When you ask players the question about online vs. b & m play, many respond that they miss being able to "look a player in the eye." Online poker is wonderfully convenient but there is something lacking. They miss being able to spot a player's tells.
For the actors in the group it goes a step further. A crucial part of their game is the spreading of disinformation. We are not just talking about the "act strong when weak and look weak when strong" minimalist school, but the full blown devious kind. One well known professional player goes as far as to set a "tell trap" for his opponents. He is careful to pick his mark, needing someone who is both observant and smart, but unfamiliar with him. Also, to be profitable, the mark must be in it for the long haul so the pro can make his score. And it works best in a pot limit or no limit game where a small loss early can lead to a big gain later.
He sets it up by being friendly, not overly so, but enough chit chat to make sure that the other players are looking at him. Also, by engaging his opponents in a little chat he can decide who is best suited to be deceived. In talking with him, he uses the word "conned", but to me a con is when some sort of cheating is involved. Deception, or misrepresentation, on the other hand, is a big part of what poker is all about.
Once he has his mark, or if he's lucky, marks picked out, he goes to work. He folds quickly when he is not interested in a hand, but stays focused and friendly in those pots. He always says "nice hand" or "well played" to the winner and wishes his mark good luck whenever it is appropriate. When he is in a hand though, he acts slowly - not enough to be annoying, just thoughtful enough to make sure he has his mark's attention.
The first time he and the mark are alone in a small pot, he makes a bluff at the pot accompanied by two little "tells". Both are well practiced to look natural with very slight motions that only the observant player would notice. One is a teeny twitch in the corner of his mouth and the other is a trembling of his betting hand. If he is not called, he will show his cards and announce "Glad you didn't call me on that one." If he is raised he'll muck his cards face up and say "How'd you know I was bluffin?"
And, of course, once he is lucky enough to make a big hand, our pro makes the same bet without the "tells" and makes sure to show his cards when he wins. After a few small bluffs and hopefully a win or two the trap is ready to be sprung. If the mark has demonstrated that he has picked up on the tell by raising our pro on one of his bluffs, so much the better.
The key to the finale of our little drama is a little luck in getting a big hand against the mark and very careful betting. The bets must be such that the initial bet is small enough so that a raise is still relatively small. Our pro then reraises an amount that the mark can meaningfully reraise again only for all his chips. A quick call from our pro and the mark is busted on what he thought was a sure bluff.
A fine cautionary tale that may make a person think twice about his people reading skills, but what does this have to do with online poker you may ask.
In online poker, there are only two ways to get information from your opponents. The first way is by the betting, the amount and speed of the bets can say a lot and is worth an article of its own. The second, and much more neglected way, is through chat. Don't ignore one of your weapons - use your chat!
For this to work you must first be willing to adopt an online persona, and one that will not alienate your fellow players. You must resist the urge to curse, abuse, berate and generally be annoying. The only thing these types of chat will accomplish is to tick off your victims, errr I mean opponents. Many of them will simply block your chat or, if they have to, block all chat. Quite the contrary, you must be as gracious and charming as you can. Start with a simple "nice hand" or nh when a player wins one and always say "thank you" or ty when you get any compliments. As in life in general, good manners go a long way.
The best way to get players to respond positively to you and to notice your chat is with humor. Caution is still required, as much humor has negativity at its root. Ethnic, sexist, religious, or any mean-spirited type of humor is to be avoided at all costs. If your style of humor leans toward poking fun, you must make yourself the butt of your jokes. Of course, world champions are also fair game. At poker stars, where players may post a small picture of themselves as an icon, I like to joke that I'm so ugly I make Greg Raymer look good. Also when I get my chips in with a smaller pair than my opponent and then draw out on him I joke that I "pulled a Moneymaker." One time after a very nice player outdrew my flopped set of aces with a runner runner straight, he typed in "sorry man that was wrong." I typed back "Don't worry, I ain't gonna go Helmuth on ya."
Also remember to use your chat sparingly - constant chatter, even the good kind, quickly becomes annoying. Once you have established a chat persona that people respond well to, it is time to use it to your advantage. One simple way is to wait for a pair of aces or kings and when calling an all-in raise or raising it up yourself, type in "let's gamble". Then, win or lose, make sure you show your big pair. If you're lucky and get another one relatively soon, do it the exact same way, but once is usually enough. Then when you feel a bluff is warranted, make sure to type in "let's gamble" just before you raise. This time don't show your cards, but if someone asks, make up a believable lie about your hand. And remember never to reply if someone types in "bs" or some such afterwards. This same thing works great if you are lucky enough to get that big pair the first hand of a tourney. Type in "let's gamble" and go all in and somebody is sure to call you.
Online play does favor a straight up approach more than face to face play does. It's almost as if we all have our hoods pulled up over our faces ala the Unabomber. However the players that use this fact as an excuse to never try to spread disinformation are doing their game a disservice. There are always other weapons than just your chips. When you learn to use everything that's available to you, your game can only benefit.
A slightly more sophisticated play occurs sometimes when you have just had a big hand cracked. Again, resist the urge to type anything nasty. But should you get another big hand the very next one, and I mean big enough that you want a call, try this. Type in something like, "I can't believe my bad luck. This really bites. Lousy rotten online poker." Then go ahead and raise all-in. I can almost guarantee you will get at least one call from a marginal hand. What you are doing here is encouraging a call with your chat by making your opponents think that the previous bad beat has put you off your game or made you angry. If you win remember to type in something like, "I can't believe my aces held up that time. Is this the same site?"