Before you do what nearly every new online player does, which I have come to learn the process as “The Newbie Circle of Death,” I have 5 very basic ideas for you to take into consideration. (This article is not for advanced players or people who want to tweak their game. This guide is designed as nothing more than to help new players avoid the mistakes I have made. I do not take credit for all of these ideas, and I have learned them as I went along; but I describe everything in a way that makes the most sense to me.)
1) You don’t know what you don’t know. This was my biggest problem, I simply just did not know. You may not be in the same position I was, but if I had to guess, I would think you are. You probably have seen poker on television and thought, “wow, if he can be on tv I can too!” or “I crush my home game every week, I want to quit my job and play!” This was my attitude as I was getting started and I came to realize it was my biggest downfall.
It is great to have confidence in your game and to believe you are a winning player. However, belief and facts are two completely different things. Let’s take a look at my personal situation. I started to play poker after I watched the 2003 World Series of Poker on ESPN. I saw the bad beats, the big bluffs, and of course, the money. I wanted in. I knew nothing about the game except there was a lot of money on the line. But let’s look a little closer.
Do you know why televised poker is so successful? Because they choose what you watch. What most people do not realize, is that one hour poker program you just watched was actually a 10 hour long final table battle. Before that 10 hour long final table, it was a 3 day event of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people playing for 10-12 hours every day.
Now, after saying that consider this. Remember I said they choose what you watch? Well, they choose to show you the most exciting confrontations. Those big bluffs, the amazing call downs with bottom pair, the one-outers on the river; sure they are a part of the game, but not a very large one. But, if you are anything like I was, I wanted to do just that! I wanted to feel that I pushed someone around, or that I earned a pot. It felt good to me, and when it worked, I was the best. But when it didn’t work, “How could he call me with that?!?”
Also, let’s look at your home game. Have you ever stopped to evaluate the caliber of your friends play? The people you are playing with are probably so bad to the point where you might think you are good. In my experience, I have played with some people who did not know what blinds were, played every single hand, did not know you could raise preflop, etc. You can notice these things and not be good yourself, just better than the worst. Do not let this go to your head thinking you are a poker God.
Primarily, when people start out playing online poker they start small. All online poker rooms have cash game as low as $.05 – $.10 blinds, and tournaments that you can play for a little as $1. Let me share with you a little secret; you need not be fancy when playing low stakes. I have beaten low and mid stakes no-limit hold’em for years, and I wouldn’t even consider myself a top notch player. You just need to have an ABC method of what to do. Learn basic preflop strategy, learn basic postflop strategy, and learn about position. These are 3 very basic principles and in my opinion are the foundation to a solid poker game. I will vaguely touch base with them, but not in detail, that is for a different article. Also, if I went into every possible situation or hand, this would be a very long read.
2) Basic Strategy. Learn to fold. Folding is just so boring though isn’t it? I folded that 45 and the flop came A23, and I just knew that rookie with AJ would have given me his stack. Now I need to get tricky. I look down at that T4 and I know it isn’t a good hand, but it is suited. I could flop two pair or trips, and that guy only doubled the blind. Two people already called and I have heard of something called pot odds, maybe I should call? I call. Oh man, now the button just raised 3x more. Wow, every else called, and there is that pot odds thing even though I don’t really know what it is, I guess I will call and only put more chips in if I flop big. Oh wow now what, the flop came T 3 2. I have the top pair but there was a lot of raising preflop. It checks to me, I better check. Wow, the button bet 3/4 of the pot! Every else folded, what do I do? I don’t want to let it go, I mean he could be bluffing and I do have top pair, I have to call. The turn is a 5! Wow! Now I have top pair and a straight draw! I’ll check again to be fancy. What?! I wasn’t expecting him to go allin!! Well, I might be behind but there is just no way I can fold, and remember, he could be bluffing. I call. The river is a 9, well I didn’t hit my straight but I have the top pair. OMG! He had AA! I can’t believe he got pocket Aces! Whenever I get AA it always gets outdrawn. Whatever, I quit.
Now, to some beginners that may seem a little dramatized, which it is. But there are some people who just can’t wait to play online with that mindset. I know this because they are the ones who I absolutely love to have at my table. If you re-look at that situation, everything could have been avoiding by folding preflop.
It is fairly difficult to describe what kind of cards people should play, because with poker a lot of questions can be answered with “it depends.” However, let me just run through some really basic examples of some hands beginners have trouble with:
AX – AX means an Ace with a little card, usually 8 or lower. At a 9 person table, this is a very weak hand. You are not going to hit anything worth while, like top pair or two pair enough to play this hand. Even if you do happen to hit your Ace, you have to worry about your kicker, which is your second card. Someone with AK, AQ, or AJ will have you dominated and you won’t know what to if the A hits. For beginners, I would just avoid this hand.
QJ – But they’re pictures! I could even flop a straight! Well, QJ is one of the hardest hands to play in my opinion. Say for example the flop comes J T 2. Cool you have top pair, but it is fairly weak. The obvious hands you are afraid of are JT, JK, and AJ which all have you in a world of trouble. If you are facing aggression, what now? Hope he has a Jack with a 9 or lower? This is one of the reasons I just don’t like to play this hand, and recommend beginners fold it preflop.
KJ – Now surely KJ is good if QJ isn’t! However, that usually is not the case. Here is a fact that most people do not know – when you see a flop, the odds that you pair anything is 1/3 or 33%. So if you are playing your KJ after someone raised, you will miss the flop 2/3 times. And even if you hit, what do you do if there is an Ace along with a King? I would not become too attached to hands with big pictures when just starting out.
Big/Little – Big little can be anything from K3 to T4 like in the example, suited or unsuited. These will be your biggest losers by far and will hardly ever connect to win you the pot. Even if they do, it is unlikely you will win anything from the others involved, just pitch ‘em.
Trash – Even a bad player knows to fold trash. Just like 94, 32, and the ever popular 72. Just avoid these at all costs.
Like stated earlier, there are times when I will play hands like KJ and QJ, or even AX. Everything in poker is situational. However, if there is a raise in front of me generally I will almost always fold the above hands. If you do not have the initiative, they’re simply not worth it.
So, what are you suppose to play? I mentioned some hands that can be tough and should be avoided, now I will mention a few of the hands I love playing:
QQ, KK, AA – These are what you would call monsters. These three pairs are the three biggest winning hands in my lifetime stats since I have started playing, and non-coincidentally they are the three best starting hands in hold’em. There are many ways to play them but let me just give you some basic advice. Don’t get fancy, don’t get greedy, and don’t expect to win all of the time. When you have big pairs, many people get so excited and do not want to scare off other players. For the most part, it is true that you want action but you should almost always raise preflop with them. Don’t try to be fancy and limp in; these big hands play well against 1-2 players, but are very dangerous against 3 or more. If you are first to act, raise. If someone raised in front of you, re-raise around 3x the bet depending upon how many players are in the hand. Just on a basic level, play them strong like you would play any normal hand and pray someone re-raises you preflop.
TT, JJ – These two pair hands are still very good, and are lifetime winners for me as well, but are trickier to play. You don’t want to become too attached to them just because you have a pair, and there are times where you would fold them preflop if there is very aggressive action. Generally speaking, I will raise if I am first to act, and either call or re-raise (depending on the player) if someone raises in front.
22-99 – These eight pairs can be tough to play, but for the most part when you are just starting out try to live by a rule; set it or forget it. A set is when you have three of a kind, when you hold a pair and one comes on the flop (when you hold 44 and the board is 4 7 Q.) Sets are the money hands in no-limit hold’em, so these pairs can rake in some big bucks if they hit. For the most part, I will limp depending on my table position, and call a raise in front. Like TT and JJ, don’t become too attached.
AK and AQ – These can be tricky hands at a cash table because they are not made hands yet. AK and AQ look very good when you are dealt them, but miss the flop just like every other hand 2/3 of the time. I almost always play these hands, and they are winners for me, but it really depends on the table. I always open them for a raise. Some people advocate re-raising them instead of calling a raise because it gives you the initiative to take away the pot if you happen to miss. I tend to switch it up, and can do either or but remember, they are both unmade hands.
AJ, KQ – I thought about putting these in the above section, because they can be tricky hands to play, but they’re still playable. The reason AJ/KQ are separated from AK and AQ is because I almost never just flat call a raise with them, and almost always fold. I will however raise if it is folded to me, but AJ can trap you fairly bad if someone opens with AK and the flop comes A 3 4, and the same with KQ if the flop comes K high. Raising and calling are two different things.
There are situations where I will play more hands, but in my opinion, those are the best hands for a new player to start out with. I’m sure you have heard pros say their favorite hands are suited connectors like 76 suited, or hands like QT suited, and they can be fun and profitable to play. However, they can play them properly because of their knowledge and experience.
It is very hard to describe in one article what to do and what to play. My suggestion to you is to learn before you play. Read other poker articles, maybe read a poker book. In my opinion, the best way to learn is from a community of people who are also trying to become better. I joined a poker forum called Flop Turn River (FTR for short) shortly after losing some money online. I found the site out of frustration and it totally turned around my poker career. If you would like to meet me, and many other more successful players with a lot of insight, please visit http://www.flopturnriver.com. I highly recommend it!
3) Know your roll. I know this article is already pretty long, but just bear with me here. I am going to share with you something that I think is one of the most important factors for any poker player. This will separate the people who go broke from the people who are successful, the people who hate poker from the people who love it. Are you ready to here it? Bankroll management.
“Huh? I was expecting some sort of strategy of how to always win!?” Yeah, so was I when I started. But there is one thing you will learn rather quickly; you will not always win. It’s just impossible. Poker is a long term game.
Bankroll Management is one of the concepts many people do not understand. So many times I have been asked, “Is Poker gambling?” I have heard and gave many answers, but I found the best one to be “I’m not sure, do you exercise proper bankroll management?” And if you do, it isn’t gambling. There are so many people who constantly go broke playing poker, even if they are good, and that is probably because they are playing out of their bankroll. What a bankroll is to a poker player, is the money that they use to play with. Players should not be using their bankroll to live off of, or making frequent cash outs, they need it to grow.
I would say the average deposit (for me initially anyway) was $50 here, $100 there, and so on. I kept on having to reload because I kept going broke. If you only have a couple hundred dollars to play online with, and want to become a serious player grinding up the limits, you can not jump right into the high stakes. In fact, with $100 even $.10 – $.20 blinds are too high. There is a recommended rule, depending on what you play, that I have learned to follow:
20-30 buyins for cash games.
15-20 buyins for sit & go tournaments.
50-100 buyins for multi-table tournaments.
Although some people like their bankroll a little tighter, and some looser, following those general guidelines will prevent you from becoming broke as easily. It also really depends on your skill level and experience with poker (again, remember do not over rate yourself.) Just for example, if you start off with a $200 deposit, and want to focus on cash games, you should start at $.05 – $.10 or lower. If you wanted to play sit & gos, the $5.50 or $11 level would be fine. And for multi-table tournaments, you could play in the low $2 – $3 range; with an occasional shot at $5.
Again, this is just a set guideline that I follow. I highly recommend you either follow this, or hear other people’s opinion and form your own system. Sometimes players expand the required buyins, and sometimes people take shots at the next highest limit when they reach 10-15 buyins. It’s all about perspective. As a general rule, don’t bet more than you feel comfortable betting; even if you have the nuts. Having bankroll management won’t keep you from going broke if you are a bad player, but it will give you time to plug those leaks and become better through experience; instead of just going broke right away.
4) Rigged!! I am going to switch gears a little bit, but not spend too much time on this next topic. Being a part of online poker communities and just playing online poker in general for years now, I have heard it all. Doomswitches, setups, bad beats; all leading towards people stating “online poker is rigged!!” Let me assure you it is not.
When you are playing live at a 9 person table, it takes time for the dealer to shuffle the cards, the players to act, the dealer to do the flop, etc. If you add in the fact that you play in a home game with distractions and perhaps drinking, this will also delay how fast hands are dealt. In my experience, playing in a home game I will see about 20-30 hands per hour.
Now look at online poker. The cards are automatically shuffled, dealt, and it is your turn even before Uncle Ray noticed it was his turn to shuffle. You don’t have to worry about chips and betting, it is all done for you. At a 9 person table online, you will see on average of 60-100 hands per hour. Now compare that to your home game, the play can be over 3 times as fast! That means you will get AA three times as often, and yes, take those bad beats three times as often. Also, with online poker you are allowed to play more than one table at a time. I have personally played up to 18 tables at once! (I highly advise against trying it, however) Do the math on that and you can see how everything happens at a higher rate.
Now if you have your arms crossed because you know you have been unluckier than anyone else in the world, I don’t know what else to tell you. I personally know hundreds of very successful people who play online, and have achieved success myself. The rooms make enough money being legit and if you don’t believe me, well, don’t deposit!
5) Where do I start? One of the first things you must do is become a student. You are not as good as you think you are, you are as good as you prove you are (over a long sample size, mind you.) Books are a very good way to learn the game; however, most books today are advanced concepts and assume you already know the basics. I strongly suggest the website I mentioned earlier, and joining loyal community of poker players who would be very willing to help you, Flop Turn River. I learned so much from that website, and best of all, it was free!
Next, you may have seen the commercials, the television shows, or have been to one of the hundreds of online poker rooms, and just don’t know where you should play. There are literally hundreds of online rooms, and many are good, but others are not. In my opinion, you want to find a site that is very well known, populated, and has a very good track record. There are a few that fit this mold, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be Full Tilt Poker. You can view the review written about Full Tilt at FTR by visiting the Full Tilt Bonus Code page. In addition to the review of the site, you will find a great deposit bonus through FTR! If you sign up through that page, Full Tilt will match your deposit and give you a bonus, up to $600. (Click on the link for details.) This will give you extra money to play with, which is a great deal.
Overall, a lot of what I had mentioned here is fairly basic. It does not guarantee that you will be on your way to riches. Poker is a game that takes a few minutes to learn, and a life time to master. But if you indulge yourself and become a great student, you can become successful. Good luck to you and see you at the tables!