My Online Poker Journey
Back in 2005 I decided to start playing online poker, partly because it looked fun and partly because I was inspired by Chris Moneymaker’s remarkable story. For those who don’t know, he qualified for the 2003 World Series of Poker via a small online tournament (costing $40). He went on to win the tournament and net around $2,500,000, this was the event that really put poker on the map and started its world-wide growth. And by the way, Moneymaker is his real name!
I started off playing for free, using “play money” rather than using real money. This was a good idea and something I’d definitely recommend for new players. While I had seen quite a lot of poker on TV and read a few books, I’d hardly played the game before and didn’t know how I’d fare. As it turns out, I did very well during this stage and I decided to deposit some money and see how that went.
At this point, I made my first mistake, choosing what stakes to play at. If I had my time again I would just have started at the lowest possible stakes and worked my way up from there. The bigger sites let you play games where the forced bets are $0.01 and $0.02, so even if you lose big on one hand it will generally only cost you about $2. I decided that this would be too small and similar to the play money games though, so went considerably higher and played on the $0.15/$0.25 games and even the $0.25/$0.50 games.
Now these stakes don’t sound very high, and that’s what I thought at the time. However you will generally have 100 big blinds on the table, so it’s possible to win or lose $25 or $50 at a time. This is far too much for a recreational player who was still learning the game and I was a steady loser during this period. The games were far tougher than the play money games, I soon realised that my success there was due to people gambling rather than playing their hands properly.
The big lesson that I eventually learnt is that “Big Pots are for Big Hands”, a piece of advice near the front of a book (No Limit Hold’em, Theory & Practice – David Sklansky & Ed Miller), a book I really wish I’d had at the time. The idea is that if you’re willing to put 100 big blinds into a pot, you’d better have a really big hand. If your opponent knows what they’re doing, they will! Time and time again I would have a hand like KQ, hit either the King or Queen and then feel very unlucky when I lost all my chips to a stronger hand.
The truth is, it is unlucky when this happens, however there is no need to lose all your money. One pair is NOT a big hand. The mistakes I were making was not slowing down (no need to bet on every street) and not folding when my opponent was telling me that I was beat (bluffing does happen but it’s not really THAT common). Even if you’ve got a pair of Aces you should think twice before putting 100 big blinds in the pot once a flop comes down, they do get outdrawn sometimes! Chips saved in these spots are just as valuable as chips won elsewhere, you should even come out ahead in the long run as not everyone is capable of folding to your big hands when they should.
For the first couple of years I lost money and had to deposit money onto the site on numerous occasions at around $200 a time. However I eventually started to learn some lessons and during the third year I recovered all of the losses and then some. A big part of this was winning a large tournament with several thousand players. The cost was $3 and I won around $1,300 for my efforts. Another factor was to drop down a level or two, $0.10/$0.25 is now the highest that I play and I generally play a bit lower than this.
I’ve no wish to play poker professionally and don’t play as often as I used to now. However I still enjoy it from time to time and hope there are some useful pieces of advice for any low stakes players or anyone thinking of giving it a go.