How to Read Betting Patterns in Online Poker

Attractive woman in jacket and hat covering face with poker cards isolated on black background

Reading betting patterns is one of the best strategies for playing poker, online or in person. Learning how to watch your opponent and decode their actions can help you work out what hand they might have and what their next move might be. Getting to grips with betting patterns will also help you improve your gambling skills and become more successful in poker.

Taking your seat at the table

Whether you’re playing online poker tournaments or having a good time playing simple live games of poker online or at a land-based casino, it’s vital to familiarize yourself with betting patterns. Recognizing them can assist you in making the right decision before you act.

It can be a little intimidating for beginner poker players to watch their opponents at the poker table, especially when playing at a land-based casino. However, you’ll find your own rhythm the more you play. It’s a lot easier when you play poker online at some of the best online poker sites, as no one can see that you’re watching them. This eliminates many aspects of the physical game, such as watching other players’ facial expressions, sweating, nervous hands, and so on. In online poker, though, it’s still important to take note of your position (where you’re “sitting” at the poker table in relation to the dealer and the small and big blinds,) and how and when your opponents bet. Ask yourself, do they check? Do they raise? Do they call?

At most, you’ll want to focus on three players: The one on your immediate right, who acts before you; and the two on your left, who’ll act after you. Thereafter, you can keep an eye on the other players on the table.

Check how opponents play position

Recognizing how your opponents play in different positions will tell you the range of hands they’re willing to play, and the way they play them (sometimes you’ll see this referred to as ”range balancing”.) For instance, a player who calls or folds in an early position is most likely to be a weak player. Aggressive players, meanwhile, are always likely to raise in late positions. To get a good read on their cards, you’ll need to call, if you have a medium to strong hand.

Furthermore, you need to ask yourself how experienced your opponents are and at what level they base their playing decisions. By watching them play a couple of times, you’ll be able to tell how predictable they are, and pick up whether they’re playing like a beginner or at a more advanced level. Their use of poker lingo is also something to factor in, if you’re playing online poker tournaments or live poker – just keep reading the in-game chat to pick up hidden cues!

Observing betting patterns

Professional poker player at table with large stack of chips against a black background

After gathering a general idea of your opponents, you’ll want to make some serious observations on their betting patterns in common situations. The things you notice and deduce about them may not be fully accurate, but are great to use as a guide when you’re playing poker for money.

Look out for the following:

  • What kind of poker hands are your opponents raising with? Are they strong or weak hands? Do they check-raise?
  • How do they play? Do they bluff often? Do they check or call?
  • How do they play certain types of hands, say big and small? Do they call and fold?
  • How do they slow-play hands (where they make a weak or passive bet or play while holding a strong hand)? How many hands do they often play? (See next section.)
  • Do they stake high, or do they go for small-value wagers?

Here are some more useful examples.

Check the number of hands your opponent plays

Watching how many hands your opponents are down to play is a great tip. It’ll tell you what kind of starting hands they might have. Usually, if your opponent plays several hands, they’re unlikely to have a strong hand every time. It indicates that they’re willing to play with more marginal hands. Sometimes, this might go vice versa – a player might play only a few hands while waiting for stronger hands to enter a pot.

Do they call or raise?

Observe if the player likes to enter the pot by either calling or raising. Usually, if your opponent raises early, it means that you need to be cautious when playing marginal hands, as they might raise and force you out of the pot. As mentioned before, a tight player is likely to call early in the game.

When a player calls the flop, calls the turn and then, suddenly, raises the river, it’s a sign that they’ve got plans. In this scenario, the other players might feel that because they followed their opponent to the river, they may as well call a final bet. What then happens is that they end up losing. You shouldn’t fall for it. This is a good way to see how an opponent changes gear on the river.

Check/Call

Also dubbed a “blocking bet’’ and considered a classic, this happens when your opponent checks or calls, and suddenly wagers a small stake into you, on the turn of a draw. When it gets to this point, chances are that your opponent may have had a weak pair or had the draw on the flop. Their small wager is there to allow them to draw cheaply. It’s better to charge them more if this occurs.

Bets on the flop and turn

It’s often a sign of weakness if your opponent doesn’t increase their bet size on the turn. Usually, this means they’ll have a pair with a weak kicker, and it’s your chance to raise and win the pot. Some players will not bet on the turn, even though they were aggressive before the flop. This betting pattern tells you exactly what kind of hand your opponent has. By not wagering on the turn, it says a lot, and at most, it means that the pot is yours. However, if they do wager on the turn, it shows that they might have a good hand. The size of a player’s bet is also something to consider. Also, keep in mind what range of hands that particular player is likely to bet or raise with.

Showdown hands

If your opponent only shows their hand in the showdown, look at how they played their hand from the start. Were they acting strong with a weak hand or did they slow-play with a strong hand? Vital information is revealed here that can give you an advantage at the poker table.

How to hide your own betting patterns

As you may have seen, there are many ways that players can reveal their betting patterns, but how do you prevent yourself from doing the same?

The first thing you can try to avoid revealing how you bet is to use the same amount of time for all your betting decisions. That way, the other players won’t be able to tell if you’re struggling to make a decision. However, you don’t want to take extremely long to make one, nor do you want to jump into making a snap decision as soon as possible. So, finding a balance is key to your strategy. Other players will not be able to glean anything from your action if you take the same amount of time to bet, raise, or fold.

Your second option, which might be a little obvious, is to vary your patterns for betting. Avoid always folding or raising like you don’t know what you are doing. Mixing things up will prevent your opponents from reading your patterns. However, this doesn’t mean that you should bet the wrong things just to confuse your opponents!

Betting tips

Young man with two ace cards held up to face

At most, it’s a sign of weakness when a player checks. Usually, players will do this when they have a weak hand, and this is where you get to take advantage. However, it is different when your opponent checks and then calls, as that would mean that they have a drawing hand (where they have a potentially good hand but it’s missing a certain card they need.)

Here are some betting tips to consider: 

Drawing cards – Several players often aggressively go after draws, but not as a sign of weakness. However, to have them stay during the fourth street or river, you’ll need to make a strong raise. Some opponents may call without the right odds. These are the players to keep, as they might win you the pot in the long run.

Continuation wagers – Some poker players tend to overuse the continuation bet – this is when they’ve raised preflop and continue playing aggressively by betting again on the flop. It’s important to know the hand range for this kind of player, to be able to take advantage and hopefully win yourself some money. Opponents who slow-play their hands excessively are also likely to raise preflop or call the flop.

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