Freeroll Poker Tournaments

Many sites offer regular freeroll events to attract new players and encourage existing players to return to the site on a regular basis. These may be either ‘true’ freerolls with no entry conditions whatsoever, or perks for players who have already provided the cardroom with a certain amount of patronage (typically measured by the number of raked hands in which they have participated).

The challenge for the cardroom is to structure these freeroll tournaments in such a way that they are attractive enough for players to visit the site, but not so attractive that their clientele will spend all their poker sessions playing freerolls at the expense of raked ring games or buy-in tournaments! Undoubtedly, some players who play in freeroll tournaments do so with no intention of ever depositing any cash to play in real money games, but even these players have some value to the cardroom, since they may encourage their friends to join the site, and those players may then make deposits and in turn encourage their own friends to sign up. A true freeroll tournament at, for example, PokerStars will attract 250-500 players, offering newcomers an ideal introduction to online tournament play.

There are two contrasting ways of approaching a freeroll event – you can either try and play your best game, treating it as a serious exercise, or you can decide to take lots of risks early on, figuring that you could get lucky and amass a ton of chips, but if you bust out you haven’t lost anything anyway!

Poker Programmer Cheats

Although collusion and all-in abuses are the most prevalent problems, there are other security issues which discourage some people from playing online. One common fear is that someone may be able to see your hole cards. This may be either because the original programmer has revealed the ‘key’ to the encryption algorithm to a cheat, enabling him to see everyone’s hole cards, or because someone has somehow managed to break into the server and bypass the code. (Players are recommended to provide themselves with an extra measure of protection by installing firewalls on their PCs.) Alternatively, the programmer may have disclosed the shuffling algorithm, enabling a cheat to determine which cards are likely to come next. Finally, the programmer may have left a backdoor into the software to enable him to insert hidden code to enable certain designated players to win. Although these means of cheating are possible, there has never been an instance in which anything like this has ever actually happened – it would be so damaging for any cardroom to fall victim to this kind of cheating that it is hard to believe that adequate security measures would not be in place.


Clamping down on the Cheats
Although they are in business competition with one another, if the major sites were able to get together and share their information about known cheaters, and even discuss methods of tracking down cheaters in future, they would undoubtedly be doing a great service both to themselves, and to the online poker-playing community as a whole. A firmer, across-the-board approach to the problem of cheating would encourage new players to participate and give existing players the confidence to compete for higher stakes. Indeed, according to Paradise Poker’s head of marketing Bruce Davidson (quoted in an article in the New Yorh Times from November 2001) one reason why the site has been reluctant to raise the maximum stakes, is precisely because they are concerned that this would attract more sophisticated cheaters and hackers.

Furthermore, it is not sufficient that cheaters be barred; each site should adopt an open policy of refunding losses to players who have been the victims of proven cheating. Although both PokerStars and Planet Poker, for example, have refunded cheated players in the past, this does not appear to be a universal policy among cardrooms at the present time. Short-sightedly, some sites may prefer not to admit that any specific acts of collusion have arisen, whereas a more open treatment of such instances would demonstrate not only that they hold a powerful stance against collusion, but also that they possess the resources to detect and combat it. In this way, they would not only reinforce public confidence in their commitment towards honest games, but also discourage potential cheats.

Cheating in Poker

Without question many people are reluctant to play on the Internet for fear of being cheated, either by the cardroom or (more likely) by other players. Barely a week goes by without some anonymous poster on one poker forum or another telling how he was ‘cheated’ online in some way or another. Invariably the thrust of their argument is something along the lines of ‘I’ve been playing for 20 years and I’ve never seen so many bad beats. I know I’m a good poker player, so if I’m losing then the game can’t possibly be on the level.’ Although on occasion these complaints do turn out to be perfectly valid, in the vast majority of cases the players involved are almost certainly victims of misfortune (or their own bad play) rather than cheating. Furthermore, since there are plenty of other players who claim that they do win at online poker sites without having to resort to cheating – are we to assume that they do so only because they are such brilliant players that they can overcome stacked decks and collusion teams? It is true that most players lose when they play poker at an online cardroom, but then again most players lose when they play poker in a brick and mortar cardroom as well (the mathematics of the rake practically guarantees that this be so).

In July 2002 published an excellent article by Andrew Glazer on this very subject, entitled ‘Ten Reasons Why You’re Not Getting Cheated Online’. His argument was not that cheating does not go on (indeed he stated that he was sure that in certain instances players had colluded with one another), but that there are alternative explanations for poker losses that players often ignore, preferring instead to blame someone else rather than themselves. Glazer offered the following possible explanations as to why players might experience (or appear to experience) worse results online than they do in a brick and mortar cardroom:
–    Players are forced to keep better records online. When you receive your monthly credit card bill it is pretty hard to fool yourself that you have had a winning month when you have actually lost, whereas live-action players who don’t keep accurate records may imagine that they are winning players even when they are not. As Glazer says, ‘Many players who think they are break-even players in live games are actually losers, and many players who think they are winning players are actually break-even or losing players.’ Thus some players may only be imagining that their results are worse online; better record-keeping would reveal that their live-action results are comparable.
–    Online play removes much of the skill involved in reading people from the game. Those players for whom tells and other people-reading skills are a vital element of their game will not be able to achieve such good results online. For such players Glazer eloquently suggests that ‘when you play online you have two arms and one leg tied behind your back.’
–    Many players don’t concentrate as hard when they play online as they would in a brick and mortar cardroom. By engaging in multi-tasking while you are playing online, perhaps watching TV, answering e-mails or surfing the Internet, you will not collect as much information about the other players as you would in a live game, and this will inevitably have a negative effect on your results.
–    Many more hands are played per hour online than in a live action game (perhaps giving the misleading impression that more bad beats are occurring). If you are already a losing player, then faster games will inevitably cause you to lose more every hour you play online (although this may partially be offset by the lower rake and the absence of tipping).
–    The nature of the online game sometimes encourages players to play more loosely than they normally would. The simple physical act of clicking on a mouse rather than counting out chips and placing them in the pot may cause players to enter and stay in more hands, often calling to the river with hands they would fold in a live-action game. Furthermore, there is no peer pressure to play ‘properly’: if you play an online hand badly and still somehow manage to win, you don’t have to endure any muttering or dirty looks from the other players, all tacitly censuring you for playing so poorly.
–    If the game is indeed looser than a normal brick and mortar game, then more players will stay to the river and more miracle, bad beats will arise as a result.
–    If the game is already looser than a normal game, then it may become even looser as additional players are sucked into every hand by the prospect of winning a large pot if they hit a big hand.
–    Players are more prone to going on tilt online. We have already discussed the phenomenon of cybertilt, whereby players are more likely to lose their composure and steam off their bankrolls when there is no-one watching them.
–    Players can run into more problems when they play two tables simultaneously. Again, we have already discussed this concept. It is harder for multi-table players to keep track of their opponents’ tendencies, while playing two or more tables at once can be particularly dangerous for players who have a tendency to go on tilt.
–    Players may play differently because they are paranoid that they are being cheated, making detrimental adjustments to their decisions merely because they fear the worst.

Poker Software

One of the most fundamental issues for any online business is security – unless clients can trust that the software is providing them with complete security then they will be reluctant to engage in any online transaction, gambling or otherwise. Major online poker sites offer the same protection against hackers that banks do. At PartyPoker, for example, your playing cards, name, address, credit card details, password (and everything else that is transmitted to and from the cardroom) are protected from ‘packet-sniffers’ by the internationally accepted industry-standard SSLv3ffLSv1 encryption algorithm system. Furthermore, your own playing cards are sent exclusively to your computer – no-one else has access to your downcards.

Apart from providing customer security, the other main interface requirements of an online poker site are speed, reliability and an intuitive and attractive design. In the early days of online poker, games were often slow, with players experiencing frequent disconnection problems and having to cope with clunky, poorly designed, unfriendly interfaces. Thankfully, most (but not all) major sites nowadays offer their clients a fast, reliable and intuitive gaming experience. Incidentally, you may notice that sometimes when one site is experiencing Internet problems, several other sites also suffer downtime. There is nothing untoward about this – many poker sites have servers located in the same facility, so connection problems affecting one site are likely to be affecting other sites as well.

Although UltimateBet is one of the only sites to offer its clients the choice of two entirely different interfaces (Standard View and the innovative and attractive MiniView™), most sites do offer drop-down menus to enable you to adapt some elements of the interface to your desire. For example, you may find that for some sites the speed of your connection is improved if you remove the ‘animation’ features using the tabs in the lobby. In addition, some players (myself included) prefer to utilise the ‘four-colour deck’ option where this choice is available. This may enable you to identify the suits quicker and more accurately, especially if you are playing multiple tables and need to be able to distinguish the suits of the cards at a very brief glance.

Nearly all online sites have been designed primarily for the Windows environment. However, Apple Macintosh and Linux users can either choose to play at a site such as, where no download is required, or invest in an emulator program such as VirtualPC for Macintosh, which will enable them to access any online site.

Online Poker Chat

Nowadays every major poker site provides the facility for players to chat with one another. Most players enjoy making conversation from time to time, since it helps reduce the isolation of playing online, adding a social element to the game that online poker would otherwise lack. Sometimes players use the chat boxes to praise or berate opponents, sometimes to help iron out any issues that may have arisen at the table, and other times just to catch up with friends whom they have met through the cardroom. Of course, it is forbidden for anyone to use the chat function to even hint at what their hole cards are or advise other players on how they should play a hand that is in progress!

Very often players use common abbreviations when they are chatting to save typing time, the most common of which are:

bb – big blind
brb – be right back
gl – good one
gc – good cards (or good call)
gg – good game
gh – good hand
gl – good luck
101 – laughing out loud
n1 – nice one
nc – nice cards (or nice catch)
nh – nice hand
np – no problem
rofl – rolling on the floor laughing
sb – small blind
tx – thanks
ty – thank you
tyvm – thank you very much vnh – very nice hand
wd – well done
wp – well played
yw – you’re welcome
zzzzzzz – hurry up, I’m falling asleep over here!

It has already been mentioned that some of the best opportunities in online play arise when all the other players at the table are chatting to one another, enjoying the camaraderie of the game instead of focusing properly on the game itself. If everyone is relaxed and having a good time, it is much more likely that the game will be played in the kind of gambling spirit that you are looking for in a game – everyone playing looser than they normally would and the bad players staying at the table even if they are losing money. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself at such a table, then it is not at all in your interests to jeopardise the spirit of the game – if you don’t wish to participate in the banter yourself, that’s fine, but if you want everyone to keep playing in the same fashion, then it is better to hold your peace rather than to say anything that may cause a change in the atmosphere of the game.

By the same token, you should avoid criticising another player for playing a hand badly – by embarrassing another player in public you will either cause them to leave with their bankroll still intact, or more likely encourage them to pay more attention to the game, tightening up, playing better and perhaps learning some valuable lessons for the future. As the saying goes ‘Don’t tap on the glass!’

It is sometimes argued that the best way to part a bad player from their money is to try and set them on tilt by verbally attacking them. However, this is a somewhat short-sighted strategy – if you come across a player who really is that clueless, they are probably easy to beat anyhow. Surely you want them in your game on a regular basis? Why spoil their gambling experience and cause them to go elsewhere in future?

Occasionally you will have the misfortune to find yourself at a table where a player is ranting and raving, and possibly even being extremely abusive to other players. Invariably that player is on tilt, steaming through their bankroll. In these circumstances there are three non-exclusive courses of action:
•    You owe it to yourself (and all the other polite players at the table) to play your best game against the abusive player, helping to relieve him of his bankroll and sending him off with his tail between his legs. Don’t get involved in an argument with him and allow his bad behaviour to put you on tilt!
•    Just as in a brick and mortar cardroom where you can report abuse to the dealer or floorperson, so you can report chat abuse to the online poker room’s customer support team, who will often relieve abusive players of their chat privileges for a designated period. If you file a legitimate complaint and the cardroom fails to act, this may tell you everything you need to know about whether or not you should be providing that particular site with your future business.
•    Finally, you can always switch off the chat feature if you wish, although this is rather an unsatisfactory solution if you like to use the chat yourself or enjoy trying to gain clues about the other players through their chat messages.

It is important to remember that in Internet poker you are completely anonymous. No-one knows anything about you except your online name, and what they may or may not have been able to glean from the way you play your cards. As soon as you start to chat you risk giving away information about yourself, which other players may be able to use in forming strategies to beat you. For example, if you moan about a couple of bad beats, the sharks may identify you as a frustrated and mediocre player, and start regarding you as a target of their upcoming play. Players who mark themselves as potential victims are inevitably likely to be victimised.

If you do enjoy chatting then it might be worth considering using an online handle which sounds approachable – if you use a name such as Andrew73 other players may be more inclined to chat with you than if you call yourself something like hgtmvshmr.

Taking Poker Notes

Most sites now offer the facility to take notes on other players, which are then stored on your computer and can be retrieved the next time you run into them at the tables. You can write whatever you like in these private notes – what kinds of hands the player is showing down, what their pre-flop raising (and calling) standards are like, whether they are aggressive or passive, tight or loose, whether or not they always defend their blinds, whether or not they always launch an attack on other people’s blinds when they are first in from late position, whether or not they are prone to going on tilt after a bad beat, whether or not they are capable of running big bluffs etc.

When an unfamiliar new player enters a hold’ em game it is often worth noting whether they wait for the big blind (or let it pass and then post next to the button) or post at the first available opportunity, even if they are shortly due for the big blind anyhow. In the latter instance, it may be that they are an ‘action’ player, impatient to start gambling.

If you do not wish to take detailed notes, it is still worth recording who the big winners and losers were at the table, so that over time you can develop a feel for who the best and worst players are at the limit you play, and can subsequently select your opponents accordingly.

For Paradise Poker, PokerStars and PartyPoker, you can actually edit your notes when you are not actually online – simply open up the ‘Notes’ text file in the local directory in which your online site is stored and all your data should be there. It may be as well to take a backup copy of this file before you make any changes, so that you don’t lose it if something goes wrong. Of course, if you change computers this text file can be copied across to your new machine to save you having to start from scratch all over again. (N.B. At Paradise Poker the file is called ‘Player Notes’ rather than ‘Notes’.)

Online note-taking facilities are not available at every site (and are not portable from site to site), so some players prefer to store their notes either handwritten in a notebook, or on their PC in a wordprocessing document or spreadsheet. Of course, the latter approach has the important advantage that it is easier to store and sort your notes. If you wish to keep notes in this format then you may choose to layout your notes in the following columns:
•    The player’s name.
•    The player’s location (most sites provide this information nowadays).
•    The date.
•    The type of game and limit at which you encountered the player.
•    An approximate rating for that player (on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10).
•    An indication of their general starting hand requirements and pre-flop style – Loose? Tight? Passive? Aggressive? (You could even add specific examples to help jog your memory.) What kinds of hands did they steal and defend blinds with?
•    An indication of their post-flop style of play. What kinds of hands did they bet or raise? Top pair with good kicker? Top pair with bad kicker? Bottom pair? Flush/straight draws? Outright bluffs?
•    Any other points of interest. For example: Did they vary their play? Did they go on tilt after a bad beat? Did they trap with very big hands? Did they reveal anything about their playing style in any chat messages? Were they playing at more than one table? Do they regularly play at a different limit to today’s game? etc.

It is sometimes argued that unless you are playing at limits of, say, $10/$20 or above, note-taking can hardly be worthwhile, since below that limit there are so many players that you will not run into them often enough to justify the time invested. However, others believe that note-taking is an important skill which you should constantly try to develop as you progress through the limits. Furthermore, it will encourage you to focus properly on your opponents’ play, whereas otherwise your attention might be diverted away from the game. Even at lower limits, you will find that from time to time your notes on another player will help steer you towards the right path in a tricky situation. If nothing else you may wish to keep a notepad by your PC listing the best players whom you have faced; and the ones whom you figure might form part of your ‘dream-team’ of potential opponents!
At the end of each session you should also strongly consider taking notes on yourself! Typically this might take the form of a wordprocessing or spreadsheet document and include the following information:
– The date
– The length of the playing session (measured either in minutes, hands played or both).
– The site at which you played (assuming that you have accounts at two or more sites).
– The form in which the game was played (assuming that you play more than one form of poker).
– The limit at which the game was played (or the buy-in level in the case of a tournament).
– The amount won or lost.

You may also like to keep a note of how many flops you saw, the percentage of games you won and other such statistics, if this information is provided by the site at which you play. Once you have built up a series of such records, you should be able to develop a good feel for the type of games in which you fare best, which will greatly assist your game selection in future.

In a recent edition of Online Poker News, Andrew Glazer even recommended taking notes on specific plays you make that save or lose you money, and adding these up at the end of the session to see what these plays have earned or cost you. That way, if you keep making the same mistakes from one session to the next, the cost of these should be plain to see!

Another important means whereby you can analyse your own play is through hand histories.

Managing an Online Poker Bankroll

Having selected a game and found a seat, there is one further question that needs to be addressed before starting play – how many chips should you purchase at the start of a session? Typically, when you take a seat you will be prompted to buy-in for a certain amount, e.g. $80 for $2/$4 hold’ em, $200 for $5/$10, $800 for $20/$40 etc. These figures are perfectly reasonable for a single session at the respective limits. However, there is certainly an argument for buying-in for a little more than these amounts, since if you experience a bad run at the start of a session, you are less likely to be marked down as a target by the other players – bigger stacks do receive more respect. A buy-in of 20 or 30 big bets is certainly a perfectly acceptable figure when you first sit down. Players who sit down with 10 big bets or fewer immediately draw attention to themselves as perhaps either being inadequately bankrolled or taking a shot at a bigger game than they are used to, perhaps playing with ‘scared’ money. On rare occasions a player will manage to convert a $50 buy-in at a $5/$10 game into several hundred dollars, but far more often they will quickly run out of funds and be forced to re-buy or leave the table.

The issue of ‘money management’ is a somewhat controversial one in poker literature. Some players advocate the adoption of a single-session ‘stop-loss’ policy, whereby if you lose a certain predetermined amount you should immediately quit playing, whereas others argue that you should stay in the game until you are no longer favoured to be making money, regardless of whether you are winning or losing at that particular point.

Until you become an experienced online player, it is certainly worth considering adopting Annie Duke’s ’30-bet rule’, limiting single-session losses to 30 big bets. In an article published at, she argues that ‘unless you are able to accurately judge how you play compared to others, loss-limiting with the 30-bet rule effectively stops you from dumping off large sums of money in games you may not be able to beat.’ Furthermore, it prevents additional losses that may be incurred by being identified as a target by the other players in the game, or possibly either playing too softly or going on tilt: ‘By limiting your losses to 30 big bets, you are effectively minimising the time you spend playing with a poor table image, playing passively, or steaming at the table, and maximising the amount of time you spend playing your A-game,’ she adds.

Although $800 may be a sufficient sum for a single session of $20/$40, it is just that – a bankroll for a single session. To allow for the vagaries of chance, a minimum online poker bankroll of $4,000 would probably be required to compete in this game on a regular basis. Indeed, many experts recommend that your total bankroll should ideally be of the order of 300 big bets (i.e. $12,000 or more in this instance), although naturally the higher your hourly earnings rate, the fewer big bets you will require in your bankroll.

If you play only for fun, risking small amounts in micro- or low-limit games with no real aspirations of developing into a higher stakes player, then your bankroll requirement is simply what spare cash you have available and are prepared to put at risk. After all, many people spend thousands of dollars each year on other recreational pursuits such as golf, tennis and skiing, and they do not expect to make a profit from these activities. By the same token, there is of course nothing wrong with playing online poker purely as a hobby rather than as a means of earning money, just so long as you enjoy it and have the spare discretionary income to finance any losses.

Having said that, many people do naturally aspire to be winning players at the higher levels, perhaps one day competing in the big $40/$80 hold’em game at Paradise Poker or the $30/$60 game at PartyPoker. You should aim to maintain a bankroll of around 300 big bets at the limit at which you play, gradually moving up in limit as your bankroll increases and you become a proven long-term winner (averaging at least one big bet per hour over the course of at least 100 hours’ play) at each succeeding limit.

If you are unable to win at least one big bet an hour in the long run then 300 big bets is insufficient to guard against the going broke, and you would be well advised to play at a lower limit. Furthermore, as Mike Caro has pointed out, the larger your bankroll, the more you should seek to protect it. There is therefore a strong argument for maintaining a larger proportional bankroll as you move up through the limits and your risk-exposure increases.

These figures could perhaps be doubled if you are playing exclusively heads-up, where the swings can be up to twice as great (that is, unless you are a truly exceptional heads-up player). However, if you are an Omaha hi/lo rather than hold’em player, a bankroll of 100 rather than 300 big bets might be sufficient for a winning player, since the variance in split games such as Omaha hi/lo is so much lower. (Incidentally, the ante and bring-in structure of online seven-card stud is so variable that it does not lend itself to this kind of linear analysis. For example, the $3/$6 game at PartyPoker and $6/$12 game at PokerStars both have the same $0.50 ante structure.)

One problem which many players run into eventually is that, having worked their way up through the limits, gradually building up their bankroll, they then experience a really bad run. At this point it would probably be most prudent for them to drop down in limit in order to replenish their bankroll (and perhaps restore some lost confidence). However, this kind of decision is problematic for many players, since their ego won’t let them take what they perceive as a backwards step. It is also important to remember that losing players actually require a bankroll that is sufficient to finance their losses over a lifetime – the only useful recommendation for such players is to work at their game and become a winning player; bankroll requirements are clearly redundant in this instance.

Whatever the size of your bankroll, it is inadvisable to not keep large sums of cash with a single online poker site, unless that amount is required to finance your regular play. There have been instances in the past where sites have gone out of business, leaving a trail of unhappy depositors in their wake, and there is always the possibility that it could happen again. When in doubt – cash out!

If you are used to playing in live-action games, it is worth remembering that in an online game at the same limit your hourly swings will inevitably be much greater, due to the many more hands that you will be dealt every hour – you may therefore find yourself effectively playing ‘higher’ than you would ordinarily be comfortable with. Whether you are playing in high stakes games or at micro-limits, there is one golden rule to bear in mind – never gamble with money that you cannot afford to lose. Please gamble responsibly.

Short-Handed Poker Play

At brick and mortar cardrooms short-handed (i.e. six players or fewer) games are generally quite unpopular. The nature of poker is such that each game requires a table and a dealer whether there are four players or ten, so from the cardroom’s point of view, full games are a far more economically viable option. Furthermore, many players are uncomfortable playing in short-handed games, which require that they make adjustments to their play, since the standard full 10-player ring game tactics are usually unprofitable in this instance. Indeed, some players try to avoid playing short-handed at all, if possible, either taking a break or leaving the game altogether when numbers run short, whereas those players who do prefer short-handed games are often able to play for only a brief while before the game either fills up or breaks up altogether.

However, as a result of online poker a new breed of player has emerged – the short-handed specialist. These players focus on the special five- and six-player (and even heads-up) tables that most sites offer as an alternative to normal ring games. Unlike brick and mortar cardrooms, online sites are generally more than happy to accommodate these short-handed tables, since of course they do not have to pay a dealer or take up valuable floor space with such games. Furthermore, the fast-paced nature of these games is ideal for the cardroom from a rake standpoint.

The main attraction of online short-handed games from the player’s point of view is obvious: such games are dealt at a much quicker rate than a normal ring game (typically well over 100 hands per hour for hold’em), so if you are the best player at the table, your advantage will be greatly enhanced. In addition, the quite different nature of the short-handed game (in particular, the increased importance of attacking and defending the blinds since, with the blinds coming around so quickly, you cannot afford simply to wait for premium hands) lends itself more to a looser, more aggressive ‘action’ style of play, which is particularly suited to those players who don’t enjoy having to wait patiently for a good hand. Furthermore, if you are able to identify a desirable opponent, you are that much more likely to be able to benefit from their bad play, whereas in a full game other players may reap the rewards rather than you.

Typically the maximum rake for a typical six-handed game is capped at $2 compared to the usual $3 for a full 10-player ring game, despite the fact that the average pot size is often not that much smaller, since short-handed play generally has more raising and re-raising than full ring play. Set against this, of course, each individual player will be winning a greater percentage of pots than they would in a full game, and will therefore be obliged to pay the rake far more often (although in short-handed games more hands are decided pre-flop, without a rake being charged). Certainly, if you prefer heads-up play, it is important to choose your site carefully, since heads-up rakes can vary tremendously, but in general if you have good control over your opponents you should be able to beat the rake in a normal short-handed game.

Rather than focusing on five- or six-player tables per se, one strategy that short-handed experts sometimes use is to search out full 10-player ring games that are either just breaking up or just getting underway. This way they are able to compete advantageously against full ring game specialists in a short-handed game, rather than merely against other short-handed specialists.

Whether you are someone who heads straight to the short-handed games, or immediately leaves a game when it is reduced to six players or fewer, is largely a matter of taste. If your playing style leans towards waiting patiently for good opportunities (using better hand selection strategy than most of your opponents), then you will probably be best suited to normal ring games, but if you enjoy the cut-and-thrust of a poker game, in which bluff meets counter-bluff and bet meets check-raise bluff, then online short-handed games may prove to be your forte.

Online Game Selection

Whereas most live-action players (outside of California and Las Vegas) have a very restricted choice of possible games, the range of games on offer online is immense. Instead of driving to a cardroom, placing your name on the $5/$10 list and taking a seat when it becomes available, online you can choose between several limits, with many sites even offering several simultaneous games at the same limit. With so many different games to choose from, selecting the right opportunity becomes a much more important aspect of the game. Indeed, for players at $5/$10 and above, in particular, the consistent ability to identify good games in which to play have a significant effect on your bottom line at the end of the year – game selection becomes that much more important as you move up in limits.

Finding your Limit
The first and most fundamental aspect of game selection is identifying the correct limit at which to play: one that is commensurate with your abilities and bankroll; not so high that you feel intimidated, and not ‘ so low that you become bored and fail to play your best game.

In general, the standard of opposition will rise as you move up in limit, since you would hardly expect someone with the ability to beat a $10/$20 game to be playing in a $1/$2 game; it would simply not be worth their while. However, it is sometimes argued that some of the players in the $30/$60 game at TitanPoker are considerably weaker than those that frequent the $5/$10 game. One possible explanation for this is the fact that some $30/$60 players may be very wealthy and are naturally drawn towards the higher limits to make the stakes meaningful, regardless of whether they possess the requisite poker skills or not.

In contrast, the $5/$10 games at Titan Poker are neither big enough to provide excitement for these wealthy ‘action’ players, nor small enough to appeal to poker newcomers, most of whom will naturally choose to begin their apprenticeship at $3/$6 and below. Furthermore, some winning $30/$60 brick and mortar players may choose to play at lower limits online for reasons of trust, fearing the possibility of collusion.

Thus sometimes the $5/$10 PartyPoker games are filled with solid, experienced players who lack the bankroll or confidence to play at higher limits. Having said all that, the nature of poker is such that successful players do gravitate towards the higher limits, so the very best online players can nearly always be found playing at the highest limits available.

In a fairly recent (2001) Card Player article Nolan Dalla put forward the interesting theory that ‘the highest-limit games do not necessarily equate to the greatest potential win amount.’ He claims that over the years he has made far more money playing in the second-highest game in a brick and mortar cardroom than the highest, and in such circumstances he will often prefer a $10/$20 game to a $20/40 game. His theory rests on the following arguments:
•    The highest-limit game will usually contain the best players at the cardroom.
•    The highest-limit game may contain players who would usually play even higher if such a game were to be spread.
•    The second-highest game will often contain a cross-section of players, including players who are not good enough for the higher game and those who are stepping up from low-limit games to ‘take a shot’ at a higher limit.
•    The second-highest game will usually contain more ‘loose-passive’ players than the highest game, and this absence of aggression (with many players seeing the flop without a raise) is, he believes, exactly what you should be looking for in a game.

Dalla concludes that ‘A winning player can make just as much playing one limit lower than his normal game – providing that the players are considerably weaker.’ Instead, many players become tied to their ego, believing that it would be a step backwards to play in, to use his example, a $10/$20 game when they usually play higher. Don’t fall into this trap – by all means strive to find the ‘ideal’ limit for your ability and bankroll, but at the same time you should be flexible enough to move up or down depending upon the specific game selection opportunities available at that particular time.

Online Poker for a Living

In the past few years a new generation of poker players has emerged: the online professionals. There is something very appealing for most people about the idea of playing poker professionally from the comfort of their own home, making their own hours and not having to answer to anyone else. And indeed, online pros do enjoy numerous advantages that their live counterparts do not. For example:
•    They can find a game 24/7. Nor is it necessary for them to be in reach of a casino – all they require is a computer and an Internet connection.
•    They are dealt many more hands per hour, with a cheaper rake and no need to tip the dealer (and no travel expenses as well).
•    They can play multiple tables (possibly even at different sites) at once.
•    They do not need quite such accurate people-reading skills.

Online poker is much more a game of understanding cards and betting patterns than of deciphering tells. Online professionals also need not fear giving off tells themselves.
•    They can spend time studying precise hand history records to determine their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their opponents.
•    They can specialise in short-handed play (where the skill differential between strong and weak players is maximised) if they so wish.

Set against this, the downside of playing online professionally is that it is impossible to cash-out instantly from an online site, and online professionals may also experience a sense of social isolation from sitting in front of their screens playing poker day after day. Despite these disadvantages, online poker is an attractive means of earning money for many regular players. Indeed, there are hundreds of players who play online for such long periods every day that it must be their primary source of income, and thousands more who rely on online poker to earn a secondary income in their spare time.

The issue of how much online players might expect to earn is a very topical one on the various poker forums and newsgroups. In Poker Essays, Mason Malmuth discusses the issue of earnings expectations in some detail. He estimates that for $3/$6 hold’em an okay player at that level would probably be earning $4 per hour, a good player $8 and a great player $12. In full10-player ring games online you can probably estimate that you are playing at least twice as many hands per hour as you would in a live-action game (on which Malmuth’s figures are based). On that basis you could say that a great player at the $3/$6 might expect to earn $24, or four big bets per hour, playing a single table.

However, online players do not have the same opportunities to read their opponents (i.e. tells), so for online play a figure of two to three big bets per hour is probably about right for a great player at that particular limit, with good players earning anything between one and a half and two big bets per hour and decent ones between one and one and a half big bets per hour. At higher limits than $3/$6, there will be less overall discrepancy in the general level of play, so the hourly big bet earnings ratio will decrease as you move up in limits. For example, it is hard to imagine that there are too many $20/$40 players who are capable of sustaining a long-term hourly profit much in excess of $100 playing exclusively on a single 10-player table.