How to play to your strengths in online poker

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The beauty about online poker is that there are so many different games to play. The typical online poker room has Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Omaha Hi/Lo, 7 Card Stud, 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo, and draw poker (e.g., 5 card draw). Some even have mixed games (H.O.R.S.E.) and the lesser known Razz and Badugi.

Say you only know how to play Texas Hold’em. You have the option to play no-limit, limit or pot-limit. Should you play cash games? If so, do you sit at a 9-player, 6-player or heads-up game? Should you sit at a table with loose players or tight players? Turbo or regular speed? These are all questions you need to ask and understand in order to find your strengths and become a profitable poker player.

Finding your game

When looking for cash games, start off by playing 9-player cash games. 6-player cash games require you to widen your hand range, play from a wider range of table positions, bluff and semi-bluff more and otherwise be more aggressive. Generally speaking, you should choose a table with a high players per flop %. We like fish. Fish give us money. Yes, they will also hand out more bad beats, but if your utilizing a bankroll management system and playing at the right limit, a bad beat should not have a big effect on your bankroll.

“Average pot” is also a statistic to consider, but it is usually in correlation with the players per flop %. Generally, the more players to the flop, the higher the average pot will be. Sometimes a table will have a smaller percent of players to the flop and a large average pot. How much money players are bringing to a table is also a factor in the average pot. As always, if possible, preview the action at any table before sitting down.

You also have 9-player or 6-player SNGs with varying speeds of blinds. Both pay out to 1/3 of the entrants. Since the blinds can be painfully slow, many players prefer turbo SNGs where the blinds increase more quickly. Again, I recommend starting at the 9-player SNGs for the same reason as the cash games.

Do your homework

To know what you’re best at you’re going to have to go through trial and error. Truly understanding your strengths involves doing some homework, which the majority of amateur poker players aren’t willing to do. Not by coincidence, the majority of online poker players are losing players, overall.

First, you need to keep track of your per session win rate with each game you play. If you’re winning at both cash games and SNGs, your hourly win rate will help you determine where you should spend the majority of your playing time.

You can also analyze certain factors like:

  • Time of day playing: If your schedule allows it, determine if high-traffic or low-traffic hours are most profitable
  • Duration spent playing: Determine if your winnings tend to decrease after a certain amount of time spent playing
  • How many tables you can play before your hourly win rate decreases
  • If you play multiple sites, where you win the most

Improve your overall play by reading your hand history (both the wins and losses). Poker tracking software and HUDs will help you get an edge on your opponents.

Should you specialize?

Poker is not like having a good stock portfolio—diversity doesn’t count for much. Many online pros specialize in one area of the game. Many are heads-up, cash game or even sit n’ go specialists. Specializing allows you to focus on one type of game and put all your efforts toward improving that area. One of the biggest mistakes new players make is playing whatever game they feel like. Poker rooms have caught on to this, and many now offer blackjack and casino games so that you can waste your money after a bad beat.

You have to practice patience in order to become a specialist. Sometimes what we are best at might not always be our favorite game. For example, my buddy, while he enjoys cash games more, knows himself to be a better SNG player. He likes winning big hands (and who doesn’t) and cash games are the easiest way to satisfy that craving. But he’s also brought far more money to the cash game table than he should have, and as a result taken big hits to his bankroll. SNGs serve the dual purpose of allowing him steadily increase his bankroll while avoiding the emotional rollercoaster of cash game bad beats.

Now, that is not to say everyone has to be a specialist. There’s nothing wrong with playing cash games, SNGs and the occasional MTT. However, the problem that most often occurs is when you play one game to make up for the losses in another. You have to know when to walk away (or log off).

Should you play at a higher limit?

Another factor to consider is which limit you can afford to play. Notice I did not say which limit you think is your greatest strength. Many players have this notion that, since they are getting beat at the lower limits by a bunch of fish, they are better suited for a higher limit where players are more intelligent. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. If you’re getting beat at the micro and low limits, you’re going to get hammered at the higher limits.

Conclusion

Understanding your strengths doesn’t happen overnight. Good poker players are constantly learning about themselves, their habits, patterns of play, and ways to improve their game. Do your homework and keep track of where, how and when you are the most profitable.

How do you play to your strengths? Do you tend to gravitate toward one game, or do you play a variety of poker games? Do you keep track of your win rate?

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