Yes, There Are Tells in Online Poker with Zoom

As the coronavirus closes casinos and live poker indefinitely on hold, online poker is booming. Exploding. Spiking. Surging.

The Los Angeles Times even ran a Molly’s Game-esque piece titled, “How a Hollywood Poker Game Keeps the Camaraderie — and Trash Talk — Going on Zoom.”

Zoom home game

Author and director Andy Bellin has been gathering with his home game poker crew on Zoom. Top row: Aaron Tveit (not pictured), Andy Frankenberger, James Ortiz. Middle row: Jonas Lee (not pictured), Bellin, Brian Koppelman. Bottom row: Hank Azaria, Richard Anthony, and Will Pierce. (Image: Andy Bellin)

The popular work-from-home teleconferencing app has become standard communication in 2020. No surprise, poker players quickly adapted the technology to reconnect with home game friends.

Which begs the question: Are there tells on Zoom?

The answer is, yes, of course. There are tells in both online and live poker, and with Zoom games serving as a hybrid, there are plenty of hints being given away. You just have to know what to look for.

Posture

When I interviewed body language expert and former FBI special agent Joe Navarro for my book A Girl’s Guide to Poker,” he told me it’s not just about having a good poker face, but a good poker body. Posture is key.

Does someone look engaged, leaning forward, and hyper interested? They’ve probably got something. Or the reverse: sometimes people will pretend to act disinterested with a strong hand. But even still, their posture will probably remain alert. Most people don’t monitor their posture. Unless they are a focused, reverse-tell pro, watch the shoulders.

Bet-Pacing

How long does it take someone to bet? Do they always snap-check? Is the check so inhumanely fast they must have the check/fold option clicked? This is something worth paying attention to.

Here’s an example: I was playing a “home game” on an app with some local players earlier this week, and raised pocket nines. The player to my left responded with a reraise. I called.

The flop was Jack-8-4. I checked and he snap-shoved. Usually I’d fold here because smaller-stakes players rarely reraise light, but it was his timing that gave it away.

Would he really insta-shove Aces? Kings? Queens? I decided no — he would most likely think for a second with those hands, debating how to size, if he should shove or not, etc. With that in mind, I called, and he had King-Queen. I made the right call, but still lost to a queen on the river. Oh well.

Bet-Sizing

Online and live poker alike, you need to look for sizing tells because they’re absolutely crucial in both types of game.

Does it look like a value bet? It probably is. Very few recreational players balance their sizing.

The truth is, they just aren’t betting the same amount with their value hands that they are with their bluffs. Many will bet their hand strength exactly (medium for a medium hand, big for a big hand, etc.) Looking for sizing tells online — where the reads are more nuanced — will absolutely make you a better live player, and you’ll come out of this coronavirus crisis at the top of your game.

Those are my top three things to look for. There are still others (people probably won’t type jokes in the chat when they have a big hand because they are busy thinking, and people usually speak less when they are bluffing as to not give anything away, for example). But the mix of visible physical tells and typical online poker indicators can give any player who pays attention an advantage.

Decoding tells on Zoom — or even just plain online — is certainly more difficult than live poker. But learning to look for clues in a small square on your screen will make you a savvier player in any environment. Consider it boot camp.


Amanda Botfeld is the author of “A Girl’s Guide to Poker.” You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @AmandaBotfeld.

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Amanda Botfeld

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