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Old 02-19-2007, 11:06 PM
raze raze is offline
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Default Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Disclaimer: long as hell

I’ve been around the 2+2 forums for over a year now, and it’s time I use my experiences to give something back to readers. My goal is for this guide to be a starting point for those who would like to get serious about making some money online; however, I do believe that intermediate and even advanced players will get a lot out of this, and improve their game in ways they perhaps haven’t considered. I believe this guide will benefit all types of players, from recreational to professional. I chose to post this in the beginner’s forum as a gift to anyone humble enough to browse here, beginner or not [img]/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]

My Story

I started out just like many of us: playing the fake money games online. One afternoon, I logged into my account to discover a real money balance of $5.00. With all the negative stigma society generally attaches to online gambling, I figured I probably would never put in a deposit with my own money, and this was a chance to see if I could make a few bucks and have some fun. I even played fake money limit hold’em for a couple weeks until I was beating it consistently so I could make the most out of my 5 bucks. [img]/images/graemlins/blush.gif[/img]

In December 2004 I jumped into the smallest game on the site: 10c/20c limit hold’em. With a lot of luck (and some help from the very loose games), I managed to slowly run my ‘bankroll’ into about $50, at which point I started playing $3 sit’n’go’s, which eventually became $7 and $10 sit’n’gos, and then $1/$2 limit. I was spending a lot of time reading strategy websites, most notably reading the limit hold’em articles (referenced at bottom). At this point (July 2005), my bankroll had reached about $600. I began to read a lot more about bonuses and rakeback, which are absolutely ESSENTIAL to any limit player, as I will outline below.

I began to forgo strategy in favour of hunting down the most lucrative bonuses. I was obsessed with the notion of ‘free money’ via bonuses, and my game (and bottom line) suffered as a result. I struggled playing tough $1/$2 and $2/$4 games at various sites, although I did slowly increase my bankroll. Eventually, I got sick of playing breaking even poker to earn bonus bucks, and I realized that I would never move beyond the small stakes games if I was putting ‘bonus whoring’ before improving my game, so I made a drastic change: I put bonus whoring behind me, and I took my $2,000 bankroll to the Party $3/$6 6max games, which were definitely a lot softer than the Absolute $1/$2 grind.

January 2006: I did very well for a couple months, and then broke even for the next couple. I moved up to $5/$10, and remained a slight winner. I made decent money, but the truth is I was a very mediocre player; bonuses and rakeback kept me barely profitable for a few months. At this point, my bankroll had grown to $16,000, but I compared my winrate to the disgusting amount of rake I was paying, and I decided to return to my bonus-whoring ways, albeit at the same stakes. I realized that a good rakeback deal could more than double my hourly rate, provided the tables remained soft. I did a lot of research on rakeback and bonus deals, which paid off immensely. I played at several sites through the summer and fall of 2006, eventually settling on a VERY profitable prop player deal at a major site, playing the $4/$8 and $6/$12 shorthanded limit games. After a few weeks, however, I became bored. I once again needed a change. Despite the fact that I was making significantly more with this prop deal than at any other site / game, I decided it was time to take a serious run at no limit hold’em. I had made some random, unsuccessful attempts at NL throughout my entire poker experience, but the variance of playing short-handed limit can be unbearable, and to quote a poker-playing friend of mine, “You’re the only person I’ve ever met that plays limit, bro”. I had saved a quote from a post here on 2+2 that really stuck with me:

Change sites. Play (alot) less tables. Drop down in stakes (slightly). Think about each decesion. Post hands in strat forums. Limit yourself to a fairly small bankroll and move up in limits quickly (or down if you lose).

Do that for about a month (without falling back into old patterns) and you'll want to shoot yourself for not doing it a year ago.

He wasn’t kidding. Around Christmas of 2006, I set aside $500 for a run at NLHE. I combined the above advice with my $5.00 limit approach: I started at the bottom, $25NL back at Party (before they had the penny tables [img]/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]) I read everything I could get my hands on about NLHE, and I am very happy with my results thus far: I’m currently playing $200NL, and I haven’t played a single hand of limit since I deposited that $500 into Party. I am still learning new strategy and concepts about no limit (and poker in general, really) every time I sit down for a session, and my goal is to reach $600NL sometime this summer.

Enough about me. Here’s the meat of this post – if nothing else, please read the section on bonuses & rakeback.

Where To Start?

With hundreds of poker rooms on the internet and dozens of different limits and games, you should take some time to think about your goals in online poker before you jump in. If you just want to play and have some fun, by all means go ahead. For those who are looking to make some money, ask yourself these questions before you make a deposit:

What game(s) (hold’em, Omaha, stud, fixed/pot/no limit) do you want to play?
If you want to play pot-limit Omaha, for example, you will probably have to choose a larger site, as small sites generally have low or no traffic for less popular games. Check out different sites to see what games are offered / popular, and check the resource section at the bottom of this post.

How averse are you to losing your bankroll and reloading?
The plan is to make money playing poker, not spend it, right? Right… but a fact of poker is that EVERYBODY loses sometimes. I was fortunate enough to get a good run of cards very early in my ‘career’, thus giving me confidence and keeping me from going broke. I could have just as easily started out on a losing streak, and quitting out of frustration. My point is, your initial deposit should give you a bankroll large enough to endure a streak of bad cards. Of course, if you don’t mind having to reload, feel free to play on a shorter bankroll. These numbers are based on my own experiences, and have worked pretty well for me.

For conservative limit hold’em players, I would recommend a starting bankroll of around 200 big bets (ie. $100 to play 25c/50c). For those who don’t mind reloading, feel free to shorten your bankroll to 100 big bets or even 50bb.

For conservative no limit hold’em players, a bankroll of about 20 full buy-ins should be fine (ie. $200 to play $10NL with 5c/10c blinds). Again, feel free to adjust this number based on your desired risk of ruin.

Bankroll Management: Let your bankroll choose your limit

I hear this all the time from novice players: “Well, I started at $5NL like you suggested, and I won three dollars so I moved up to $25NL, but then Player X hit his flush on me, and then my Aces got cracked, so now I’m taking a break from online poker for awhile…”

It seems like people don’t understand the purpose of a bankroll. A proper bankroll will allow you to keep playing at your desired limit even after you to lose to that river flush, and even after your pocket aces to get cracked by Jack-5 offsuit. So, if you think you’re too good to be playing nickel-and-dime, let your bankroll choose your limit for you:

- Decide your starting investment
- Start playing at a limit as explained above
- Move UP one level when you have over 30 buyins (no limit) and move DOWN one level when you have less than 10 buyins.

This way, you will be able to move up or down fairly quickly based on your skill level, and you will always be in a position to take a 5-buyin shot at the next level upon moving up. These principles hold true all the way up the poker ladder, so I recommend establishing and sticking to a bankroll right from the start.

Keep A Spreadsheet

It’s a good idea to keep track of your bankroll. This way, you can see where you succeed and fail, what limits / sites seem to produce results for you, etc. Most importantly, it keeps you honest with yourself about your results. If you’re a losing player, please don’t worry – it’s a fact that more than half of all poker players are in the red, due to rake. You shouldn’t ignore it or lie to yourself; you should accept this fact, and do your best to find exactly where the leaks are in your play, and fix them.

Personally, I keep a weekly tally of my results under the following headings: Date, site, initial balance, main game, hours played, winnings, bonus/rb earned, comments. At the end of the week, I fill in all the results of the past week, and set the initial balance to start a new week. I find a weekly tally is better than daily because a) its less work b) it takes focus away from the inevitable losing days and thus reduces the effects of variance on your mental state.

It's Not Cash, It's Chips

A major step in becoming a successful player is learning to disassociate cash value from the chips you use at the table. If you are worried about the money you are risking, you will not be able to play your best, simple as that. It helps to think of your bankroll in terms of big bets and buyins, as opposed to real cash. Of course, at the same time you have to respect your bankroll & play within your limits. I can honestly say it hurt a lot more when I lost a two-dollar pot on my old $10 bankroll than losing a $200 buy-in on a bad beat last week where I was properly bankrolled.

Bad Beats & Tilt

When you take a bad beat, it means you played the hand correctly (or at least decently), and got unlucky due to the run of the cards. This is no reason to get mad; your main objective at the table is to make correct decisions, and you have done just that. There is no sense in getting emotional over something you cannot control. When you get all your money in the pot pre-flop with AA against someone’s KK, it is a fact that you will lose roughly once in five times, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Why let random luck have control over your emotions? Take bad beats in stride, don’t let them affect your game, and you will be that much more efficient at the table.

Try Everything

Although I’ve played limit hold’em for about 90% of my total hands online, I’ve always dipped into other games like NLHE, Pot-limit Omaha/8, limit Omaha, and tournaments at least once a month. You may find you are better suited for Omaha than Texas hold’em, or at the very least, you will learn new things about poker by expanding on your experiences. For example, I never realized there had to be a pair on the board for a full house to be possible. I played hold’em for six months without this knowledge, but I picked it up right away after trying Omaha for the first time.

Learn From Your Mistakes
This is an extremely important concept for those who plan on moving up in limits. It is important to be critical of your own play; when you lose a large pot, you should go back, analyze every street of the hand, and do your best to find any errors you made. As I mentioned in the spreadsheet section, it is important to be honest with yourself and about your play. Last month, under the advice of a fellow player, I began the practice of going over my biggest hands (won or lost) after all sessions. I picked up on a terrible pattern in my play: I tended to overplay one-pair and weaker two-pair hands, and I tended to lose a lot more hands when I was calling down, as opposed to betting. After identifying this major problem with my game, I started to fold more of these types of hands when faced with continued aggression through the turn and river, and the improvement in my winrate was immediate. This is an example of being able to constructively criticize your own play, but don’t be afraid to let someone else critique your play as well, as long as their judgment seems sound. Participate in hand swaps here on 2+2, and talk strategy with players better than yourself. Everybody makes mistakes, and every mistake you make is an opportunity to improve your game.

Finding Free Money: Bonuses & Rakeback ---MUST READ---

This is a subject that I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. If you are playing online poker and not earning rakeback and/or bonuses, you are literally giving your money away. As most serious players understand: when you win a pot, the poker room will almost always take a cut of your winnings, usually 5% but sometimes as high as 10%, depending on the site or limit. You may not notice, but over time these cuts add up to a LOT of money, as outlined in the next example. Rakeback is a deal available at many sites (usually through their affiliates, with or without the site’s knowledge) that allows you to regain a fixed percentage of the rake you routinely pay to play at a poker room. Most rakeback deals are permanent; this is to say if you have a 30% rakeback deal, you will have 30% of your paid rake given back to you for as long as you play at that site. You will receive this money on a weekly or monthly basis, either from the site or from an affiliate, directly into your poker account or sometimes via a money transfer, depending on the specifics of the rakeback deal. I will now outline the effects of rake on your winrate, and what you can do to keep this money in your own pocket. These figures are directly from my own Poker Tracker database:

I played 40,507 hands of $3/$6 6max limit at Party Poker – my winrate was 2.51 big bets per 100 hands. I paid rake at a rate of 2.19 big bets per 100 hands; therefore, my winrate before rake was 4.7bb/100. As you can see, I paid back almost half my winnings in rake. Seems like a lot, right?

I played 59,375 hands of $5/$10 at the same site. My winrate was 0.24 bb/100 (and the games weren’t all that much harder… isn’t variance great?) I earned $1,450.14 in this stretch, and I paid $11,699.00 in rake. Yes, that’s right. I paid rake at a rate of about 1.94bb/100; therefore my winrate before rake was 2.18bb/100. In this case, as a marginal winner, I was actually paying back 89% of my winnings to the rake!!!

Now let me paint another picture for you. If I was playing at a site that offered 25% rakeback (a pretty standard amount), I would have earned ($11,699 rake paid x 25%) or $2,924.75 in rakeback ON TOP OF MY WINNINGS OF $1,450.14! This rakeback would have TRIPLED my bottom line, tripled my hourly earn, tripled the rate at which my bankroll grew (on the specific winrate of 0.24bb/100). If you are playing online poker without a rakeback deal, especially in limit hold’em where the rate of rake often exceeds a good player’s winrate, you are missing out on a hell of a lot of money. Rakeback is essential for low-limit players, but it is beneficial to every single person who plays online where the site takes rake.

A ‘bonus’ offered by online poker sites is a nicer-sounding term for ‘temporary rakeback’. I will dissect a real example from a (unfortunately) now-closed site:

The site offers an unlimited 25% reload bonus to a maximum of $125. The player must earn 15 player points to release each $1 of bonus money.

This means I can deposit $500 in order to earn $125 in bonus money, but it’s not that simple. I have to earn 15 player points to release each dollar, or 1875 points to earn the full $125. I wanted to know if this deal worked out to an acceptable rakeback percentage, so I checked the fine print on earning player points. Turns out I will earn one point per 10 cents paid in rake, or 15 points for every $1.50 paid in rake. As stated above, I have to make 15 points to get $1.00 in rakeback. $1.50 paid in rake for every $1.00 received. Simple division tells us we are getting back exactly two-thirds of our rake for a rakeback percentage of about 67% ! Not bad at all. Even better, this is an unlimited reload bonus which I plan to exploit to the fullest, so ‘unlimited 25% reload bonus’ translates to a steady 67% rakeback, which is damn good compared to standard rakeback deals. Furthermore, I was already earning 25% rakeback at this site on a straight deal through an affiliate, and the poker room policy was that reload bonuses and affiliate rakeback were to remain separate*, so as a result I was effectively earning 92% rakeback at this site! (This rate is almost unheard of… I wonder why they went out of business?) Go apply this 92% rakeback figure on my $11,699 rake paid, and see just how valuable this knowledge can be.

*At most sites, any bonuses the site pays you will be deducted from your gross rake contribution to this site, and if you also happen to be receiving rakeback at said site, your rakeback will be reduced. It’s not really a big deal, because you’re getting the money either way, but try and seek out site deals where you can earn bonuses that will not impact your rakeback.

Table Selection

Another often overlooked concept in poker. To make money in poker, you have to force your opponents to make mistakes. When they make mistakes and misplay their hands against you, you profit (see Sklansky’s book below for more info on this very important poker concept). Take this concept a step further: play against players who tend to make the biggest mistakes, which translates into a bigger winrate for you. We’re trying to maximize our winrate by using every advantage we can find, so why are many players content to sit at tough tables? Maybe they’re lazy.. or maybe they want to improve their game, and that’s great, but here’s an example of the benefits of table selection:

Ray and Jay are of equal skill in 6max limit games.

Ray routinely sits in the first open seat he can find at a $5/$10 table, and grinds out a winrate of 1bb/100. He spends 100% of his poker time actually playing the game.

Jay spends 90% of his time playing, and the other 10% looking for tables with higher than usual see-the-flop percentages, and/or known weak players. He plays at soft, fishy $15/$30 tables that are about equal in skill level to Ray’s random $5/$10 tables. Jay earns the same 1bb/100 winrate.

Assuming Ray plays 100 hands an hour, and Jay plays 90 hands an hour (table selection), do the math yourself and see the difference in hourly earn. Seeking out softer tables / soft opponents is well worth your time.


I would like to mention some books and websites that have helped me immensely with my game.

Killer Poker Online by John Vorhaus
The first poker book I ever picked up. I’ve read a lot of varied reviews about this book, but it laid the foundation for what I consider the strongest points of my game: bankroll management and self-honesty. A lot of the concepts in this post were seeded by this book, and I don’t know where I would be, poker-wise, without this one. Highly recommended.

Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book
Probably the best thing I’ve read in my short while at no limit hold’em. Every aspect of basic to intermediate strategy seems to be covered here in detail.

Theory of Poker & Small Stakes Hold’em (2+2 Publishing)
All-around great books.
When I first started, I spent half my poker time playing the micro limits, and the other half reading every single article on this site.

The Law School Dropout's Poker Blog
A very inspiring blog spanning four years. Read it all the way from his beginnings at $2/$4.

Poker blogs by limit hold’em expert Stoxtrader and others, but the best part of this site is the videos. For a fee, you get access to a collection of videos of these guys playing, complete with full analysis. One of the best investments I’ve ever made in my game, right up there with Poker Tracker.
Just excellent poker strategy, from beginner to expert. Required reading.

Both highly recommended for site selection and finding the best bonuses/rakeback.
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Old 02-19-2007, 11:44 PM
kmak kmak is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Thank you.
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Old 02-20-2007, 03:12 AM
jschaud jschaud is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

excellent post
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Old 02-20-2007, 03:13 AM
Tiburon Tiburon is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

nice post
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Old 02-20-2007, 03:19 AM
Poker Plan Poker Plan is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Brilliant, brilliant post- many thanks for putting this together. RB & Bonus section especially good.

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Old 02-20-2007, 03:33 AM
Phenomenon Phenomenon is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Make some more of these when you have time. [img]/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]

Thanks man, excellent information.
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Old 02-20-2007, 04:46 AM
goatsnake_au goatsnake_au is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

great post. thanks for taking the time and effort.
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Old 02-20-2007, 08:21 AM
runout_mick runout_mick is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Great job. I wish someone had written this guide when I was first starting out.

I'd like to single out this section:

It's Not Cash, It's Chips

A major step in becoming a successful player is learning to disassociate cash value from the chips you use at the table. If you are worried about the money you are risking, you will not be able to play your best, simple as that. It helps to think of your bankroll in terms of big bets and buyins, as opposed to real cash.

[/ QUOTE ]

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this frame of mind is essential to be totally at ease with proper bankroll management. With this perspective, your bankroll becomes stable: a set and essentially unchanging number of bets no matter how much the actual dollar amount fluctuates. I'd advise all newer players to take this to heart religiously.

Also, about rakeback:

PLEASE! Do not sign up on any poker sites (even for play money) before researching if there's a way to get rakeback there. When I was new, I'd sign up at every site I heard of. Many sites will not allow established players to go back and sign up through an affiliate. I'm sure this one error cost me countless thousands of dollars.

Again, excellent job!
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Old 02-20-2007, 10:38 AM
ottsville ottsville is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

Wow, excellent post!
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Old 02-20-2007, 11:42 AM
Feroc Feroc is offline
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Default Re: Pooh-bah post: A general guide for aspiring online poker players

- Move UP one level when you have over 30 buyins (no limit) and move DOWN one level when you have less than 10 buyins.

[/ QUOTE ]
Lets say I have $1500, so I have 30 buyins for NL50. Now I am a really bad player and drop to 10 buyins. Now I have $500 left, which wouldn't be enough for NL25.
I would move down earlier. [img]/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]
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