Timing Tells

There are some great players who think timing tells are overrated; others players swear by it. I believe they exist, and sometimes I use them to make a big bluff or to check back the river with a strong hand. The main reason for its existence is that everyone’s playing style has a pattern. Sometimes we auto-pilot and we don’t know we’re auto-piloting. Other times, we unwillingly let our emotions take over. I know I’ve called too quickly a few times in my playing career because I was acting on adrenaline. Let’s go through a few scenarios.

Quick Call

From my experience after hundreds of thousands of hands, a quick call is usually an attempt to appear strong and to slow down the aggressor on the next street. With a strong hand, a player would take more time thinking about his option (whether to donk bet, check-raise, or check-call). In some situations, we have no option besides check- calling, so we often act way too fast.

For example:

We have been through this situation many times. Unless there is some crazy history, we know the best play. Thus, we don’t take too long to check-call. However, let’s say we have J9 of clubs in the same situation. Now our flop action is a little delayed. We need more time to think about whether to check-call, check-raise or check-fold.

Of course, there are players out there who check-call quickly with the nuts to feign weakness, but this number is exceedingly small. In fact, you wouldn’t lose much if you paid no heed to a fast check-call. Consider that the percentage of players who check-call

fast with a weak hand is way higher than those who do so with a monster hand, and that the benefits of winning a lot of dead money outweighs the times you get clipped off by a monster.
A reliable tell that I have used many times is when a fish check-calls really fast on boards where flush draws are possible. He doesn’t care about correct pot odds; he likes to draw no matter what. Against players like him, I usually bet half-pot on the river to get them to fold their missed draws. There’s no need to bluff with a bigger bet size because they aren’t going to fold a made hand. Your goal is to make them fold a draw that has a high card that might beat you.

Slow Call

By “slow call”, I’m not talking about a few seconds of delay. I’m talking about tanking, tanking, then calling. Unless your opponent has a history of taking his time during hands, he almost always has a strong hand and wants you to bluff off your chips. Regular grinders aren’t morons. They know when they are taking time with their hands. The majority of the time, it’s calculated.

Of course, some players genuinely take their time to call because they are facing a difficult decision and don’t know the best course of action to take. Regarding these players, your guess is as good as mine since I need to play against them to know. As a default, I would start off by bluffing the river and see how they react to it. Some players fold all the time. Some call a lot. This is one of those concepts you have to try out for yourself to know which players belong to which categories.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate this concept.

On such a draw-heavy board, once he check-calls the turn, the strongest hand that he can show up with is QJ. Any better hand probably check-shoves the turn to avoid playing the river. So, when he tanks on his turn decision, he is usually figuring out whether he is getting the odds to call a turn bet. On this board texture, if he is tanking, he is usually holding a pair with a flush draw or flush plus straight draw. On the river, I would shove the majority of the time if I couldn’t beat Qx. I would expect to take down the pot often.

Important Note: If you are the type of player who will bet this turn but won’t follow through on the river, you should check the turn the majority of the time. Because the board is so drawy by the turn that once Villain check-calls, the river is almost a mandatory shove.
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