Starting From Scratch: Learning To Play Online Poker Cash Games (Part 1)
Who This Article Is For:
This article is for players who are relatively new to online poker and want a rough guide on how to start playing successfully. You might be a long time live player looking to improve his fundamentals by playing online or a completely new player who just learned the game and has played only a few hours online. This article is not about basic strategy (hand charts or basic tips) but more about the process that one can do to improve his online poker play and structure their routine to that of big, online winners.
Before You Start
Before you start your journey of studying poker and really working on your game, know that it takes a lot of work to become a successful online poker player. Live players can be successful without being as fundamentally sound due to their opponents not exploiting their mistakes and a player can generally have good success in live poker games simply by learning through trial and error. All that being said, online poker is a much tougher game, and really working/studying is the best way to improve. It will take many hours reading through the resources below and thinking about poker before you start to see some progress.
Only pursue this if you truly love poker and are passionate about the game. If you are looking at this solely as a money making endeavor, I would encourage you to put that effort and time into another enterprise. Learning poker will involve doing work that does not necessarily seem the most exciting- running math problem and hand simulations and learning to count hand combinations can be ‘boring’ to many. That being said, it is imperative to learn these skills in order to be successful at higher limits.
Pick a Starting Poker Site
The first step in playing online poker is deciding which site to actually pick and choose. Ignition Casino/Poker (formerly Bovada) is the best option for USA players. It has the softest/easiest games available and plays most like live poker. Download Ignition Casino here:
For other USA players who cannot access Ignition from their state, try WPN (Black Chip Poker):
For the rest of the world players, please see the Poker Sites link on this site for more recommendations: http://orangepokerblog.com/poker-sites/
Pick One Game
A trend that you see for many new online players is that they often play a wide dispersion of games and formats. A player might play SNGs, MTTs, PLO cash, HU NLH 6-max, etc. While playing a variety of games DOES help one become a better overall poker player in the long run, a player who is playing online poker for the first time in a serious manner should select ONE game to focus and study. Once you have all of your fundamentals fairly solid and are comfortable with studying and using programs and playing small stakes (or higher) over a large sample, branching out to other formats is okay.
Choosing and focusing on one game is a very important. Both NLHE and PLO are the most popular cash game formats and both have their pros and cons. NLHE has more tools and programs and one can accelerate in skill faster; while PLO has more upside. I personally think that playing NLHE until 10NL or so and then transitioning to PLO is the best option for totally new players coming into the game today. NLHE is a bit easier in terms of understanding hand ranges and building fundamentals and once a player understands those basic concepts, moving to PLO would be the best move. Although the variance and rake are tougher, the games are much softer than NLHE. If you eventually want to transition to live poker, NLHE is the steadier option while PLO has more upside.
The best way to improve your online play is to build your starting poker fundamentals. This means understanding how to think about poker in terms of overall equity and ranges.
Again, this article is not about showing basic opening hand charts and going into basic fundamental concepts of what hands you should check/raise, how you should play your flush draws, or anything like that- the resources below will tell all of that and more. The big picture view that you should take away from this section (and article) is that it is going to take a lot of time and dedication to improve every part of your poker game. These resources and links will primarily be technical poker strategy-based and will be able to help your game immensely as a beginner.
These resources will give you a taste of what studying and learning about poker will entail. There are many more intensive resources that I will link in part 2 of this article that will allow you to progress even further.
The Grinders Manual is a very solid introduction to online poker and written by a long time online poker player who coached at a poker training site specifically geared for beginners. This book starts from the very basics and then builds from there. This is pricier than most books on the internet but the author has arguably more credibility than most. This book is also one of the newer ones out there and is more relevant to today’s games than 95% of published text.
Applications of No Limit Holdem was a ground breaking book for No Limit Holdem players several years ago. While the information is still somewhat dated (there are edits and updated hand charts on 2+2 in the books and publications forum), this book still provides a very good foundation for players to build on. The key strategy point I got from this book was to think about your specific ranges for each and every situation.
Another book by Matthew Janda; this might seem a bit advanced at first but will still build excellent fundamentals.
PLO From Scratch is an excellent beginners series for PLO cash games. While this content is also very dated, it provides solid fundamentals for players to build on.
Upswing Poker: If I were to choose one poker training site to recommend to beginners, it would be Upswing Poker. Upswing Poker is specifically geared towards new players and is also produced by some of the best poker players in the world (literally). Doug Polk was a top NLHE Heads Up online poker player (if not the consensus best) for many years. This site works through different modules and explains poker in a very solid, precise, fundamental way.
Check out Upswing Poker here: https://www.upswingpoker.com/
Starting Poker Software
As you become a more sophisticated poker player, you will purchase more and more poker software and training throughout your poker career. The most basic software that you can use is Equilab. it is a free poker software equity calculator that will allow you to build ranges and see your equity vs. a range of hands (as well as many other functions).
Download Equilab here: https://www.pokerstrategy.com/poker-software-tools/equilab-holdem/
Poker Tracker4 and Holdem Manger 2: Your first poker software purchase should be either PokerTracker 4 or Holdem Manager 2. Both essentially serve the same purpose (tracking and collecting all of your poker hands) so that you can get data on your play. This is perhaps the most important purchase on this list, and 99% of poker players that play higher stakes use this program.
PokerTracker 4 and Holdem Manager 2 allow you to collect statistics on your own play and your opponents play. Going through your database will provide valuable insight as to what you can work on as a poker player and there are hundreds of filters that you can do to analyze your play. There are also hundreds of poker videos available that explain some of the leak finding analysis that you can do with these programs.
Note: Both of these programs are excellent and it mainly depends on preference as to which one you should use. I would suggest doing a trial for each one and seeing what you like and then going from there.
The poker world has many large communities where players can share their hands, thoughts, poker theory, and questions. While much of the advanced theory has gone away as the games have gotten more difficult, players can still get a large amount of feedback on their hands at lower limits. Some popular poker communities are:
This is just part 1 of this article series. Poker study is not an easy task and I hope that I made that point clearly- this is not a game that you should play solely for the money. There will be many roller coaster swings and mental tolls on your overall life during your poker journey. If you work hard and study, there are also great benefits at the end of the rainbow. Part 2 of this series will focus on other poker software programs and building off what you learned from this article.