In big-bet games, a player who calls a significant bet quickly is often giving away a lot of information. Calling a bet quickly means that the player has ruled out a raise as the best strategy and done so quickly. (In most games, a “quick” call will be around three seconds or less, but of course this is relative and will vary based on the normal speed of a specific game and the speed of a specific player.)
An immediate call usually limits a player’s hand range to either extremely strong or to a moderately strong hand. An immediate call will usually eliminate hands like 2-pair or top pair, good kicker from their range. With these types of hands a player is more likely to take time to consider a raise, because their hand is vulnerable. If the board is very draw-heavy, an immediate call could eliminate hands as strong as a set, a straight, or a flush. Same idea with really bad cards, like third pair or if a player was floating; with bad cards, you’d expect the player to give a few seconds thought before calling.
In my experience, an immediate call is usually a drawing hand with obvious value, like a high flush draw or a straight draw with two overs, or a hand like top pair with a vulnerable kicker. Something where the value is obviously apparent. Or else it’s a hand like top pair, good kicker, where the player knows they aren’t folding that to you but neither is he raising.
The immediate call will occasionally be a very strong hand, but this is rare. Most people with a very strong hand are going to at least consider a raise for a little bit, and probably won’t want to draw attention to themselves by calling quickly. They are also interested in maximizing value, so most people will think for a moment about whether raising or calling is the best move.
A quick call can also be interpreted as a defensive tell, because the player calling is basically saying, “I’m not going anywhere; I’ve got a good hand that I don’t even need to think about calling with.” So we would expect a player expressing strength in that way to be vulnerable.
All of these factors mean that when I’m playing with someone who calls a significant bet quickly, and I’m weak myself, I start thinking about my chances of a pulling off a bluff.
Betting Immediately and Taking a Long Time to Bet
When it’s a player’s turn to act, you might be able to get some information about his hand by how soon he bets or by how long it takes him to bet. The more significant a bet it is, the more meaningful these bet-timing tells can be.
In no-limit games, there will tend to be a “normal” time frame for how long it takes to bet; in other words, a length of time that is not out-of-the-ordinary. In a small stakes no-limit game, the players might bet or raise very soon after it is their turn to act, and that would be normal. In a high-stakes game or a big buy-in tournament, players might regularly take a minute or more to make a decision, and that would be normal. This means that only the extremes of bet-timing are going to be useful for gaining information. The two extremes are:
– Betting or raising immediately (generally a second or less for most games)
– Taking a very long time to bet or raise
Both of these behaviors are by definition not “normal.” This is why if you see a player making a significant bet immediately or taking a very long time, it is unlikely to be a bluff. Because these behaviors could be considered strange, a bluffer instinctually will not want to do them.
Most bluffers instinctively feel that betting immediately might arouse an opponent’s suspicion. Betting immediately can be seen as an aggressive, challenging statement to another player, communicating something like “I don’t even have to think about this decision against you.” Most bluffers avoid such behavior, because that kind of behavior makes an opponent want to figure out “why is he betting so quickly?” From a bluffing perspective, it’s much better to wait a couple seconds and then bet. A bet that takes a couple of seconds still communicates strength and confidence, but doesn’t attract much attention.
In the same way, most players feel that taking a really long time might make an opponent think that they are considering a bluff. The gut instinct of your average bluffer is to appear as normal as he can, and to bet within a normal time frame. (And this is despite the fact that good players will be more likely to give a player credit for a big hand if that player bets immediately or takes a long time to bet.)
For example, if I make a turn bet and a player raises me in less than a second, I’m thinking there’s almost no chance I’m being bluffed. Similarly, if a player takes a whole minute to make a large bet on the river, and that player usually takes 15 seconds to act in such a spot, I’m going to respect that bet more than average.
If someone has a reliable bet-timing tell, the tell will probably only be useful in significant spots. Less-important decisions are less likely to be correlated with meaningful tells. So if a player makes a
small continuation-bet on the flop and bets immediately, I’m less likely to assign that much meaning because the player can be comfortable with a wide range of hands, because there’s not much at stake yet. In other words, the player isn’t yet afraid of seeming “strange” to me.
It’s important to remember that bet-timing, because it’s consciously controlled, can vary greatly. Good players will generally not have bet-timing tells, but they are also capable of using them purposefully as false tells. You should discount the usefulness of these tells against good players.