Help me improve my poker game
June 23, 2008 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Can you help a n00b get started with online poker?

I am considering playing poker online, and have a few questions I'm hoping you all can help with. I'm most interested in answers to question 3.

1. Is it legal? I've heard yes, but reassure me please?
2. I have a macbook, and can run windows, but would really rather use the mac side of things. Which sites offer mac compatible software? Which of the mac compatible sites do you prefer, and why?
3. What games offer the most 'bang for the buck'? My goal playing online is to improve in a home game I play (and usually host). I am a grad student, so I don't have a lot of cash to throw around. By the same token, I know that online games with play money tend not to resemble actual games in the ways that matter. So what games should I look for to get practice against people who are playing to win, but won't break my bank account?

Thank you much!
posted by HighTechUnderpants to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
1. Is it legal? I've heard yes, but reassure me please?

I am not a lawyer, but it's complicated and it depends on where you live. You live in California (I think), which is great because the state law there considers poker to be a skill game. You may be breaking federal laws created to stop illegal sports betting, but it's not clear if poker actually falls under any of those laws. Also, you are supposed to declare any winnings on your taxes.

2. I have a macbook, and can run windows, but would really rather use the mac side of things. Which sites offer mac compatible software? Which of the mac compatible sites do you prefer, and why?

Don't know. PokerRoom's network of sites uses a Java client that is cross-platform but they banned US players a while ago so that's probably not an option for you.

3. What games offer the most 'bang for the buck'? My goal playing online is to improve in a home game I play (and usually host). I am a grad student, so I don't have a lot of cash to throw around. By the same token, I know that online games with play money tend not to resemble actual games in the ways that matter. So what games should I look for to get practice against people who are playing to win, but won't break my bank account?

Play money games are not actual poker. You will end up playing a bunch of kids who go all in every hand. I would suggest doing an initial deposit of $100 and playing the lowest priced single table tournaments available. Depending on the site you pick, the lowest entry fees will be anywhere from $1 to $5. There will be one or two complete idiots at each table (hint: if you can't figure out which ones they are, you're probably one of them) but even at the lowest levels you should find some competition on par with your home game.

Each tournament will last about 30 minutes to an hour, and you would have to lose at least twenty of them in order to go broke, so you should get in some decent playing time even if you are completely terrible. The other nice thing about single table tournaments is that you will get a lot of practice in full table play, shorthanded play, and (hopefully) heads up play. In larger tournaments or cash games, you only get full table experience, which will not help as much when it's down to you and one other guy at your home game.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:20 PM on June 23, 2008


1) No, it's not legal in the United States. As far as I am aware nobody has ever been arrested for it, though. Who told you it was legal?

Note: the reason it is illegal is lobbying from Vegas casinos. The law is an ass, to quote Charles Dickens.

2) No idea.

3) The way to find a game against people who are playing to win is to play for money, but not much of it. A game with play money will never, ever, ever count for much in terms of learning to really play. You can find really cheap games on online sites, though. Cheaper than in real casinos because in real casinos floor space is extremely valuable. I think you can find games as low as like $0.5./$1
posted by Justinian at 2:23 PM on June 23, 2008


I refer you to the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act" from 2006.

Some people will still argue that this doesn't actually make internet poker illegal. I'm not a lawyer, consult your own. I note that a bunch of internet poker sites shut down their american bits after it was passed, though.
posted by Justinian at 2:31 PM on June 23, 2008


I don't know about legality, but I do know that if you play online, the FBI isn't going to come crashing through your door.

I like FullTilt. They have real money games for $.05/$.10, and the deposit minimum is $50. They also give you a 100% bonus on your deposit, although they release the money in increments; the more you play, the more you get.

Their play money games are usually decent, provided that you play Pot Limit. On any play money site, playing No Limit is pointless. Pot Limit players seem to actually want to *play*, and that makes all the difference.

I can't find anything on their site about Mac compatibility, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:42 PM on June 23, 2008


Ah, FullTilt does have Mac software. Linky.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2008


Full Tilt Poker has a mac client and its the one i play.

You need to play for money if you're going to play at all (poker just doesn't work w/o some modicum of risk) The $1 - $5 "sit and go" tourneys are great and have size limits (1 to 4 tables). These will be the most like your home game.

If you're tight you can also spend many hours playing some of the larger tournaments as well (again there should be $5 and $10 buy ins here). They aren't quite the same as the sit and go because you get some real disparities in chip sizes here but they're fun if you're killing time.

You can play the regular 25 or 50 buy in tables but usually these are a slightly different style of poker from tournament style (I usually play these even tighter).
posted by bitdamaged at 2:46 PM on June 23, 2008


Online poker is not officially illegal in the USA. However, transferring money to online poker sites is --- however... not for you... it's illegal for banks...

Basically, you can still get money into sites like Full Tilt (which, as mentioned above, is one of the only ones out there with a Mac client...)

I think you'll be better served spending your money on a book or two FIRST... you're not going to learn a heck of a lot from just continually playing the game unless you have a mentor of some sort..

I'd highly recommend "Harrington on Hold 'Em" (if your home games are tournaments, not cash games, then get his tournament books -- not his new "Harrington on Cash Games" books)... they're by Dan Harrington and they're spectacular.

Only after you've read a book or two would I recommend depositing any money online... I'd agree with the sentiment that play money poker will not teach you a hell of a lot of anything about real poker, and you should just play minimally priced tournaments or cash games...

If you deposit $100, you probably should stick to tournaments $5 or less (less is ideal, really) until you get the hang of things and start improving your game.

You could also benefit from reading various forums such as those on Internet Texas Hold 'em or 2+2, especially on subjects such as bankroll management, etc... Use the handy dandy search box on either forum to lead you in the right direction...
posted by twiggy at 2:56 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


The experience of playing online is fundamentally different from the experience of playing in person. If you want to improve your home game, read some of the "classic" books and I think that will help you a good bit more than online poker will.
posted by KAS at 3:31 PM on June 23, 2008


So what games should I look for to get practice against people who are playing to win, but won't break my bank account?

No online game.

Even if you're playing very low-limit games, you will be playing against colluders, robots, and professionals who might play 25 tables or more at a time (seriously). Someone might chime in to say that he makes fifty, or a hundred, or a few hundred bucks a month playing online poker, playing $0.25/$0.50 no limit or $5 SNGs, and he only plays one table at a time.

You will not be that guy. You will put in your fifty bucks and you will lose it. And you will keep putting in fifty bucks and losing it until you stop. And once you've stopped, you'll think that you could have used made more efficient use of your entertainment dollar.

It has been suggested that 95% of the winnings in low-limit online poker go to 5% of the players. It is not a good bet.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:28 PM on June 23, 2008


1. The legal status of online poker playing in the US is somewhat murky, but my understanding is that individuals are not likely to be prosecuted. The best place to find the answer to this question (and actually all your poker questions) is the two plus two forums:

http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/forumdisplay.php?f=57

3. The easiest games to make money in are no limit hold 'em at very low stakes. There are enough people who don't care about their $5 buy-in that they'll happily go all-in with a pair of 2's or whatnot. As you move up in stakes, the players will quickly improve. If you are new to online poker, expect to start by losing, but if you are disciplined and dedicated to improving your game, you should at least be good enough to beat the lowest stake games after a few thousand hands of practice.

PokerStars still accepts U.S. players and has some of the lowest stake games around (including .01/.02 nlhe). If you start with $25 there, you should be able to play long enough to learn how to beat the microstakes. If you lose all $25, take it as a sign that you are not likely to be a winning online poker player.
posted by justkevin at 5:56 PM on June 23, 2008


The experience of playing online is fundamentally different from the experience of playing in person. If you want to improve your home game, read some of the "classic" books and I think that will help you a good bit more than online poker will.

I agree, in that a lot of the things that are very important in real life poker, such as physical tells, are completely absent in online poker. But you can't really learn poker from reading a book. You need to play hands, a lot of them, until you've played every type of player in every situation. As with anything, practice is the key. Really, real life poker experience is better, but playing online is a lot easier and more convenient.

you will be playing against colluders, robots, and professionals who might play 25 tables or more at a time (seriously).

Multi-tabling definitely exists, but it's not like you're going to be playing against Phil Ivey in a $5 sit-n-go. Poker is popular with a lot of normal people, and a lot of normal people play low limit poker online. I've been playing low-stakes online for fun for about 6 years and the level of play has always been around home game level.

You will put in your fifty bucks and you will lose it.

Your mileage may vary, but I've made money in low stakes games online. Obviously if you are not consistently better than the average player at your limit you will lose money in the long run, but it's not an impossible feat by any means. Good players will make money, and bad players will lose money.

It has been suggested that 95% of the winnings in low-limit online poker go to 5% of the players.


Do you have a source for this? SharkScope, one of the sites that aggregates public hand result data from various poker sites, claims that 1/3 of usernames make money in sit-n-gos and 2/3 of usernames lose money.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:26 PM on June 23, 2008


Online poker is not officially illegal in the USA. However, transferring money to online poker sites is --- however... not for you... it's illegal for banks...

Basically, you can still get money into sites like Full Tilt (which, as mentioned above, is one of the only ones out there with a Mac client...)


Exactly.

As for learning, I recommend spending some cash.

2+2=4 was, at one time, a great resource. There is still a lot of quality there but there is also a tremendous amount of noise. Figuring out what and who is legit will take a lot of time and energy. Unfortunately, the search sucks.

Books are OK, if you like, I can recommend a shelf full.

Your best choice is to spend the $ required to join one of the video instruction sites: Cardrunners, StoxPoker, LeggoPoker and DeucesCracked. All of them have quality material. If you sign up under some of them for a rakeback account with an online poker site, you can get access to the videos at a discount or free. See those sites for the details.

Investigate rakeback. Take advantage of it.

There is one forum on 2+2=4 that you need to keep up with, the Software forum. Some will argue that novices should stay away from accessory poker software and there is some validity to that. Still, I think it's worth your while to know what's on the market. Eventually, at the very least, you will want one of the databases - PokerTracker or Holdem Manager - and there's another up and comer; don't remember the name. There's other quality stuff too, when you get a little farther on, check out PokeRazor and the StoxPoker competitor. Also, definitely download PokerStove (freeware) and start playing with it.

Books, articles, forums and blogs are fine, but the best education options are videos and software.

Also, join the PPA.
posted by BigSky at 6:41 PM on June 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Full Tilt and Poker Stars are the biggest poker rooms and both offer native Mac clients. Essentially all of the software suggested above by BigSky are PC-based, although PokerTracker 3 is supposed to come out in a native Mac flavor one of these fine days.

The legality question gets 1,000 different answers. This is a pretty good overview. In most states, it would probably be illegal to run a poker site and probably not criminal to play on one. Even if illegal, the likelihood of them going after individual players seems extremely remote.
posted by Lame_username at 4:35 AM on June 24, 2008


1. The federal UIGEA restricts financial institutions from transferring money to poker sites, it does not outlaw online poker. However some states have their own laws on the books which outlaw online gambling - notably Washington State.

2. FullTilt and PokerStars are two reputable sites that accept US players and have native Mac clients. PokerStars has slightly higher player traffic, spreads lower limit cash (games down to 1c/2c) and I feel the play is a bit softer at the micro stakes.

3. I agree with BigSky that video training sites are the best educational resource to improve your online play. If you can afford the hefty initial signup fee, StoxPoker is an excellent site if only for Ed Miller's Poker Made Simple series. DeucesCracked also has a couple excellent video series aimed at low limit NL Holdem and they have a 7day trial with full access to their (DRM free) library.

Also note that online games are generally accepted to play tougher than in live Casinos. A $1/$2 online game plays as tough as a $10/$20 live game. This means a 5c/10c
("10NL") game is probably about as high as you should be playing online, and the discussions in mid-high limit videos will have little relevance to the games you play,
posted by cwhitfcd at 4:43 AM on June 24, 2008


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