Have you been tempted to play online Poker, but are unsure of what to expect? Or perhaps you’ve played other games online, such as Bingo, or Roulette, or slots, but have been wary of taking the Poker plunge? This guide to online poker should help you decide to dip a toe in the water.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you know how to play Poker- perhaps not well, but good enough so that you at least know that a full house beats two pairs! If you don’t, it is worth knowing that most sites have guides, and practice tables where you can learn the game without spending any money.
As you may expect, the first thing you’ll note is that you can’t physically see your opponents. You will see the made-up names that the players have decided to use and usually how much money they have on the table. You will often also see the country where they are playing from. Similarly, they can’t see you!
The main screen will usually be a view of a poker table, with smaller areas of the screen around the edges to show text-chat between players, your current hand, and after each game, the winning hand and how much was won. The cards you are dealt are invariably very plain and clear, and there will be prompts for you to check, raise, bet or fold. It’s best to have blinds automatically allocated. That’s because if there are a number of players, it can get frustrating waiting for players to post blinds before the round can start.
Usually the views are customisable, and some can be very busy, while others are stripped down to the bare minimum. Have a look around and play some free games on a number of sites, to see what sort of graphics and visuals you prefer.
There are a number of big advantages in playing Poker online as compared to a live land-based Poker school with your friends or acquaintances. Briefly these are that you have a big selection of types of games with various limits, no-limits, blinds, pots, and minimum or maximum bets, there’s rarely any waiting around for a game to begin, and you can play anytime, night or day. You can also play multiple tables (a way in which a number of Poker champions have honed their game to get in the big leagues), and leave/join/have a rest by sitting out anytime you like. Relax- you’re in your own environment and there’s no paying for drinks or snacks- so you can just concentrate on the game itself.
You can be forgiven for thinking that there’s only one type of Poker game, Texas Hold Me, because the game is by far and away the most popular, but spread your wings and play some other types online- You’ll find a variety of cash game formats (heads-up, shorthanded, and full ring games), and while Texas Hold ’Em is by far the most popular variation of poker to be found online – there are others- Omaha, stud, draw, and razz, to name a few. There are Poker tournaments, where you can be in competition with many other players for fixed cash prizes if you battle through to become one of the winners at the end, and the simpler cash games, where you just choose a table, and play for as long or as short a time as you like.
As with many types of online games, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting one or more sites to sign up to. But you should spend a little time deciding what will work for you.
The “skins” or the graphics that display during games, may be important to you, and also the sounds that come with certain actions- such as the deal, the flop, the raise, and an alert if you have failed to do something or are taking too long to deliberate whether to fold or not. The choices here is down to individual preference, and usually after playing a few times at various sites, you will decide which ones ring your bell!
Other factors you should consider are the software used and features- do the games seem to proceed smoothly and reliably, and is the interface intuitive? Can you switch off features or sounds that might become annoying after a time or are you stuck with them?
The overall popularity of an online poker room should be one of the most important factors in your decision of where to play. The more popular online poker rooms have far more games to choose from and usually offer a greater variety of poker games. There’s also less waiting around for games to start, which can sometimes be a problem with smaller online poker rooms with low traffic. Successful and popular sites are just that for a reason- people like them.
A more difficult area to find out about a site, is the quality of the players. While you should get a blinder of a hand now and then, the chances of you winning usually comes down to how well other people play- if they bet irrationally then you may be able to gain from their mistakes, for example. We all know of the person who finds it impossible to fold!
Don’t forget Bonuses & Promotions: Bonuses for first-time customers are common among all online poker rooms. Be sure to read the small print to see if you’re really getting a good deal. You also need to consider the on-going bonuses and promotions from your chosen online poker room – do they have a loyalty program? Is it good value for money? Poker sites want you to join up- and so should be offering you attractive longer-term packages, and not just ones that give you an initial boost to your stake money
Customer Service – The level of customer service should also be taken into consideration when choosing an online poker room. How quickly will they respond to any problems you might have with their site? If you’re a real money player, what are their deposit and withdrawal methods? And do they process your payments within a reasonable timeframe?
This may not be that important to you if you’re mainly playing for a few cents at a time, and are there to learn the game and/or have fun. But when you’re betting larger sums, delays in getting money from your account onto the table, and vice-versa, can be irritating.
Once you’ve decided to go for a particular site, there are just three basic steps to joining: Firstly download their software from their site. Secondly install the software (and make sure you have an icon on your desktop), and thirdly register your account. This will involve inventing a name for yourself, selecting a password, and, if you are going to play for cash straight away, putting in your card details so that you can make your initial deposit (and collect your winnings).
Finally there are questions worth addressing now, as they are the ones likely to put off potential new recruits to the joys of online Poker playing: These are- in a nutshell- Is it rigged? And… Can players cheat and collude?
An example of collusion is two players covertly working together in order to increase one player’s chances of winning. To get an idea of how this works, imagine two or more friends logged into the same online poker room, playing at the same table. They share information about their cards in order to get an idea of what cards aren’t remaining in the deck. Worse still, they work together to increase the pot size or to squeeze other players out of a hand. Presumably, they’ll share their profits when the game is over.
Player cheating of this nature, will almost certainly get caught. Online poker sites have a complete hand history database for all of their poker players. They know if certain players have a history of playing on the same tables. Their databases are automatically scanned with complex algorithms that search for any signs of collusion. When something fishy is spotted the staff will manually review the action. Regardless of which online poker room you play at, be sure to contact customer service immediately if you suspect player cheating, including collusion, at your table. However it’s quite rare these days.
Multi-accounting is when an online poker player who plays under more than one account at the same time on the same site. A player might enter an online poker tournament under several different accounts in order to increase their chances of cashing. In some rare cases they could even end up on the same table, which would obviously be a huge advantage (see collusion, above) and unfair on the other players. Again, this form of cheating is fairly easy for the online poker rooms to spot, and players who attempt to cheat in this way will face serious consequences.
Finally, Poker bots are software programs that have been designed to analyse a poker game, particularly starting hands and community cards, and make decisions for the player. A poker bot can be set up to play poker for real money while the actual player sleeps, goes to work, or just generally doesn’t pay any attention to the game himself. The simple fact is that online poker sites disapprove of bots and if found you’ll be penalised. But to be frank you’re probably better off playing against a Poker bot, because generally they will make poorer decisions than a real live (well, online) Poker player! For those of us in the UK, there are a number of poker sites for UK players you may want to consider playing first.
In conclusion online gaming is very safe, and probably a lot more regulated and fairer than live games, where you can always have the dealer dealing from the bottom, signals between players and smuggled in cards- at least if you watch some games from the Movies!
So I hope this little excursion into the basics of online Poker has been helpful. I look forward to playing against you at a table anytime soon!