Online Poker for Beginners
In this guide, I’m going to give you all of the tools to take you from beginner poker player, or a recreational (or maybe losing) poker player to one who can make a living from playing poker.
Heads up: I’m not going to pretend that it’ll be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It will take a lot of dedication and commitment from you, and it will take quite a while to get up to that level, depending on how much time you can dedicate to the game and how much starting capital you have.
In truth you can start your online poker career with any amount of money, as all online sites have tables which cater for tiny stakes.
The Dawn of Online Poker
Online poker has been around for about 15 years and has been a huge business for about 10 years now. When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event after winning his seat through a $39 tournament he sparked a boom that continues to this day. If you have dreams of tournament poker success then this section isn’t for you.
If you have dreams of playing high stakes cash games against Phil Ivey on TV, then this section probably isn’t for you either. What I’ll show you isn’t how to be an amazing poker player who can compete with the best minds in the game; I’ll simply show you how to win.
The truth is that poker strategy has come so far in the last 15 years that it is only the truly gifted that can succeed at high stakes and plenty of poker careers have ended because people were deluded that they were better players than they actually were.
One of the most important things to realise in poker is where you fit into the poker pyramid. If you don’t do this, then you’ll never take any money off the tables.
So many people get caught up in moving up levels that they win at low stakes, then get to a level which they can’t beat and end up spending their lives simply passing money up the poker pyramid to the elite players, and never actually getting to enjoy their winnings.
One thing I’m going to stress over and over in this section is not to get ahead of yourself, to remain humble and realise that you’re probably not now or ever going to be an amazing player, but you can be a winning player who regularly withdraws from their account if you follow the guidelines to the letter.
I’ve been involved in online poker for nine years and have spent time as a professional player myself and learned all of these lessons the hard way. I’ve condensed my experience and that of several players who are still professionals into what I believe is a great system for making a tidy living from poker working less than 30 hours a week.
Even if you don’t want to be a professional, you can just play for an hour every day and still have a nice chunk of extra income to spend. By reading this section, you get the benefit of my experience without having to suffer the highs and lows of poker’s journey of discovery yourself. Stick rigidly to the system I’ll explain over the coming pages and even if you have only the most basic level of poker skill, you’ll be on the way to being a winning player.
This section is going to teach you how to play cash games exclusively; there’ll be no discussion of tournament poker. Furthermore, we’re going to assume you know the basics of poker, i.e. the hand rankings, the rules, and what the positions at the table are called.
The approach we take is one based on volume. The truth is that winning big in a single poker game is very difficult nowadays and what you have to do to win is spread yourself across several tables earning a small amount on each one.
Following our system you’re going to be following a strict winning system that will give you a small edge, but you’ll playing over 1,000 hands per hour meaning you’ll earn a solid hourly rate of $20 or more.
What You Need
In starting off your poker career there are a couple of things you need to take care of before you get cracking at the tables.
An Online Poker Account
You need a real money account with a poker website to play on. There are literally hundreds of choices out there, but the one I currently recommend is 888poker. 888 have really soft games and lots of traffic 24 hours a day so you’ll never be stuck for tables to play on.
It also has good software and you’ll find it quite easy to play multiple tables there without getting too tired too quickly. Another important thing for big volume players is the VIP system.
888 has a good VIP system that sees it’s high value players receive about 35% of the rake they contribute back in bonuses.
When you’re playing 1,000 hands per hour you’re going to be generating a lot of rake (in the region of $40 per hour), so getting as much of this back as possible is vital.
Money to Play With
The first thing you’ll need is a bankroll. We’re going to talk about bankroll management in a few pages’ time, but for the moment, you’re going to need some starting capital. Obviously everyone’s situation is different and some will be able to put in more money than others to start off but there are rules you need to follow to ensure you don’t go broke.
This book deals with playing cash game poker and at online poker sites, cash games are typically played 100 big blinds deep. That means if you’re playing a game with 5c/10c blinds, then the maximum buy-in is $10. We will always be buying in for the maximum using the system taught in this book.
Now because poker is a game that contains a luck element, there are going to be ups and downs that are out of your control. Even if you play perfectly, you can still go on a losing streak.
To combat these swings, the balance in our account needs to be sufficient to handle losing a few buy-ins. The absolute minimum you should have is 20 buy-ins, meaning if you wanted to play the $10 games you should have $200 in your account.
Obviously, not everyone can afford to invest $200 straight away. If you can’t afford this much, then you should start off at the 2c/4c tables, and buy-in for $4 each time.
This will require an initial investment of $80. The lowest stakes at any site are 1c/2c, where you would buy-in $2 but if you start at this level, it will take you an extremely long time to get to the point where you’re making a decent hourly rate from poker.
Furthmore, the lower the stakes you play, the higher the percentage of the pot that the house takes out of each hand (the rake), making it harder for you to have a big win rate.
Overall if you can afford it, I strongly suggest you start at the $10 level, but don’t do it if you don’t have the full 20 buy-ins in your account.
Pokerstove is a free piece of software available at www.pokerstove.com and it’s an invaluable tool for poker players. It allows you to plug in what hand you have and what hand, or range of hands your opponent could have and tells you what the percentage chance is of you having the winning hand by the river.
It’s great for figuring out whether you made a mistake when calling an all-in bet or pushing all in yourself. When you combine this with the fold equity formula we’ll discuss later, then you’ll be well on your way to solving basic poker math problems.
Don’t worry too much, though; it’s not as daunting as it sounds!
Poker Tracking Software
Poker tracking software is absolutely vital in online poker games today. There are two main packages available, Holdem Manager and Poker Tracker. Which one you choose is up to you, but I recommend Holdem Manager as I think it has a few extra features over Poker Tracker.
What these packages do is record every single hand you play and store them to a database. It then analyses all of the hands you play and breaks down your game into important statistics.
If you want to know if you’re playing too loose or too tight, too aggressive or too passive, or whether you are not raising on the flop enough, there are stats for all of these situations and hundreds more.
Our system is heavily based on keeping your stats in the right zones and in fact the range of stats we’ll show you how to use are indicators of whether you’re playing well or not. If you can get all of your stats into the ranges we recommend then it’s a virtual certainty that you’ll be a big winner.
As well as showing you details about your own game, they can show you how your opponents are playing in real time. The head-up display (HUD) feature will overlay stats about each player on the table and you’ll quickly be able to assess whether they’re loose or tight, aggressive or passive etc.
This is an invaluable help when you’re playing a lot of tables and you’ll come to be very reliant on it. We’ll discuss the important stats to have in your HUD in the Using Statistics chapter.
Unfortunately both programs are quite expensive. Initially, you’ll only need the small stakes versions which are around the $50 mark. The good news however is that there are free trials with both.
Holdem Manager offers 30 days and Poker Tracker offers 60 days, so you should easily have made enough money by then to cover the cost of buying them. We’ll be talking about tracking software a lot throughout the book so when you do get one of them, make sure you spend lots of time playing with it and getting familiar with where to find all of the statistics.
I use Holdem Manager, so that’s the one I’m going to use in all of my examples.
Poker Bankroll Management Basics
As I mentioned above, having an adequate bankroll to handle the swings of poker is essential. The ups and downs and break-even stretches are the most difficult things to deal with as a serious poker player and if you can get your head around them, then you’re already at a serious advantage over most of the people you’ll be playing with.
People talk about being a winner in ‘the long run’, well the long run is much longer than most people can imagine. It’s not unusual for a small winner to break even for a 100,000 hands and ploughing on through such a stretch is not easy.
Obviously the bigger a winner you are the shorter your breakeven stretches will be. The volume based system in this book benefits from the fact that you’ll reach the long run much quicker when you’re playing a huge volume of hands.
If you play 1,000 hands an hour for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week then you’ll reach 100,000 hands in a month. Someone who single tables for an hour or two a few days a week could take a year to get there.
On the other hand, when playing so many tables, we’re only maintaining a small edge at each one and so our overall win rate suffers a little bit, meaning that we’ll be subject to longer breakeven stretches in terms of the number of hands than our single tabling friend.
In poker, people generally talk about win rates in terms of big blinds per 100 hands. 10 years ago, win rates of 10 big blinds per 100 hands were possible at stakes as high as $5/$10, but online poker is much harder now and an extremely good player only playing one or two tables would struggle to reach half that win rate at $5/$10.
Our system is designed such that you should be making about 2 big blinds per 100 hands at the $0.25/$0.50 tables when you’re fully up and running, and earning the same again in VIP bonuses.
To give you an idea of just how wild the swings can be, I’ve plugged these numbers into a poker variance simulator and ran several trials of 100,000 hands.
To do this, you also need the ‘standard deviation’ which, without getting too mathematical, is basically a measure of how wild and aggressive your style is. Our system will see your standard deviation at about 80 big blinds per 100.
As you can see, in the worst case scenario we lose 20 buy-ins over a 100,000 hand sample, even though we’re a winning player, but also in the best case we win 80 buy-ins. This should give you an idea of the swings you can expect to face and show you the importance of putting in a huge volume of hands.
With variance in mind, we need to develop our bankroll strategy for the system. I’m going to assume you’re starting of the $200 and playing the 5c/10c table, buying in for $10 each time. In reality, your winrate should be higher at these low stakes and your breakeven stretches should be shorter.
If, however, you go on a losing streak you should be prepared to drop down to the lower stakes tables if you reach $150, until you’re back at $200. You should continue playing 5c/10c until you have 25 buy-ins for the next level, which is 10c/20c, so a total account balance of $500.
Don’t forget that you can add your VIP bonuses and cash-back to your account balance to make up this $500. If you get off to a bad start at 10c/20c, move back down if your account hits $400 and don’t play there again until you have $500.
Many sites don’t have a level between 10c/20c and 25c/50c, but 888poker have included 15c/30c in their games, so this is your next target. The games will be starting to get a little bit tougher so from now on up, we’ll be imposing a 30 buy-in rule.
This means that you shouldn’t move up to 15c/30c until you hit $900 in your account. Again, if you get off to a bad start, make sure to move back down if your balance gets as low as $750.
You should continue playing at this level until you reach 30 buy-ins for 25c/50, or $1,500, again moving back down if you drop below $1200 in your account. 25c/50c is the level we’re going to stick at for this system as it represents the sweet spot in terms of difficulty of games vs. your hourly rate.
I don’t recommend withdrawing until you can leave yourself with $2,000 to $2,500 in your account and ideally you should always aim to have a 50 buy-in bankroll as a semi-professional player. Once you’ve reached this maintenance level, feel free to withdraw the excess you make each month and spoil yourself!
Final Note on Bankroll Management
If you don’t exercise good bankroll management, you will go broke no matter how good you are. Don’t ever be tempted to move up to chase losses.
Remember, discipline is one of the most important things a poker player can have.