Beginner’s Guide to Online PokerNovember 1st, 2015 by Todd McGee
So you want to be a poker player? You’ve seen the World Series of Poker on ESPN. You think you know math. You believe success in poker is your ticket to riches, fame and beautiful women (or handsome men, depending on your personal preferences), but you just don’t know where or how to get started. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
CardsChat is a great site for new poker players. The forums give you access to thousands of like-minded players who are also trying to improve their game and are more than willing to share their personal experiences. The strategy section provides overviews of the many variants of poker, with tips for beginners and advanced players.
The roster of bloggers gives you perspective on many different aspects of the game, including advanced concepts like hand quality, understanding equity and expected value, and useful tips on how to handle a bad beat or strategies for dealing with hyper-aggressive players.
Poker is a lot of fun, but it is a high-risk, high-reward activity, and that part of it should not be taken lightly, especially if you think you would like to go from recreational hobbyist to full time professional. If you are thinking of depositing on a poker site to try to hone your game so that maybe we’ll see you in the November 9 one day, here are some things to consider.
Research your Options
If you want to begin playing poker, you need to first figure out which site you want to play. For players outside the United States, the choice is an easy one – PokerStars. Don’t even mess with anything else. If you live in a country where playing for cash on PokerStars is legal, then do it. PokerStars has the best traffic for cash games and multi-table tourneys, a great track record on payouts and offers a wide variety of games. Simply put, no other on-line site comes close.
For U.S. players, the choices aren’t so clear. Before you deposit into a poker site, read up about them as much as you can. CardsChat has already done the work for you. Check out their site reviews. Read the Poker Room message boards at CardsChat, and particularly check out the Poker Deposits & Withdrawals thread. If a significant number of players are reporting payout issues on a site, you should deposit with care. The online poker world is filled with stories of sites that went under, losing millions of dollars in player deposits (Just google Lock Poker).
Once you have decided which site to play on, be sure to sign up through the link on the CardsChat review site. CardsChat offers weekly freerolls for forum members on several sites, and these freerolls are a great way to build up your skills and bankroll, but the long-term future of these events depends on CardsChat continuing to drive new players to these websites.
When considering which site to play, sign-up bonuses should not be a major consideration. Why? Because unless you plan on playing 8-10 hours a day, 4-6 tables at a time, you won’t generate enough rake or frequent player points to max out the signing bonus. Of all the years I have played online poker, I have probably cleared less than $50 in sign-up bonuses.
To give yourself the best shot at clearing a sign-up bonus, you should see if you can first build up a bankroll by playing freerolls. If you can translate your freeroll winnings into a decent size bankroll before you have made your first deposit, then you can make a deposit and start playing the higher volume and higher stakes that you would need to ever give yourself a realistic shot at earning the sign-up bonus.
Avoid the Free Sites
The old saying, ‘You get what you pay for’ is especially true for free poker sites. You will not improve your game if you spend your time on free sites like Zynga poker. They are good for learning the basics, but that’s about it.
Most players on free sites do not take it seriously. They are just killing time in the airport lobby while waiting for their flight. You will pick up a lot of bad habits playing on free sites – playing too many draws, calling too many bluffs, or allowing yourself to be bluffed off a strong hand by the person who just shoves all-in every time they connect on a flop. You also will not learn anything about the risk side of poker, which is a lesson that needs to be learned sooner rather than later.
In a future column, I will look at some of the other steps you should take before deciding to take the plunge into the exciting world of online poker. Like the vast majority of online poker enthusiasts, I long ago stopped worrying about the riches and fame (I already scored the beautiful woman) and instead decided to focus on my enjoyment of the competition. That doesn’t mean I don’t still dream of winning the World Series of Poker Main Event, but that is not my primary motivation for playing.