AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 16.12.2020 · last updated 16.12.2020

The Chat facility in online poker is an interesting animal

Some players make a point of never even bothering with it, which is perfectly logical as it’s so easy to be too distracted. In fact, I’d recommend that new and inexperienced players who might be prone to spending too much time reading the Chat simply switch it off in order to fully concentrate on the game.

The same goes for anyone interested in multi-tabling – it’s going to be difficult enough as it is managing to keep everything going smoothly, without stopping off here and there to see what someone has to say about how they should have won some random hand.

However, for those players with enough hours at the tables under their belt to leave them able to follow what’s going on in the chat box without it being detrimental to their game, it’s possible to glean potentially useful information from the comments. After all, in the absence of the physical tells, we’d be able to take advantage of in a casino, we should be looking for anything that might help.

No limit cash games, for example, by their very nature, often elicit responses from players that can be quite emotional. This is understandable given that it’s not unusual to lose an entire stack in a single hand, reload, lose it all within a few moments, and so on.

Bad beats abound, a player’s fate can be sealed by the turn of a card, the poker gods decide to have a bit of sadistic fun with a particular player who can’t seem to catch a decent hand… During a typical session, there are many such situations being played out, and therefore plenty of opportunities for those inclined to vent their feelings to express themselves. It’s at these times that we are given what might prove to be exploitable insights into how certain players might be struggling to maintain an even keel psychologically. This sounds obvious, but it can be very useful nonetheless, just as we’d think it not insignificant in a traditional casino environment were a player to react badly to losing a big hand by banging the table or coming out with an angry, expletive-filled outburst, for example.

When this happens, it tends to precede some kind of change in the way that person plays

If someone is getting so frustrated that they can’t help but bemoan their awful luck, blame another’s ‘stupid’ play or (a classic) claim that online poker is rigged, then there’s a good chance that, suitably tilted, they might well, in the very near future (with frustration at a high and the adrenaline still racing through them) recklessly gamble, overdo the aggression or try to pull off a transparently poor bluff. With this in mind, we should be looking to capitalise on such tilt, hoping to strike while the iron is hot before the normal business is resumed. Moreover, we should make a point of trying to cheaply see the flop with the more speculative starting hands in order to engineer situations that our target will struggle with. This might seem a little mercenary, but the mindset and emotional control are part of the game, the aim of which is to leave the table with more chips than we started with. Information can come in all sorts of forms, so if we can find useful nuggets that might open a window into how opponents think and feel and so on then that’s jut as valid as learning that a player has a habit of limping with big pairs. Note that it’s also possible for a player who’s ranting in the chat every time they suffer a reverse, rather than go on an all-in tilty gamble binge, to suddenly clam up and shy away from anything with the slightest element of risk. If we’re on the lookout for such a shift in the way they’re playing, we can exploit that, too, this time by betting them off a pot because we know that they’re currently in such a passive phase.

Why players chat, and what they say, isn’t limited to angry tilt

The very serious theory addicts, for instance, like to continually question others, giving advice along the way in a manner that’s conspicuously condescending. They’re not looking to help, of course, rather they take every opportunity to point out how they know best.  identify themselves in the chat. When someone wins a pot after calling a pre-flop raise out of position with J7o and then hitting runner-runner J and 7, the ‘expert’ will be straight in the Chat with something along the lines of ‘You called a raise with that?’ … Others might say the same as part of a deliberately sustained series of exclusively abusive comments. If this is directed at us, it’s important not to let it put us off our game. On the contrary – we should welcome this kind of chat as it makes such players easy to read. Indeed, with each insult about how a hand should be played, this type of player is providing new information not only about their starting hand range, but even how they approach certain hands! For example, a typical hand might begin with them raising with AK pre-flop, betting a random flop and being called, only to subsequently fold to a bet or raise when they fail to hit anything. Amusingly, they will then rush to the chat box to point out how the player who just beat their AK didn’t deserve to have been in the hand in the first place. Of course, what just happened, and what these egotists never seem to realise, is that they were just outplayed by an observant opponent who has been using the chat to their advantage, stealing a pot based on this far from perfect player’s advertising their strategy!

So, as we gain in experience, we can learn something about other players at the table from what they say in Chat. Such information can be valuable when part of an overall picture as long as we make sure to keep a close watch on everything that happens. Information is key, whatever form in which it presents itself.

All of this should tell us that it’s best not to allow ourselves to indulge in sharing our thoughts via the chat facility. Quite simply, it’s not worth risking giving away anything that could help our opponents. We wouldn’t voluntarily show our hole cards at the end of every hand, so why should it be a good idea to discuss our thoughts or the rights and wrongs of certain hands.

Have fun!

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