Timing Tells in HUSNGs
In many of these articles, I have argued that most players spend too much of their study time contemplating the “sexy” aspects of poker, the complicated lines in unusual spots and the sick soulread tells that only true masters can spot, and not enough time on the basics. However, that does not mean that some of these more cool aspects of HUSNG are completely unworthy of studying. Understanding timing tells is a good example of a concept that will not turn you into a winning player from a losing player, but incorporating them into your game can absolutely improve your winrate.
When talking about timing tells, it is important to start by understanding that these tells happen for a reason. Timing tells are not about some mystical list of situations to memorize – you get information because of what the time of the decision suggests about how long they needed to think, and what your opponent wants to represent about the strength of his hand. From that framework, we can come up with some general rules about common tendencies that you can use to identify opportunities throughout your games.
Quicker calls generally indicate weaker hands that are not considering raising or folding, and are not trapping.
There are two main aspects to talk about regarding this tell. First of all, the basic live poker tell of “strong is weak, weak is strong” applies here. Correctly or incorrectly, most players believe that waiting to call with marginal hands makes it seem like they were considering folding, and will cause opponents to put more pressure on them in future streets. Thus, with those mediocre hands, they often call more quickly, as if to say “do not try to bluff me on future streets, I have a hand that does not need to think twice about calling”. With trapping hands, most players will Hollywood for at least a few seconds before calling, even online, as if to act like they were considering folding.
The second aspect of this tell is that when people have strong hands they might consider raising with, they will typically do just that – consider raising. On a K74 flop, then, a quick check/call is much more likely to be a 7x or 4x type hand than a K8 type holding, which has to pause and consider raising. In a 3-bet pot, when your opponent calls a c-bet on a Q95cc flop somewhat quickly, it means they did not consider raising, which makes Qx much less likely. In this scenario, 9x tends to be the most likely holding that you are up against.
When your opponent makes an aggressive move quickly, it means they did not need to think in order to make it.
After calling a continuation bet on a K85cc flop and a 4c turn being checked through, your opponent quickly openjams the river, a non-club ace. While your opponent’s range is fairly wide up until the quick river shove, that play quickly narrows his range down to rivered flushes, especially if your opponent is a recreational player. Your opponent needed no time to decide whether going all-in was a significant error. Again, there is a reason for this tell – without a hand, people need to think about the river card and whether it's a good idea to make a bluff, at least for a couple of seconds before they decide to spew off their stack hastily. It can sometimes be a spazzy move from an opponent who missed a draw, but when there are little to no missed draws in our opponent's range, these spots become very easy folds.
Many opponents, for example, will give up way too much information in their timing from 3-bet jamming, snap-shoving Ax/pocket pair type hands that are easy, sure to be +EV jams, and taking some time to think about it before getting it in with more marginal hands that need fold equity to be good. I have also played against opponents who will do the opposite, and always pretend to think with their value hands but want to advertise that they had an easy decision with their bluffs, but this is more unusual. Regardless, once we identify either tendency, it becomes a tell, and we can make money off of it.
When your opponent takes his time before making a significant bet in a spot where you are likely to have a bluffcatcher, it means they are generally stronger.
Put yourself in your opponent's shoes. You are on the river with a busted draw, trying to figure out whether or not to try to bluff – the only way you can win the hand. How often do you use a significant portion of the timebank and then decide to pull the trigger? For most people, the answer is “not often”.
That is because in the mind of most players at that moment, the longer you wait to put the bet in, the more information your opponent will have about you. He will know that you did not have an easy decision about whether to bet. He will see through the computer screen and know just how badly you are already hoping for a fold. He will snap and you will feel like an idiot. The check button is so big and pretty – why not just give up, and live to fight another day?
Is this reasoning true? Are people more likely to call if you have to time down before deciding to make your bluff? I think probably not. Regardless, it is a tendency we can take advantage of.
In summary, generic timing tells come from one of two things:
a) How much he has to think about decisions.
b) How much he wants you to think that he has to think about decisions.
This might seem like a somewhat frustrating, perhaps even contradictory explanation. How do we know when our opponent is making his timing based on how much he actually had to think, and how do we know when the timing is meant to be deceptive? As tough as that question might seem, there are clear examples of each. Regardless of how easy the decision to continue with a trapping hand is, most players will Hollywood with it for at least a few seconds. Here, the tell is all about letter B. A quick continuation bet on a J98hhx flop is all about letter A, not B: Most opponents do not even think about their timing here, and would have to think with their weaker hands, but have an easier decision with their stronger hands. Some tells are also a combination: The quick c/c on the flop with middle pair, mediocre kicker, is both that your opponent did not have to think about his decision (check/call is obvious), and that he wants you to think he had an easy call (don't barrel me, please!). Working through your opponent’s mind takes practice, but this framework should help you start to make more of those sexy soulreads on the river, as well as play more fundamental situations with that added level of expertise.