Finger twitches. How they place the chips in a pot. How they are breathing. These are all tells that you can use to put a player on a hand while playing live. But online? None of these work. However, it is possible to determine what a player is holding based on the way that he bets his hand.
First off, let me say that players at lower limits are usually not clever enough to disguise their hands via overbetting and underbetting. They are generally very straightforward, and this is where analyzing betting patterns comes in handy. If you watch higher limit tournaments such as the $100R on Stars, you will see much higher level thinking and play and the players will purposely alter their betting patterns in order to deceive. This article deals more with the lower levels of play.
First off, let's start with the overbet. This is frequently a "scared" bet. A bet that says "please don't call this, as I am not really confident about where I am in this hand." Let's say that there is a raiser in middle position, and you call in the BB holding 88. The flop comes 5 5 2. The pot is 1250, yet the initial raiser goes all in for 2075. What's going on here? Most often, in this situation, the raiser had something like AK or AQ, and has missed the flop. Poker is a game of percentages. Sure, you will be behind sometimes, but more often than not, you will be ahead in this situation, and a call is the right move. Ask yourself this question: if the raiser actually had a strong hand, would they want to risk chasing you out of the hand? If they had a hand like A 5, wouldn't they just check, wanting you to bet at the pot and increase their take on the hand? From my experience, in most situations like this, the person going all-in has a pair of overcards that missed.
Next, the mini-raise. A general rule of thumb is, the closer to the river that a mini-raise comes, the worse off you are in the hand. Let's take a few examples:
You are holding 99. The flop is 5 4 3, and the turn card is an 8. You think that you may be ahead in this hand, so you put in a probing bet of 3/4 the pot to see where you are at. Your opponent immediately mini-raises you. This should immediately set off alarm bells in your head, and you are almost certainly behind in this hand. Any mini-raise on either the turn or the river normally means very big trouble.
Another example. The board is 9 7 6 5 3, with four spades on the board. You are holding 99, and you have a set. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of flushes and straights possible on the board. You decide to lead out, and are immediately mini-raised. Again, even though you have a set, your hand is almost certainly worthless, and you must fold.
Next we have, the all-in overbet pre-flop. You are playing a tournament, and are holding 99 in the big blind. The blinds are currently 300/600. A player in middle position is short-stacked with 5000 chips and pushes all-in. It is folded to you. In this situation, with a short stack pushing all-in, you are almost certainly up against overcards of some kind. Something like KQ or AJ. Again, ask yourself; if the player had AA, would they play the hand in this way, or would they raise 3X the big blind? You may be worried about getting drawn out, but if you believe that you are ahead in the hand, then you MUST call, no matter what. Good players only care about whether or not they are ahead in the hand. You make proper calls, and it will balance out over time, regardless of the short-term results.
Lastly, we have what I call the "enticement" bet. Let's say that you hold AK, and you chased it on a board of 7 7 Q J 9, hoping to hit your hand. The pot is currently 2300. Another player bets 850. You are holding nothing except Ace high, and are tempted to call, as you think his bet is small enough that he may have nothing as well. Or maybe, you will re-raise him, hoping he has nothing? Don't. He is betting this amount in order to give you the odds to call. He knows that the pot is 2300, and that with a bet of 850, he is giving you odds to call. At the very worst, call, but don't re-raise. You are almost certainly behind here. He probably has a monster hand, something like A 7 or K 10 or something like that.
There are many different bets and many different situations that you will run into. These are just a few of them. Nothing takes the place of experience when trying to figure out what an opponent is holding.
Filed Under: Miscellaneous Poker Articles