When playing poker online, one of the most important pieces of information you can pick up on is the "timing tell." Whenever one of your opponents gets involved in a big hand, you should always pay attention to how long it takes him to make his decision because it will often give you a clue about the strength of his hand.
Here's an example of how important a timing tell can be. Let's say you're playing in a $1/$2 No-Limit Hold 'em cash game, and everyone folds to you on the button. You raise with A-8 suited, and the big blind calls. The flop comes 8-7-2, and your opponent quickly checks.
You have top pair with top kicker, which is a very good hand heads up, so you check behind, hoping to get some value out of the hand on the turn and the river.
A 4 falls on the turn, and your opponent checks quickly once again. You bet $10 into the $14 pot. Previously your opponent has acted very quickly, calling and checking within a second or two, but now he takes his time making a decision. This should be like an alarm bell going off in your head, telling you that he has made a big hand.
After letting his time bank nearly run all the way down, your opponent decides to raise, but only for a small amount. This is another indication that he has a big hand and is hoping to get paid off, but it was the timing tell that should have tipped you off first.
By taking so long to make a decision on the turn, he deviated from the normal timing of his actions. He was obviously thinking about much more than whether he should call, raise, or fold; he was trying to decide the best way to extract the most money from you. Now you know that your opponent has a big hand, most likely a set or a straight, and you'd be wise to fold.
Now let's say you're at the same table, and a player limps in under the gun. Everyone folds, and you have J-4 in the big blind. This isn't much of a hand, but you should still take your time before checking. By acting like you are possibly considering putting in a raise, you are disguising the strength, or, in this case, the weakness of your hand.
The flop comes 9-6-3, completely missing your hand, but once again you should take your time before checking. If your opponent instantly fires a bet at the pot, that should tell you he was planning on betting no matter what the flop brought because he couldn't possibly have had enough time to think about the flop and decide what he was going to do.
Because of the speed of his bet and the nature of the flop, there's a good chance your opponent failed to improve his hand, making this a good spot to put in a large raise. Even though you have nothing, there's a good chance your opponent also has nothing and will fold.
Another timing tell you should be aware of has to do with the auto check/fold option. Players who use this option are giving their opponents information about the type of cards they're likely to have and the way they play certain hands.
By using the auto check/fold option, these players are telling you that they usually play their hands in a straightforward manner. Such players are more likely to play their hands based solely on the strength of the cards dealt to them, rather than taking into account all the other factors involved in a poker hand.
As important as it is to pick up on these timing tells when you're playing online, it's equally important to avoid giving off such tells yourself. Oftentimes you will know instantly whether you want to bet or call with a certain hand, but you should always wait a few seconds before acting.
By doing this when you don't have a hand you like, it will allow you in the future to take a little more time to consider the best way to play a hand you do like without tipping off your opponents.
It's also important to note that some advanced online players will give off reverse timing tells in order to mislead their opponents. Therefore, before giving too much credence to an opponent's timing tell, you should determine what kind of player he is, an inexperienced player who is genuinely perplexed by the decision he needs to make or a cagey professional trying to set a trap.
- Taylor Caby of Full Tilt Poker.