“Fifty-cent blinds? We play for more than that at our Wednesday night home game. I’m not going to waste my time and skills playing for pennies. Up the ante and point me towards a high-stakes table. I’m going to win big!”
Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve never actually heard anyone utter the above quote verbatim. But I have heard dozens of aspiring poker players express similar sentiments when I told them to start small, and ease their way into playing high-dollar online poker ring games. The reason I offer these words of wisdom to people that are new to online poker, is because playing online is a much different experience than playing in brick-and-mortar card rooms or at your weekly home game.
Online poker is faster-paced; it requires you to learn a player’s tells without actually being able to read that player’s body language; it requires a click of a mouse instead of the handling of chips; and it can trap you into playing loosely with your money when you’re not physically monitoring your bankroll. It takes some getting used to, and no matter how experienced you are at playing poker “in-person,” it’s best to start small and acclimate yourself with the online poker environment before upping the ante.
It may come as a surprise, but playing low-limit ring games also allows you the opportunity to win big bucks. It might take a little longer than it would if you were playing for higher stakes, but even on a $0.50/$1.00 table you can walk away from a session with an extra $50 or $100 in your pocket. That’s not too bad for a few hours of work. Plus you’re gaining experience in the process, which is invaluable for beginners who are trying to become the next Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth.
I must warn you though; winning at low-limit online poker cash games requires you to implement a different strategy than you would use when playing for higher stakes. Your opponents tend to stick around and play more hands on low-dollar tables (hoping to catch lightening in a bottle), and they often play in patterns—both of which are trends that you can use to your advantage now, but which you won’t often see when the stakes increase.
Below are some basic tips and strategies to winning at low-level cash ring games. Keep in mind that different tables will have different types of players, so these situations may not always apply. Study the players you are competing against, and use these tips accordingly.
Watch For Patterns
Many low-stakes online poker players play on multiple tables at the same time. Because their attention is divided amongst several games simultaneously, and because they can’t closely monitor what’s happening in each hand, some of these players will resort to a betting pattern and play all of their cards in a similar fashion. Some will bet aggressively trying to push you out of the hand. Others are “unbluffable” and call most all of your bets. And the rest will only play the very best hands and fold the rest.
By recognizing these types of players you can beat them at their own game. When competing against the aggressive players, be patient and wait for a good hand. Don’t limp in and call the blind with a marginal hand. Chances are you won’t get lucky on the flop, and when the aggressive players bets or raises, you’ll be forced to fold.
If you’re patient and play only solid hands, you have a much better chance of having the better hand throughout, and you can confidently call or re-raise when they do bet. The same goes when playing against “calling stations” that refuse to fold. Be patient, wait for a hand, and then bet aggressively into them. If they continue to call you win more money. If they fold, you still win.
Now for the players who only play top tier hole cards, you can often wager a good guess as to what they’re holding if they call or raise. Always figure that they have a mid to high pair, or some combination of Ace, King, Queen, Jack in their hand. Then use that information to decide your next move.
Don’t Be Too Aggressive Too Early
Unlike on the high-stakes tables, low-limit players will often “limp in” and call the blinds to see what they might catch on the flop. You can use this to your advantage by not being overly aggressive when it’s time for you to bet. To win more money, you need more people in the hand. So instead of raising pre-flop in an early position with a strong hand (let’s say Ace-King), it may be wiser just to call, and have more players call the blind after you.
Yes, this greatly increases your chances of being out-flopped, but you will still enter the flop with one of the best chances to win the hand. So in the long run, you’ll still win more hands than you’ll lose. If you raise with your Ace-King and everyone folds, all you’re doing is collecting a couple of quarters anyway. So why not let the pots build and try to win a big hand as opposed to just stealing the blinds.
Use Your Position To Your Advantage
Adding to the tip above—if you’re one of the last players to act and you’re holding a big hand, now is the time to bet/raise the blind. If several players called in front of you, and there’s money already in the pot, try and get your opponents to throw in more money before the flop. If they fold, your chances of winning the hand increase. If they call, it’s more money added to the pot that you’ll have a good shot of winning with your power hole cards.
Don’t Be Afraid To Move On
If the players on your table are playing tight, get up and find a new one. There’s not much use in playing low-limit ring games if there are only two players to the flop. Yes, it will offer good online poker practice competing heads-up with your opponent. But there will hardly be any money in the pot for you to win. Find a table filled with loose players who like to play a lot of hands (preferably tables with a 35% or greater player/flop average). You’ll have a better shot of winning larger pots more frequently. Take a look at the table information in the online poker room lobby before taking a seat. Look for tables with higher average pots and average players to the flop.
Be aware though, other online players will be using the same tactic. Once a table gets hot, more and more “vultures” will try and join. Soon enough, all the “loose” players who were giving their money away will be gone, and you’ll be surrounded by the better players who came to prey on them. Once this happens, it’s time to pack up and move on again.
Forget Everything You Just Read
Once you’ve made the decision to play for higher stakes, most of these tips will need to be thrown out the window. The competition will increase dramatically, and you won’t be able to take advantage of loose players or betting patterns. When it’s time to up the ante, be sure your game is at the highest level. Read all the articles and tips on thepokersource.com, and hopefully down the road you can become the next great online poker pro.