While poker tournaments offer larger payouts and carry more weight (once you make it to the bigger events), cash games provide the perfect platform for practising and refining your game.
Getting started is easy – choose a provider, then find a table that suits your budget. Online poker sites will allow you to buy-in for anything from 10 big blinds upwards, and some have a maximum buy-in which restricts players with larger cash piles from bullying their way to victory.
Starting to make your participation in games profitable, however, is not so easy. All poker experts agree that in order to make some money at the table (particularly after your beginner's luck runs out), you need a plan. If you're thinking about getting into online poker, but don't know how to start, take note of these simple tips.
You'll need to put one of the most important elements of your cash game strategy into action before you even arrive at the table – choosing the right game.
If you're serious about making money in cash games, the aim is to find a game with weaker players. Although it can be tempting to test yourself by going up against highly-skilled players, finding players you can beat will be much more lucrative. Look for players with loose, aggressive, styles or a game featuring several of them. This should maximise your chances of scooping pots and will help to build your confidence before you start to become more ambitious.
Once you've spent some time building up your bankroll, you can then decide whether you want to step up and take on the challenge of more accomplished players who will push your skills to a higher level.
Good cash game players are always aware of their position at the table, and play their hands accordingly. Early position is the seat immediately to the left of the big blind. This is a tough place to be because you're the first person to make a move and have less information with which to make a decision.
Late position (the dealer) gives you more power because you've had the chance to see what the other players have done before placing your bet. From this position, you are free to be a bit looser – you may even consider playing a low pair, depending on how the betting has gone before you. Be wary of doing so, however, if there are a lot of players remaining in the pot.
Make sure you stick to stakes you can comfortably manage. It can be tempting to take chances and go for the big plays, but remember that it's possible to lose your entire stack in a single hand when playing in no-limit games. Look carefully at your bankroll to start with, be honest with yourself, and decide how much you can stake per game.
Once you're at the table, remember that 'tight is right'. This means being patient, only playing strong hands and waiting for the most opportune moments to strike. You need to study the other people in the game carefully – the ones playing a lot of hands are likely to be weak players who you can take advantage of when the time comes to be ruthless.
Keeping it tight can often mean resisting the urge to get involved, even when you're holding a promising hand. There could be a more experienced player just waiting to take you to the cleaners – so bide your time. Be wary of hands that look good but can be easily beaten, such as straights and flushes.
Don't try bluffing until you've observed the different personalities at the table and got a feel for the game. If you do spot an opportunity that is too good to resist, don't forget that disguising your own hand is just as important as reading they other player's. Pick your opponent wisely and remember to play as if you really do have the hand you're suggesting.
Remember that even the best poker players lose from time to time, and it's much more common when you're just starting out. Using the above guide as a starting point will give you a head start, but remember to think of anything that happens after that as a learning experience. The more poker you play, the better you'll become.
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