Online poker is sweeping the world. If you want a piece of the action, follow these steps.
- Learn the game. Before you even turn on your computer, read a book or two on poker strategy. This gives you an advantage because many online players don't know the game and depend on luck. Read anything by David Sklansky. He's the dean of poker strategy, but his approach is didactic. Balance it with the breezier style of a writer like John Vorhaus or Andrew Glazer.
- Adjust to online play. Traditional strategy needs to be tweaked for online poker, mostly because you can't see your opponents, thus can't read them. However, there are some tells--things that a player does that tips his hand--that can come across:
- Betting amounts. Watch how your opponents bet. Weaker players will play too many hands, typically just calling. If a weak player bets big, they have a strong hand. A good player, though, will sometimes bet big when he is weak but just call when he is strong.
- Play pace. Gauge the speed with which your opponents typically play. Deviation from the norm indicates a strong hand (or an attempt to represent having a strong hand). Some players act quickly. That may be because they are proficient, but more often they simply don't have a hand that's worth thinking about. When you see a fast player slow down, he probably has a good hand and has paused to consider how to proceed. However, when a slow player acts fast, it may be because he is trying to show that he has a strong hand, when in fact he is weak. This is a bluff. Because it is harder to read opponents online, people tend to bluff more. This results in bluffs being called more often, so you should bluff less (that doesn't mean don't ever bluff--just judiciously). Leave that petty trickery to the luck-dependent masses. But when you have a good hand, play it aggressively, because your opponents may put you on a bluff.
- Find a play-money site. People play fast and loose here because there's nothing at stake, but you must play as though it's real money so you don't develop bad habits. This is also when you will hone your ability to calculate odds. Sklansky explains it in detail, but basically, on every hand, you need to weigh your odds of winning vs. the amount of the bet. This involves doing math on the fly, and you should have it mastered before you really have something to lose.
- Keep a notebook. You can't remember all the hands, so write down specific plays you make and their outcome for later reference. Many sites will even track play for you.
- When you're ready to gamble real money, choose a site and register. Try to find one that matches money upon opening an account. Start at a low-limit game, like .50/$1. Choose a table that gives you the best chance to win--that is, full of poor players. You'll find them by perusing the site's table statistics. You want a table where most of the players are calling the blinds most of the time. These are loose players who stay in a hand just for fun. Another indicator of a favorable table is one at which just one or two players have most of the money. Pick on the low-stacked players and avoid confrontations with the big guns.
So there are the steps: Read, adjust, practice, and play for real, starting low-limit and working your way up. Follow this approach, and you should soon be on your way to winning.