Poker Guide Portal

What is online poker?

On any given day more than 100,000 people from all over the world sit down in front of their computers to play poker online for real money. Online poker means playing poker in real time, in a virtual environment against real players. All that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection (dial-up works fine, but will be slower). You go to a poker room, sit down at a poker table offering your preferred game, e.g. $5-$10 Limit Texas Holdem. Your opponents sit around the table and you're dealt the cards and make your bets in exactly the same way as in a real casino except there are no misdeals.

poker rules tournament

The growth of online poker

The popularity of poker has increased at an astounding speed the last few years. The main reasons are the flexibility and speed of playing online as well as being able to join any global game from your computer. Lately, poker as a sport has received huge media coverage as the online poker culture grows and WSOP and WPT are being shown on TV. This further reinforces the massive growth of online poker. Also, there exists a greater availability due to the increase of online poker rooms and the fact that online qualifiers has won the main event at the World Series of Poker two years in a row has contributed great goodwill to the online rooms.

Online poker with real money began in 1998 at Planet Poker and had a moderate growth the first 2-3 years at time when Paradise Poker had a dominant market share. The big upswing came with the entry of aggressive marketers such as Party Poker and WPT televised events in 2002. In 2003 alone the game volume increased more than 400%. The online poker market has grown exponentially in recent years and is expected to top the $1 billion revenue mark during 2004. The online poker business is today very profitable for the established rooms, but more and more competition is heating up with higher and better bonuses, promotions and other perks. Also the brick-and-mortar poker world has benefited tremendously with poker rooms popping up at the casinos with increased frequency. Today many new players start out playing online and then move on to play at home games and casinos around the world. There are, though, many advantages with online poker both for the beginner and the expert player vs offline poker as you will see in the next section.

What makes poker particularly fascinating is the fact that in the short term any decent player can compete and even win over the world's best players. By the same token, poker is also deceptive as many less skilled players are not aware of their long-term outlook to win or let alone break-even. As you are surely aware, poker is a game of skill and the best players will win money over time.

Online vs Offline Poker

Many beginners think that playing poker online will prove to be completely different than playing offline and they are sometimes correct, though usually for the wrong reasons. Common is the notion that it is much harder to "read" your opponents when you do not see them sitting in-person at the table. What most fail to recognize is that the majority of available information when making a decision at the poker table comes from a variety of factors other than "reading" your opponents faces. To spot a "tell" from a player's actions on a hand, and so forth, is often very difficult and not all players display such tells. Most of the required information comes from betting patterns, position at the table and observing the hands your opponents play.

There are many advantages though with online poker both for the beginner and the expert player. The beginners have the chance to play, watch and learn in the comfort of their own home. They can also start playing for real money at stakes that are much lower than what is possible in a real casino. The expert players mainly benefit from the great selection of games, the faster pace (more money), the option to play at multiple tables, and not having to drag their feet to the smoke-filled local poker room every other day.

Probably the greatest advantage with online poker involves speed and accessibility. Online poker is a lot quicker than offline poker. There is no waiting for the deck to be shuffled, the deals are super quick and no misdeals occur, it takes no time for the rake to be taken out, there is no changing of chips back and forth, no counting of the pot, no tipping and no waiting for decisions to be made by floor managers. Another advantage is the option of playing at multiple tables in order to get more action and increasing your overall hourly win rate (if you are a winning player). In addition, when playing online, it is always possible to find a game to your liking and you can play 24hrs a day from anywhere in the world as well as from the comfort of your own home. The availability of poker variations and games is also much greater.

The major advantage with playing poker offline is that it is a social game. Meeting your opponents face-to-face is significantly more enjoyable and stimulating than sitting alone in front of your computer. You are able to talk to, and get to know, more people. It is easier to remain focused and observe your opponents when you can see them. As well, your ability to read your opponents' minds is increased since you can see when they are feeling restless, if they are affected by a "bad beat", if they are in a good/bad mood, etc. In addition, it is easier to remember their actions when you are able to connect them to a physical person. Also, if you are skilled at spotting physical tells in your opponents, you will find more opportunities to do so when playing offline.
All in all, the game will feel more "real" when you have the cards in your hand and the chips are stacked in front of you. Even if you are an experienced online poker player, you may find that you are quite nervous when you play in a live poker room for the first time.

How to Sign up

In order to sign-up, you need an email address and if you want to play for real money, a credit card or access to any of the below mentioned ways to deposit money. It is not necessary to deposit any real money in order to sign-up and open an account. You can still watch real money games and participate in play money games as soon as you have opened an account. Some real money deposit options are: VISA, Mastercard, NETeller, FirePay, Citadel (US only), SFPay (US only), wire transfer, bank drafts and cashier's checks. Once you have deposited real money, the money stays in your account with the specific poker room, just like in a bank account. When you win your balance increases and when you lose your balance decreases. You are free to cash out at any time, with a few exceptions regarding "bonus dollars". For example, some of the offered bonus deals may require that you don't cash out at all (including your deposit) within a specific period of time or that you play a certain amount of raked hands before you will have full access to your "bonus dollars".

The poker rooms vary in how quickly and in what way they transfer you cash-outs. Some poker rooms offer transfer of money directly into your bank account, while almost all of them offer checks or online payment solutions like NETeller or FirePay also known as "web wallets". Web wallets can be directly connected to your bank account and also have debit cards connected to them, for cash out at ATM-machines. VISA and MasterCard cannot be used for cashing in winnings and often not even to transfer back the original deposit amount from the credit card itself. The reason is strict policies for online wagering, due to legality and also disputed credit card charges from casino players in the US. Most sites offer a variety of ways for you to receive your money, make sure to check with each specific site how and under what conditions they pay out.

This section will describe some useful online poker room features that are good for you to know and lastly will discuss some poker games and helpful supplies for you as a player.

The poker room lobby

Once you have entered the poker room you are automatically directed to the lobby. A variety of information is offered here and make sure to browse around here for a while. For example, you can see what available games there are, you can go to the cashier, join waiting lists, join tables, get support or simply check out when others are playing. Before starting playing you can look for tables with the game and stakes of your choice. To check out a table you simply double-click on the table of interest and you will be taken to the table. Sometimes there is a waiting list that you can sign-up to and then be automatically called when a seat is available. Every site offers some statistics from the tables, although the information varies from site to site. For example, information about the stakes, how many players are playing, the average pot, how many players that wait in line, the amount of hands dealt per hour and how many percent of the players that see the flop on average.

Support

The customer support offered by the poker rooms is of highly varying quality. . Email support is ubiquitous, but more and more there are telephone support as well as live chat. The problem with a lot of the support staff is that they are not knowledgeable about poker and lack understanding of the own poker room's operation. In particular support often lack exact details regarding current promotions (which often have complicated elements in terms of requirements) or even more so the many special bonus deals via guides like PokerListings. As the emerging and highly profitable poker industry is getting more competitive and standardized, the customer support quality is increasing and a lot of the networks are starting to put more resources into shared support teams.

The Chat

Because players have the option of chatting while playing there is going to be players who use this function to embarrass, harass or in other ways make fun of their opponents. A lot of times you will see players who go crazy on the chat and calling players names or criticizing others game, especially after losing a few big pots. Do not let this bother you and most poker rooms offer the option of blocking other players' chat.

Of course you can use the chat function just for social reasons and friendly small talk with your opponents. Most of the time you benefit from being courteous to opponents as they will be more apt to play a straight forward and not as tricky game against you. But you always have the option of using the chat to portray a certain image and might even try to get your opponents to go on tilt or play worse against you. Just be aware that your opponents might try the same thing against you.

It is worth it to take notice of the players who are not in balance and are upset about being unlucky or outplayed. Many players cannot hold their frustration by themselves and will take it out on the chat, either by complaining or criticizing opponents. This will happen frequently. By observing the play and what players say on the chat you can gain important information that you can benefit from.

There are some common abbreviations used in the online poker chat that you should know about:

bb=

big blind

sb=

small blind

np=

no problem

brb=

be right back

gh=

good hand

gg=

good game

gl=

good luck

nh=

nice hand

lol=

laugh out loud

tx=

thanks

ty=

thank you

tyvm=

thank you very much

vnh=

very nice hand

wd=

well done

wp=

well played

Multiple table play

A great advantage with playing online, especially if you are a winning player or just like a lot of action is the option to play at multiple tables. The way in which you play multiple tables can vary. For example, you can manually switch back and forth between the tables, or you can let the software tell you when it is your turn to act or you can adjust the screen size so that you can see all the tables at once. Again, try different playing options and decide what works best for you. You will experience greater variation in the short-run when playing at multiple tables. At times you will lose at all tables and, at times, you will win. You must prepare yourself to handle these swings. However, since you play more hands per hour your long-term variation should be less.
If you are serious about making money at poker then only play at multiple tables if you are already a winning player, otherwise you will increase your hourly losing rate.

When playing online the pace is much faster than at offline poker. This could be a problem especially if you play at multiple tables at the same time. You have to be careful while clicking between windows or tables so that you don't accidentally check, fold, bet or raise when you had the intention of doing something differently. Also you have the possibility to use the "in turn buttons". These are boxes that you can check before it is your turn to act. For example, you intend to fold when it is your turn to act and you check the "fold in turn box" to save you the time. Be careful so that you do not accidentally click in any of these boxes.

Most sites have a limit of how many tables you can play at the same time, at some you can only play at one and others four or five tables.

Hand history

Most sites enable you to request hand histories for the tables you play at. This is useful in many ways, and also a way of preventing collusion. Whenever there is a showdown (or it is checked around on the last round of betting) and someone who has called a bet then mucks (folds) his hand without showing, you can check the hand history for that particular hand and see what hand that player held. Remember these features because this is very useful information, in order to learn quickly about what type of hands your opponents are playing and how they are playing them. But the most useful information is probably your chance to review your own game importing the hands history into any of the analysis tools available on the market. With these tools you can track "leaks" in your game such as starting hands you are playing for a big net loss, as well as discovering that your betting patterns are not optimal. Typically beginners are prone to calling to often while not frequently enough bet and raise to put pressure on the opponents.

The automatic all-in protection

Most poker rooms have an all-in protection which is a feature that puts a player, who is involved in a pot, all-in whenever that player is disconnected or timed out. If this happens to you it means that you will stay in the pot but will not be able to bet or call any bets in the hand, thus creating a side-pot. Because of this you will sometimes win pots (because you stay in with a hand that you would have folded) and also lose pots (because your bets or raises would have won the pot for you) without having to commit additional money in the pot. Depending on your long-term and short-term history of used all-in protections you will have no or several protections going forward. This protection should not be abused, as this is a very direct form of cheating. Moreover, you will very frequently be reported which after a few incidents often leads to a ban at the poker room. If you see or suspect players of abusing this, don't hesitate to write support and report these players.

What games to play?

There are many different available poker variations and ways to play them. For example, tournaments have exploded in popularity the last three years, with the televised events. Today there are slightly more tournament games than ring games online, which was not expected just some years ago.

By far the most popular game is ring game Limit Texas Hold'em, followed by No-Limit Texas Hold'em and Pot-Limit Texas Hold'em. Ring game means playing poker at a table with approximately ten players at the same time. Other ring games with decent volume are Omaha, mostly Limit Omaha High-Low and Pot-Limit Omaha High as well as Limit Seven-Card-Stud. The classical Five-Card Draw Poker and Lowball (being popular in the eighties) is very rarely played today online. Tournaments and tournament satellites also exist in all kinds of different poker variations, where the most popular form is No-Limit Texas Hold'em. Satellites are tournaments where you can win the entrant into a bigger tournament.

In tournaments all players pay a buy-in including a fee to the poker room. The buy-in is then divided into prize money with the most money paid out for 1st place. This is a good way to practice playing poker as you are completely in control of your losses at all times. It is also a way to win big on a small investment. For example, Greg Raymer, the winner of the main event at the World Series of Poker in 2004 won $5,000,000 on a $10,000 investment (which he won by winning an online satellite). Although $10,000 is not a small investment for most people, it is small compared to the winnings.

If you are a beginning player it is recommended that you start out by learning how to play Limit Texas Hold'em. This is a great game to learn the basics of poker and as mentioned before the most popular form of poker today. Almost exclusively all poker rooms offer plenty of good low stakes Limit Texas Hold'em. If you want to try out tournament play, you should participate in the smaller buy-in events and free roll tournaments offered by most poker rooms. Because No-Limit Texas Hold'em is the most popular form of tournament poker, participating in those events is a great way to go from Limit play to No-Limit play. In a tournament you choose before you start playing how much money you want to risk, thus making this a low risk way of playing No-Limit.