The same things that make online poker so wonderful, however, offer challenges that are a bit different from those in a live poker room. Sometimes, you can be too relaxed, or play way too long. More than once I have literally slept while playing poker online. I was very tired and dozed on the couch between hands, waking to the signal that it was my turn to act. I was in a single-table satellite at the time and play was slow. I’ve even played poker online while in bed. It is the height of decadence. I know other players who have confessed to doing the same thing.
The astute player can take advantage of these and other factors. Suppose you log on at 8 PM Pacific time. You see a player from Helsinki. You know this guy is up in the middle of his night, so it’s possible that he’s playing tired. Or you play one evening for a few hours, log off, and come back online the next morning. You run a search and see that one of your favorite opponents is still playing. Did he just wake up too? More likely, he has been playing all night.
Maybe you’ve never played on the Internet and while you are tempted, you aren’t sure that it’s safe and exactly what to expect once you are in a game. Say hello to Dan. Dan is a professional poker player who, in the last two years, has switched from live action to almost exclusively playing on the Internet. He plays an average of 30 hours a week, in sessions lasting from an hour up to five hours, perhaps longer. He began playing at low limits and then moved up, and now plays anywhere from $5-10 limit Holdem up to $75-150 (he plays limit poker only). Initially, Dan said he had concerns about possible collusion. He soon felt comfortable, however, when he did not encounter obvious cheating. He feels that online collusion is rare and even if it exists, it happens no more frequently than in live games.
Dan has some helpful advice for players who are new to online poker.
1. Play substantially smaller online than you would play in live games. When you think you’re used to the speed and texture of online play, continue playing smaller than you normally would, because you are really not as used to it as you think.
2. Don’t play tired. Avoid the temptation, for example, to just play a few hands before bed.
3. Don’t play if you don’t have a decent chunk of time to devote to the game. Dan recommends setting aside an hour minimum for playing a session, rather than just jumping on and offline between other activities.
4. Don’t play short-handed. Short-handed games are abundant online, and it is tempting to get in on the action, but they are incredibly aggressive, require a big bankroll, and have are not for inexperienced players.
Dan emphasized that online poker, at almost all limits, is more aggressive than live action. The higher limits ($15/30 and above) play considerably bigger than their live counterparts and require a bigger bankroll in order to sustain the inevitable swings one encounters in a big game. They also require you to adjust your strategy if you are used to more passive games.
Most important, Dan said, are fundamental skills. You need to play the game well. Your starting hand selection must be solid and you must be able to reevaluate the strength of your hand as the play progresses. You need to be aware of pot odds and of the relative value of your hand depending on the action before and after the flop. To improve your game, Dan recommends reading a variety of books and articles. Read as much as you can, think carefully about what you read, and implement the strategies that work best for you, given the games you play, your goals, and your bankroll.
One of the biggest challenges of playing online is the lack of visual information. In a live game you can often sense whether or not a player is bluffing (or strong) based on his body language or other subtle visual clues. Because of the lack of visual tells online, you sometimes have to fall back on what Dan calls “almost pure technical aspects” of play.
There is a very effective way to compensate for the lack of visual information, however. In his book, Killer Poker Online, well-known Cardplayer writer John Vorhaus stresses the importance of what he calls “keeping book” on your opponents. When you play online, since you’re not facing your opponents, you can make notes on how they play given hands, the length of their sessions, even how much they win or lose. Most poker websites now allow players to make those notes directly onscreen, so that if you’ve taken notes on a particular opponent, you can refer to them by clicking on his icon when he’s in your game. I like to keep my notes on players in a little notebook. Others keep them on their computers, in Word or Excel, so they can easily alphabetize the data. Keeping book allows you to take advantage of the opportunities for information management that you have while playing poker on the computer, in contrast with live play.
Dan agrees about the importance of making notes on your opponents. Relying on the information you have recorded, “you play the player using your notes” on his style of play and past actions, rather than on visual tells. Most poker websites also allow you to make a list of your favorite opponents. Then, when you log on, you can check out who is online and choose your game accordingly, something you cannot readily do in a live game situation such as a casino, where you have to play wherever a seat is available, while perhaps waiting to switch to another game.