significant chat (and others’ reactions) and get back to the play.
And it should go without saying that by not getting involved ourselves we are not going to give anything away…
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD)
32Red Poker Ambassador