Getting Started in Online Poker

In this section I’m going to give you all of the tools to take you from a recreational or maybe losing poker player to one who can make a living from playing poker. I’m not going to pretend that it’ll be easy, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It will take a lot of dedication and commitment from you, and it will take quite a while to get up to that level, depending on how much time you can dedicate to the game and how much starting capital you have. In truth you can start your online poker career with any amount of money, as all online sites have tables which cater for tiny stakes.

The Dawn of Online Poker

Online poker has been around for about 15 years and has been a huge business for about 10 years now. When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event after winning his seat through a $39 tournament he sparked a boom that continues to this day. If you have dreams of tournament poker success then this section isn’t for you. If you have dreams of playing high stakes cash games against Phil Ivey on TV, then this section probably isn’t for you either. What I’ll show you isn’t how to be an amazing poker player who can compete with the best minds in the game; I’ll simply show you how to win. The truth is that poker strategy has come so far in the last 10 years that it is only the truly gifted that can succeed at high stakes and plenty of poker careers have ended because people were deluded that they were better players than they actually were.

One of the most important things to realise in poker is where you fit into the poker pyramid. If you don’t do this, then you’ll never take any money off the tables. So many people get caught up in moving up levels that they win at low stakes, then get to a level which they can’t beat and end up spending their lives simply passing money up the poker pyramid to the elite players, and never actually getting to enjoy their winnings. One thing I’m going to stress over and over in this section is not to get ahead of yourself, to remain humble and realise that you’re probably not now or ever going to be an amazing player, but you can be a winning player who regularly withdraws from their account if you follow the guidelines to the letter.

I’ve been involved in online poker for six years and have spent time as a professional player myself and learned all of these lessons the hard way. I’ve condensed my experience and that of several players who are still professionals into what I believe is a great system for making a tidy living from poker working less than 30 hours a week. Even if you don’t want to be a professional, you can just play for an hour every day and still have a nice chunk of extra income to spend. By reading this section, you get the benefit of my experience without having to suffer the highs and lows of poker’s journey of discovery yourself. Stick rigidly to the system I’ll explain over the coming pages and even if you have only the most basic level of poker skill, you’ll be on the way to being a winning player.

This section is going to teach you how to play cash games exclusively; there’ll be no discussion of tournament poker. Furthermore, we’re going to assume you know the basics of poker, i.e. the hand rankings, the rules, and what the positions at the table are called.

The approach we take is one based on volume. The truth is that winning big in a single poker game is very difficult nowadays and what you have to do to win is spread yourself across several tables earning a small amount on each one. Following our system you’re going to be following a strict winning system that will give you a small edge, but you’ll playing over 1,000 hands per hour meaning you’ll earn a solid hourly rate of $20 or more.

What You Need

In starting off your poker career there are a couple of things you need to take care of before you get cracking at the tables.

An Online Poker Account

You need a real money account with a poker website to play on. There are literally hundreds of choices out there, but the one I currently recommend is 888poker. 888 have really soft games and lots of traffic 24 hours a day so you’ll never be stuck for tables to play on. It also has good software and you’ll find it quite easy to play multiple tables there without getting too tired too quickly. Another important thing for big volume players is the VIP system. 888 has a good VIP system that sees it’s high value players receive about 35% of the rake they contribute back in bonuses. When you’re playing 1,000 hands per hour you’re going to be generating a lot of rake (in the region of $40 per hour), so getting as much of this back as possible is vital.

Money to Play With

The first thing you’ll need is a bankroll. We’re going to talk about bankroll management in a few pages’ time, but for the moment, you’re going to need some starting capital. Obviously everyone’s situation is different and some will be able to put in more money than others to start off but there are rules you need to follow to ensure you don’t go broke.

This book deals with playing cash game poker and at online poker sites, cash games are typically played 100 big blinds deep. That means if you’re playing a game with 5c/10c blinds, then the maximum buy-in is $10. We will always be buying in for the maximum using the system taught in this book. Now because poker is a game that contains a luck element, there are going to be ups and downs that are out of your control. Even if you play perfectly, you can still go on a losing streak. To combat these swings, the balance in our account needs to be sufficient to handle losing a few buy-ins. The absolute minimum you should have is 20 buy-ins, meaning if you wanted to play the $10 games you should have $200 in your account. Obviously, not everyone can afford to invest $200 straight away. If you can’t afford this much, then you should start off at the 2c/4c tables, and buy-in for $4 each time. This will require an initial investment of $80. The lowest stakes at any site are 1c/2c, where you would buy-in $2 but if you start at this level, it will take you an extremely long time to get to the point where you’re making a decent hourly rate from poker. Furthmore, the lower the stakes you play, the higher the percentage of the pot that the house takes out of each hand (the rake), making it harder for you to have a big win rate.

Overall if you can afford it, I strongly suggest you start at the $10 level, but don’t do it if you don’t have the full 20 buy-ins in your account.


Pokerstove is a free piece of software available at and it’s an invaluable tool for poker players. It allows you to plug in what hand you have and what hand, or range of hands your opponent could have and tells you what the percentage chance is of you having the winning hand by the river. It’s great for figuring out whether you made a mistake when calling an all-in bet or pushing all in yourself. When you combine this with the fold equity formula we’ll discuss later, then you’ll be well on your way to solving basic poker math problems. Don’t worry too much though; it’s not as daunting as it sounds!

Poker Tracking Software

Poker tracking software is absolutely vital in online poker games today. There are two main packages available, Holdem Manager and Poker Tracker. Which one you choose is up to you, but I recommend Holdem Manager as I think it has a few extra features over Poker Tracker. What these packages do is record every single hand you play and store them to a database. It then analyzes all of the hands you play and breaks down your game into important statistics. If you want to know if you’re playing too loose or too tight, too aggressive or too passive, or whether you are not raising on the flop enough, there are stats for all of these situations and hundreds more. Our system is heavily based on keeping your stats in the right zones and in fact the range of stats we’ll show you how to use are indicators of whether you’re playing well or not. If you can get all of your stats into the ranges we recommend then it’s a virtual certainty that you’ll be a big winner. 

As well as showing you details about your own game, they can show you how your opponents are playing in real time. The HUD feature will overlay stats about each player on the table and you’ll quickly be able to assess whether they’re loose or tight, aggressive or passive etc. This is an invaluable help when you’re playing a lot of tables and you’ll come to be very reliant on it. We’ll discuss the important stats to have in your HUD in the Using Statistics chapter.

Unfortunately both programs are quite expensive. Initially, you’ll only need the small stakes versions which are around the $50 mark. The good news however is that there are free trials with both. Holdem Manager offers 30 days and Poker Tracker offers 60 days, so you should easily have made enough money by then to cover the cost of buying them. We’ll be talking about tracking software a lot throughout the book so when you do get one of them, make sure you spend lots of time playing with it and getting familiar with where to find all of the statistics. I use Holdem Manager, so that’s the one I’m going to use in all of my examples. 

That’s it for this article. Next time out we’re going to be talking about Bankroll Management.