Online Poker Guide
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I know you’ve all the heard the story numerous times by now. Flashing lights, big bluffs, and a mountain of money piling 2.5 million dollars high. This scene which was televised non-stop took place during 2003 during the World Series of Poker, where the online qualifier, Chris Moneymaker, dismantled longtime pro Sammy Farha to take down the bracelet and an otherwise unheard of amount of money. In case you don’t know, Moneymaker was able to qualify online through a satellite tournament in which he paid $38 to win his $10,000 main event entry, which would eventually catapult him into fame and fortune. This created the so-called “Moneymaker Effect” within the poker world. Immediately, thousands of people started depositing money online in vain hopes of recreating Moneymaker’s success. The popularity of online poker has continued to grow at an exponential rate over the last 5 years, and today at any given time there are more than 100,000 people playing on biggest online poker sites alone. We would estimate that more than 10 million people worldwide play some form of online poker, and this is a very conservative estimate. In the off-chance that you haven’t jumped on the internet poker bandwagon, Winner Gambling is here to hopefully answer some questions for you, and get you started in the right direction.
First, we want to dispel any misconceptions you might have heard about online poker. We´ve talked to several people who would swear on their life that online poker is rigged. They whine and bemoan their bad luck for their misfortune claiming online poker has to be fixed because they’ve beat their penny ante home game for the last 15 years. Here’s a newsflash for everyone; no one is as good as they think they are at poker (at least 99% of the players). Not everyone in poker is a winning player, and like everything else you do in life, it takes time and effort to get better at it. With so many players playing online, dealing so many hands per hour, you are likely to see some things that might be pretty unbelievable in real life, but given the number of hands played online, they are far from statistical anomalies.
Online poker sites have a vested interest in providing a safe and secure game for their customers. They gain nothing by rigging the games since their profits are derived from rake (a small percentage taken from each pot or prize pool). If you think about this logically, if customers feel secure playing on a certain site, they are more likely to play more and tell their friends about how great it is, this in turn generates a larger long-term revenue for poker sites. If this thought isn’t comforting enough for you, I can speak from personal experience and tell you that after hundreds of thousands of hands, I would wager my firstborn child that online games are fair in every sense of the word.
Lucky for you, if you’re still a little uneasy, you might rest a little easier knowing that each poker site is regulated by some type of gaming commission. There is legal oversight ensuring they provide a legitimate, reliable service to their customers. So don’t be discouraged if you have your pocket aces cracked right off the bat when you first start playing, that is just the nature of poker. The best hand will lose often, and inversely the worst hand will sometimes win. The key to poker is to maximize your gains and minimize your losses. Luck plays a variable role in every poker player’s life, and will often determine the difference between a winning and losing night. But in the long run, everyone theoretically will experience the same luck, and if you made the most of it, you will be at the top of the proverbial totem pole with a lot of cash to show for your skill.
Rules of the Game
Now that we’ve gotten some of the heavier aspects out of the way, we can talk about the lighter side of poker. Most people are drawn to poker with the allure of making a fast buck; sadly Chris Moneymaker isn’t something people become on a daily basis. Instead of hoping to make millions from $38, I will try to guide you in the best direction to turn a steady profit, or at least becoming a break-even player, while not risking too much of your own hard earned money.
Before I get too presumptive, and get you in over your heads, I will rest on the assumption that you know nothing about poker. If you know the basic rules, you can skip forward to the next section.
In a game of No-Limit Texas Hold´em, there are anywhere between 2-10 players at the table. Each player is dealt 2 cards face down (so opponents can´t see these cards); this is determined by table positioning where the player with the “Dealer Button” acts as the proverbial dealer. The 2 seats placed to left of the dealer position are known as the “Blinds”. Blinds serve as the money which is mandatorily placed into the pot before the cards are even dealt. The “Small Blind” to the immediate left of the dealer is half of the “Big Blind”, which is next position at the table.
The big blind serves as the minimum amount other players at the table have to call in order to be involved in the pot, and if they wish to raise they must raise by an amount equivalent to the big blind. Following the blinds, the other positions act in a clockwise rotation with one of 3 options: they can either call the big blind, raise to an amount at least twice the big blind, or fold their hand. So to make things simple, you hold Pocket Aces while you are not in the blinds and the big blind is 10 chips. You can call for 10 chips, or raise to any amount between 20 and the depth of your chip stack, its moves like these that make No Limit Texas Hold´em “The Cadillac of Poker” as Doyle Brunson so wisely dubbed it. To round up our discussion on pre-flop play, the blinds are mandatory bets placed in before the cards are dealt, and the big blind is the last one to act before the flop is seen, and they are unique in the aspect that they can check (since they have already put the minimum bet in). Things change a bit post-flop though.
Unlike pre-flop play, when the flop (a 3 card board dealt face up, cards common to all players to build their hands from) comes, the small blind will be the first to act, and the big blind will be the second to act, while the person with the dealer button will be the last to act. There is another betting round here, and like the pre-flop choices, players will have the opportunity to check, bet, or fold. The option to raise will only present itself if another player has bet before them, and they opt to make the bet larger. Once the flop action has concluded, we move on to our next street.
The next street referenced above is known as “The Turn”. The turn is the fourth common card, which is revealed that will continue building the strength of your hand and your opponents. Another round of betting occurs with the players who didn’t fold on previous streets before the final card is dealt.
Ah, The river! The last card dealt in a game of No Limit Texas Hold´em. This card makes the 5th card on the board, and combined with the 2 cards in your hand, you will make the best possible 5 card hand. After a final round of betting, the chips in the pot are awarded to the player with the best hand (if two or more players go to the showdown).
Hand Rankings Are as Follows:
- Royal Flush: This is a unique and rare hand that trumps all other hands. It consists of the T J Q K A – all of the same suit.
- Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit, for example 6 7 8 9 T (All Diamonds, Spades, Clubs or Hearts)
- Four of a Kind: Four same cards and one other random card, for example A A A A K
- Full House: Three of a kind plus a pair, for example A A A K K
- Flush: Any 5 cards of the same suit (5 Clubs, 5 Diamonds, 5 Spades or 5 Hearts)
- Straight: Any 5 consecutive cards regardless of the suits (Aces count as either high – 14 or low 1). For example, lowest possible straight is A 2 3 4 5 and highest possible straight is T J Q K A.
- Three of a Kind: Three same cards and two other random cards, for example A A A 2 3
- Two Pair: Two pairs and one random card, for example A A K K 4
- One Pair: One pair and three random cards, for example A A 2 3 4
- High Card: Five random cards, for example A 2 4 5 9
Hand rankings in visual format numbered from best to the worst.
If two players have the same hand in rank, then the higher hand within the rank wins. For example, if both players have a flush, the higher flush wins – If player 1 has A J 9 7 5 in Spades and Player 2 has A J 9 8 6 in Hearts, player B wins because his fourth highest card in his flush is higher. Same goes with straights, and full houses, two pairs etc. For example: A A A Q Q full house beats J J J K K full house, 9 8 7 6 5 straight beats 8 7 6 5 4 straight, K K 2 2 7 two pairs beats J J 9 9 A two pairs, K K Q J T one pair beats 9 9 A K 2 one pair and K 7 6 5 2 high card hand beats Q J T 8 7 high card hand.
If both (or more) players have the exact same hand, for example the board shows K Q J T 2 in different suits after the river and Player 1 holds A 8 in his pocket and Player 2 has A 2 in his pocket, then both players have the exact same 5 card hand (A K Q J T straight) and the pot will be splitted. If players hold the same one pair, two, pair, or three of a kind hand, but with different side cards, for example Player 1 has A J in his hole cards and Player 2 has A 3 in his hole cards and the board after river is A 9 8 7 2, then Player 1 wins, because his so called “kicker” is better (his 5 card hand is A A J 9 8 and Player 2´s 5 card hand is A A 9 8 7 – so the Player 1 will win because of his better side cards). This rule to hands, where exact same hands are possible in rank but there are also side cards (high card, one pair, two pairs, three of a kind and four of a kind).
Might sound a bit confusing, but the rankings are very logical and you will learn them in your first session of play money play for example, if you are not already familiar with them.
Texas Hold´em is just one form of poker (the most popular though), and there are many others growing in popularity, including but not limited to: Omaha, Razz, Stud, Draw and Chinese Poker. Despite their growing success, No Limit Texas Holdem remains the most popular game online, which is why I want to get you in on the ground level 😉
Choosing the Right Site
Now that you are versed in the basic rules of the game, your first step in the online journey is to select which site you will play on. We here at Winner Gambling list the best poker sites to play on and we also offer great deals to those sites exclusively to our users. So you have come to the right place. When you create your accounts through Winner Gambling, we can guarantee you will end up with top notch sites only.
Bonuses / Rakeback
When I say bonuses, I mean most sites will reward you for choosing exactly them. For more information on various rewards, please see again the best poker deals section of this site, which can further help you choose which poker site you will take your business to. Almost all the sites offer some kind of a welcome bonus and a loyalty scheme.
Money Movement In and Out of the Online Poker World
Once you find that special site where you will do your poker playing, you are ready to deposit money. There are multiple ways to get your money onto a poker site.
For non-US citizens, the best options are either using ewallets – moneybookers or neteller. If you want to play less frequently or on one or two sites only, you can also use credit cards as well. Bank wires and other (less well known) eWallets like (Firepay, and Epassporte) are usually accepted too.
For US citizens, the options are more limited due to online gambling restrictions. You can use bank wires at some places, some eWallets like QuickTender and others and recently, some sites have implemented the use of eChecks where money is taken directly from your bank account and put into your poker account. Regardless of which of these methods you choose, your money will eventually arrive in your account. At any time you feel like you want to withdraw the money you have placed online, you can withdraw your money through the same method you used to deposit, or get a paper check mailed to you which takes around 10 business days.
Now that you have chosen your site and deposited your money, you are ready to jump into the game. The world is your oyster and you want to kick some ass and take names. Except when you look around at the games, there are often so many choices that you have no idea what you want to play. Aside from the different variations of poker (Holdem, Omaha and Stud) there are different ways to play it (Limit, No Limit, Pot Limit) and in different formats (Cash games, Sit and Goes, and Multi-Table Tournaments). I will spend the duration of this article helping you get a start in each of these different No Limit formats, so you have a basic idea of what’s going on.
Multi-Table Tournaments (MTTs)
Naturally, I will start with multi-Table tournaments since that’s where the Moneymaker effect seemed to have the greatest impact. How awesome is it to pay $10 and win $1,000, $10,000 or even $100,000+? There is no form of poker where you can turn such a small amount of money into a larger one in such a short amount of time. On average, most tournaments take between 3 and 10 hours, depending on how many people enter. Everyone in the tournament pays the same fixed buy-in to enter, and the prizes are automatically determined by the poker site, which pays a certain % of the prize pool to players who finish in various spots. Typically, tournaments either have a 10% or 20% payout structure, where they pay 10% or 20% of the people who enter, with the biggest prizes coming near the top of the ladder.
Since most tournaments pay in an exponential manner, it is important to finish in the Top 10 if you want to make any real kind of money. To do so, you will have to take a lot of risks to acquire chips; you can’t sit around and wait for Pocket Aces. You have to be aggressive, especially near the money bubble where a lot of people are just folding so they can make it in that top 10% or 20%. While they might make short-term profits, just cashing in a tournament, you don’t even get 2x your buy-in back. These people are not playing optimal poker, so your money is made by exploiting their fear. Tournament poker also has the most luck and variance involved, so don’t expect to win everyone you play – even one win in a lifetime is epic achievement for an average player! The best tournament players make it in the money less than 20% of the time and final table less than 5% of the time, so before you play tournaments, you want to have a stable bankroll if you like to play poker for living and not just for entertainment purposes. I would suggest having 100 tournament buy-ins for the buy-in level you’re playing if you don’t want to take risk a emptying your gaming bankroll. Even if this means you have to play a bunch of $1-$5 tournaments, this will only make your game better since you don’t have to worry about the money as much and you can exploit the scared people on the bubble more.
Sit and Go Tournaments (SNGs)
Next, I will briefly discuss another form of tournament poker: SNG tournaments. A SNG tournament is a tournament that registers only a fixed number of players (usually 9) and starts immediately when the 9 players are registered. Prizes in a SNG tournament are rewarded in a unique way to the Top 3 finishers usually with 50% going to first place, 30% to second place and 20% to third place. When you buy-in to the tournament, your cash buy-in is transformed into an amount of chips that everyone receives. Blinds increase usually every 5 to 10 minutes.
The optimal strategy in these SNG Tournaments is to just hang around in the beginning, let all of the other players make their mistakes. You only want to be playing your good premium hands and getting as much value from them as you possibly can. As blinds start to get higher a lot of players will start to play a lot tighter, and this is when you open your game up. Put in a lot of raises to take down the blinds and antes and exploit the scared player’s like you did in the multi-Table tournaments. Your goal here is to make money, so there is no difference between 4th and 9th place. Like multi-table tournaments, you want around 100 buy-ins here, but you can manage with less since there isn’t as much luck involved, because there are less players involved. The great thing about playing a lot of SNG tournaments is that they will help you when you make the final table of Multi-Table Tournaments. They both play very similar. So the more experience you have in the SNG field, you will likely have better profits in Multi-Table Tournaments. Pretty cool, eh? There are SNG tournaments ranging from a few cents buy-in to several thousand dollar buy-ins available online.
Cash games are probably the truest form of poker. Unlike tournaments or SNGs, the money you buy in for is the actual money you have at the table. So when your stack says $100 that is $100 of REAL MONEY sitting at the table. Also, the blinds will never move up in a cash game, since the blinds act as a limit to what you’re playing. If you wish to increase the blinds, you can move up to a higher level. For someone who has never played poker, cash can be pretty intimidating since they directly feel the blows to their bankroll whenever they lose a pot. When you miss a flush draw and have to fold after investing $15 you might think to yourself “oh bollocks, there goes my beer money”, but in poker it is MANDATORY to detach yourself from the significance of your money, if you want to play in professional attitude.
If you are going to be playing cash games, you must realize that money is simply a unit used to play the game. Think of it like this, if you are a chess player, you might often times sacrifice a Rook to take your opponent’s Queen. This is clearly a good move since a Queen is worth more than a Rook, and the same is true with poker. If you are putting your money in good, you will be rewarded with more units (money in this case). You can’t let the losses emotionally affect your decisions since then you aren’t playing your A game, and because of this your opponents already have a psychological edge on you. Try to focus your best on making the right decisions, regardless of previous outcomes. Remember, everything in poker is an independent event; nothing that has happened in the past will have any effect on what happens in the future. Just because you lost with the best hand last time, doesn’t mean it will happen this time. The opposite is also true; don’t get into a funk where you’re losing every hand and decide to just play every hand because eventually you’ll hit and get even. Let me personally tell you, this is erroneous logic and is the fastest way to lose even more money. If you can continually play your best game regardless of previous losses/wins then you can play cash games with 30-50 buyins, but don’t be afraid to drop down to a lower limit if you find yourself struggling.
Now that you have an idea about how different formats work, I will leave you with a good starting hand guide. When you are first starting, it isn’t a good idea to play many hands since this will complicate a lot of your decision making. Stay tight and let your opponents make the mistakes. We want to play very few hands until we are comfortable with what we are doing, so I would suggest playing these hands: Any Pocket Pair, AK and AQ. This may seem like a strict list to follow, and I acknowledge that it is. But hands like KJ and QJ are a lot of trouble for people who are just starting out. Take everything you think you know about poker and throw it out the window, it’s time for a new start online. You want to play hands that will win you a lot of money, or lose you only a little bit if you don’t hit the flop. This being said, suited cards are better than unsuited cards because of the flush possibility, just make sure you are getting the right odds to call on a flush draw if you don’t hit it on the flop. When you need one more card to a flush on the flop, you will hit your flush 1/3 of the time, so keep this in mind before calling off too much of your money. To figure out your odds of making a certain hand, take the number of outs in the deck, divided by the total number left in the deck. This can get tedious at first, especially for you non-math people, but after the first few calculations, you’ll get the hang of it. There are also odds calculators all over the internet which can make your poker career much simpler. A one is available at twodimes for example.
As mentioned above, we usually want to play all of our pocket pairs. For low pocket pairs, 22-77 you want to try to flop 3 of a kind, otherwise your hand is pretty worthless in trying to get to a river. You will flop a set almost once in every 8 hands with a pocket pair, and doing so will be profitable to make up for the other 7 times you don’t hit your three of a kind. Your other pocket pairs 88-AA will have some value both when you flop Three of a Kind, or when the board comes all low cards and you have an over pair to the board. Hands like AK and AQ are great because they make big pairs and complete big straight draws, and when they’re suited you can complete the nut flush, thus making these hands very versatile because you have a lot of different ways to win. Of course these are all generalities, and the best aspect of poker is that every hand is different, and game dynamics and reads will influence a lot of your reads. So don’t feel like a failure if you veer from the basic path I have laid in front of you. You can play more than the 15 hands I have suggested and open up your game to whole new levels. Within no time, you will be crushing the games and adopting hand ranges that are best suited for you.
If you get interested in poker, I´d suggest you to buy/order some books about poker strategy to get better in the game when you are a beginner. Amazon.com for example has a great selection of poker books. For the first books I´d recommend any book published by 2+2 Publishing. Other ways to get better player are free instructional poker videos here at Winner Gambling.
We here at Winner Gambling wish you luck in your poker endeavors, and maybe one day you will achieve the zero to hero stardom of Chris Moneymaker…who knows, it could be you!