There’s a lot to be said in favor of playing poker online, but there are pitfalls you need to avoid. You might expect that we wouldn’t try to talk down the subject of our book, but when you’re putting money on the line, you need to go in with as much knowledge as you can so you don’t get caught up.
Reasons to Play Poker Online
But why should you play online poker? It does seem odd that folks are willing to put their money in the hands of a privately held company based in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, or Antigua and engage in a game of chance with faceless players from around the globe who may or may not be using their wireless phone company’s unlimited nighttime calling plan to conspire against you. Then again, playing online has its advantages, not the least of which is that you can play from home, where you set the rules.
What Is This Online Poker Thing?
You can smoke or not, eat at the table, wear whatever catches your fancy, and listen to music without wearing headphones. You can also find games at any time of the day or night. Curt is a night owl who’s often up until 3:00 AM or later, which means that he hits the sweet spot for mid-day players in Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. Doug is more of an evening player, so he often shares tables with players from the eastern part of the United States, early starters on the Pacific coast, and the late-night players from Europe and Scan dinavia.
To top it off, you can leave game whenever you want to. It’s not uncommon for someone to log on and play for 15 minutes to kill time before their favorite television show comes on, so leaving abruptly doesn’t raise eyebrows the way it might if you drove for an hour-and-a-half to a brick-and-mortar casino, won a few hundred dollars in a nice little rush, and shoved off before your first drink arrived.
There are also procedural benefits to playing poker online. For example, the limits can be much lower than in a physical casino. Believe it or not, you can play for as little as two cents a bet—yep, that’s $0.02. Online casinos also tend to take a bit less money out of each pot (the rake) because they don’t have to pay for dealers, cocktail servers, floor personnel, or carpets. Also, because the cards are shuffled within a second after a hand ends, you will often get in 30 or more hands per half hour, as compared to 20 hands per half hour in a traditional casino.
When you’re a favorite to win money at your table, you want to play as many hands as you can. Yes, the rake grinds away at everyone’s bankroll, taking a few dollars out of circulation every time the cards are dealt, but with some good play on your part, you can get your share of the loot. As poker genius Mike Caro says, the chips flow clockwise around the table and eventually end up in the good players’ stacks. If you’re good at making good decisions quickly, you can play at multiple tables simultaneously and increase the number of chips coming your way.
Finally, the number of aggravations that make a game a struggle goes down when you play over the Internet. Online dealers don’t make mistakes, and the other players can’t fold out of turn, reach for their chips while watching for your reaction, or talk trash with out your permission.
Reasons Not to Play Poker Online
With that sort of build-up, you might think that online poker is the universe’s gift to gamblers. In many ways it is, but online poker does have its downside. For example, always being able to get into a game can be a bad thing, particularly if you’re prone to playing short sessions while you’re waiting for something else to happen and your mind isn’t focused on the game. If you are able to focus on poker while your kids light the grill to cook dinner, that’s fine, but if you really should be outside to make sure they don’t use gasoline instead of lighter fluid on the charcoal, be honest with yourself and at least sit a few hands out until you can be sure everything is OK.
Speaking of which, do you remember your kids? The sometimes cute and often annoying tax deductions that run around your house and eat your food? I’m sure they’d love to see their parents from time to time, even though they’d be horrified if their secret ever got out. The same thing goes for significant others, such as girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, and pets. They all require nourishment, attention, and tender loving care, so you need to make time to get away from the neat video game you’ve found and fan the flames of whatever romance, friendship, or outside interest that makes life worth living.
One of the advantages of online play, the speed of the game and the increased number of hands you get to play per hour, is also one of the biggest downfalls for new players. We both took some time to adjust to the pace of online play, just as we went through a bit of a transition when we realized how fast casino poker games were as compared to the kitchen table games we’d played throughout college. Increasing the number of hands you play magnifies losing streaks as well as winning streaks, so your variance (a statistical measure of how much data in a set, such as your hourly poker wins and losses, jumps around) is much, much higher.
Another serious disadvantage of playing online is the lack of human contact. Yes, if you’re awkward around your fellow humans, it might seem like a dream come true to be able to play in the privacy of your own home, but the best way to overcome social awkwardness is to put yourself out there and learn. Another down side of not being able to see your competition is that there is no way to verify whether or not your opponents are sharing information.
It’s pretty easy to prevent players from exchanging information verbally in a live game, but there is absolutely no way you can detect a cell phone when you’re in one country and your opponents are somewhere around the globe. Along the same lines, you can’t see a player’s hand shake when they place a bet. You still have to decide whether that shaking means they’re nervous because they’re bluffing or because they flopped a straight flush and are afraid you won’t call, but at least the information is there for you.