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In 1994 Microgaming developed the first fully operational online casino. It was four years later, January of 1998, when PlanetPoker.com opened the first online poker room. In the few years since, aided by the World Poker Tour's incredibly successful television show, online poker has grown rapidly and shows no signs of slowing down. After the televised success of amateur Chris Moneymaker in the 2003 World Series of Poker the ranks of online poker players swelled. The two years after that saw jackpots rise as the field of entrants grew double, triple and more. How long the fad will last no one can say. There is one generation already of gambling age for whom the Internet is a comfortable second home, for whom the solitary and skilled nature of the game and the risk-reward promises are all too familiar (think video games, the stock market of the 1990s and the dotcom boom). As to capturing the next generation, if the dialogue commonly found at the tables is any indicator, they already have.

Oh right, I saw them playing that on ESPN. It didn't look that hard.

Four suits and thirteen ranks; two in the hole and five on the table; check, bet, raise or fold... what could be so hard?

Despite the thousands of new players a day vowing to be the next World Champ there is more to poker than a grim expression and a willingness to bet. Similar to chess, there are levels of understanding in poker that are incomprehensible to newer players, invisible until they are achieved. Contributing to this is the drama of the all-in showdown, the massive paydays being awarded on television and the failure to distinguish between a poker moment and a poker career.

Poker for Fun and Profit

Most online poker rooms offer new players a chance to experiment with the software and get comfortable with the game without having to wager real money. Playing for play chips can certainly be a lot of fun. For the player planning on making the jump to real money though, play chips offer both good and bad returns.

Playing at the play chip tables will teach a new player what sorts of hands win most often, how to read the texture of a flop and in general make them comfortable with the interface. Playing in a risk free or low risk environment however can also end up encouraging very bad habits that will cost money in the long run. If you choose to play in play chips try to stick to a specific strategy, based on solid fundamentals. Though it will cost you in the short run playing against loose players it will be more than rewarded in the long run.

From play chips the next step up is penny tables and other micro-limit games. Not all of the casinos offer these limits so look around a bit if you plan on using this step. Similar to play chips, the micro-limits, penny tables especially, often play very loose. When the average stack size is less than $50 you aren't as likely to find pros haunting the rooms. Use these tables to find your leaks and plug them. Most pros advise, if you can't beat the micro-limits, the worst players online, what makes you think you'll have more luck at the bigger tables? A fair question about which there is still some debate. Namely, every pro knows you need a few fish to have a good game, but some are starting to wonder if a whole school of fish is beatable. Good luck and I hope you find your own answer to that question.

For the hobby player or person who plays just for fun these tables and some of the smaller tournaments can be sufficient. Just as every other Internet community develops a social flavor, so too has poker. You can enjoy many profitable years playing a fun game with good friends without risking a mortgage payment or blowing through your children's college tuition account. As well, you can learn enough to play at these games without investing in any literature. There are more than enough websites offering basic and even advanced poker strategies and tips for free. Happy surfing!

Screw fun, I got bills to pay.

Okay, not only are you serious about this, but you are serious about it too. You've got a few hundred dollars, a willingness to read and a burning desire to own a flash diamond bracelet.

The two things that will occupy your time on the way to becoming a pro are reading and playing your first 100,000 hands. That's right, 100,000 hands is considered the base from which you can start diagnosing your game properly and fine tuning it for the big money.

Hellmuth, Sklansky, Brunson and eighty other pros all have a book out. Some of them have more books than successful romance authors. Which one first? It probably doesn't matter. You'll end up reading all of them. The main point of reading all of these books is that you are borrowing experience. There are no secrets to poker that you can't learn by playing, except perhaps the one which says learn to play before you play. So start with Brunson's Bible (Super System) or one of Sklansky's many tomes and somewhere around Chapter 4 go ahead and set up your online account. Pick a strategy and playing style they recommend and dive in. As you experiment with different styles and read what other authors have to say about the same topic you'll slowly at first, then with increasing speed, come to a real dynamic understanding of the terms and principles. If there can be said to be a key its pretty simple, pay close attention and learn from your mistakes.

Couple your reading with playing your first 100,000 hands in the micro-limits, say .10-.25 or .25-.50, and very quickly you'll begin to discover those hidden levels of understanding. The 'Aha!' moments can come fast and furious when you are first getting comfortable with the game.

In these first months you should establish your style, learn to read your opponents, come to recognize the ups and downs in the ring games and learn the tempo of tournament play and Sit n' Go play. Towards the end of this period you'll notice the swings in your bank aren't quite so drastic and you'll begin to think about bank management. Towards this end you may begin researching different poker tracking programs, poker diaries or bank management tools.

Depending on your innate abilities or work ethic anywhere along here you should feel ready to starting playing 'for real'. This is where, at last, you'll begin joining the bigger money games and playing in the bigger tournaments. Financial Freedom here we come!

From our room we can see The Tropicana, The Excalibur and that one that looks like New York!

You've got your pajamas on, chronic halitosis and a Visa Debit card burning a hole in your pocket, now how do you pick the right site to go lose your first fortune at?

Picking your online poker home involves many variables and a fair amount of research. If you are serious about your game consider this due diligence and get to work.

Start with a site like PokerPulse to get some generic statistics about each site. They provide current and 24-hour peak numbers on eighteen different online casinos. These numbers will tell you how many people are playing there, how many tables of what type games they are offering and how the players are divided up between ring play and tournament play.

From this generic overview you'll now have to drill down into a couple of sites to find the rest of what you need to know. Check out their various deposit bonuses, learning to take advantage of these can be profitable in and of itself. In the lobby of the casino you can find statistics on each table. You'll want to compare things like; how many people are seeing the flop, what is the average stack size, average pot size, hands per hour and what kind of turnover there is. Further, not all casinos have the same rake. You'll want to compare Sit n' Go and tournament costs as well as the ring game rake.

Your last sources for learning the differences between the sites are the poker posts. There are a few of these including recpoker.com and the 2+2 Forums. Here you will find poker players from all over the world and all levels of skill discussing every possible angle. Skim through the headings and look for people asking questions about specific sites. There is a lot of good feedback to be found here, as well as a healthy dose of bull, so be careful on what information you act on.

The last consideration for choosing your home should be the interface. That is sometimes easier to say than it is to act on. At the time of this writing UltimateBet has one of the most highly rated interfaces but is also considered to be one of the toughest pools of players you could dive in to. For many players the ease or comfort provided by the software is worth a few less fish at every table. You'll have to make this determination for yourself.

Damn dirty cheaters!

If you judge solely by the volume of those complaining you'll quickly conclude that all online gaming is rigged, against you personally. If you instead rely on common sense you'll soon conclude that the proprietors of these sites are making plenty of money and have no incentive to rig the game. But what about players rigging the game? Read on fellow gambler and learn about the exciting worlds of collusion and bots.

My mama always said, "Random is as random does."

Okay, that makes no sense, but then neither do the arguments for the sites being rigged. Unless you are playing poker at www.geocities.com/Bermuda/HalsHouseOfPoker you really do have nothing to worry about. Read the FAQs, read the details about how they generate their random numbers, research the verifying authorities (PricewaterhouseCoopers is a big one) and then get back to your game, you've wasted enough time. The two simple truths here are that the casinos are making a great deal of money off of the rake and they have a great deal riding on whether or not they are trusted in the community.

So why are people constantly complaining?

  • They see order in chaos.
  • They remember the one time a hand played this way and forget the 47 times it played the other way.
  • They can't believe it is a problem in their own game, they watch one guy win over and over while they consistently lose and assume the problem lies farther from home.
  • They have an over inflated sense of self and believe that this great faceless corporate entity was just waiting to get their credit card number before folding up shop and flying down to Bermuda for a year long party.
I don't know why they keep complaining, just try not to let it bother you. People lose money, they go on tilt, they get upset and defensive and start saying unbelievable things. Take a note of their name and hope to run into them again, they will likely pay you off.

Poker with friends!

Collusion on the other hand is something you very well could run into. Secret cooperation between players has long been a tactic in the poker community. Unlike the brick and mortar facility however, the online casinos have computers watching every hand and analyzing trends across hands. In general, this isn't something you should worry about either.

Collusion in tournaments might involve players dumping chips to other players. The outcome of this type of collusion is no different than a player having a lucky day. Someone goes up quickly, someone else goes out quickly. Collusion in an online tournament would be similar though it is difficult to imagine it being very effective. The seating assignments are random and in order for two players to cheat this way they would have to last long enough to find themselves seated together. Considering the largest tournaments, with the biggest prizes, have the largest numbers seated and the best players... it becomes too much to consider after a certain point.

Collusion in ring games is perhaps more likely. This can be as malicious as a group of players organizing every hand or as simple as two friends silently agreeing not to bust each other. In the second case your game is going to be little affected, the best hand still wins. If you find yourself the victim of something more malicious do not be surprised if you are refunded your losses. The online casinos are more than likely going to catch cheaters. Considering how important customer service is to their continued success you can expect your negative experiences to be answered more than satisfactorily.

Beep Beep Fold

Spend more than a few minutes surfing recpoker.com and you will see more than a few advertisements for poker bots. First off, if you are the type of person for whom these 'solutions' appeal there won't be much I can say to you. That said, poker bots are an interesting idea whose time is not nearly come. Poker is a very human game. Granted there are mathematical underpinnings, odds calculators and statistical charts; there is also the read, the short term tilt, tempo and quite a bit of other psychology taking place. In sum, if you suspect half your table is bots the second thing you should do is report them, the first is clean them out. (Ask yourself this: If these bots were so good, why is that guy spending all his time advertising them and not quietly making a fortune?)

My degenerate Uncle keeps lifting from my poker bank!

Taxes are not the only legal consideration when it comes to playing online. You will first need to determine if playing poker online is legal in your state or country. Assuming it is, or it isn't and you don't care, then yes, there such a thing as the tax man Virginia.

My first piece of advice is don't take advice from online strangers. Failing that, keep good records. I have yet to find a casino with a short-cut to the relevant tax forms. Nor have I seen any who will volunteer to forward on the required portion on your behalf. When you cash out they will send you every penny you earned. If you are earning your pennies by the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands then likely you have already set up your bank and requisite accounting. However, what if you are a duffer who wins Sunday's $500 tourn for a cool $60k? Invest a portion of the proceeds in a copy of the Yellow Pages, find this nifty company called IRS, and give em a jingle. I'm sure someone there will be able to help you.

As to the 'legal by state' question I'll close with this anecdote. While attempting to open an account in the state of Colorado I was unable to send a single dime using my bank cards. I believe that in general, if it is not legal in your state that is the quickest way to find out. Have your transaction fail. That said, the casinos are enablers and offer you anywhere from three to five or more other ways to get your dough to them including EBT, Citadel, Firepay and plain old snail mail. Be aware before you pick your option, how you pay them is how they pay you. If you mail a check in and hit them for $60k don't make vacation plans for that weekend, it'll be two to three weeks getting back to you.

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