If you’re not ready for cash stakes, you can play in mock games for play- money on the Internet. Your opponents may be anywhere in the world. They won’t be in the same room with you, but they’re real folks looking for a game. You’ll have to make a few adjustments when you move into online playing. Internet poker games take place in cyberspace, the universe of electronic connections that is at once everywhere and nowhere. At first it’s a little disconcerting to hear a disembodied voice ask for your blind, or to have your cards yanked away by invisible hands instead of folding them yourself! The internet game designers have done all they can to simulate the sights and sounds of a real poker game:
You see yourself represented in pictogram form, seated at a virtual table with other pictogram players, whose real counterparts may be any- where in the world.
Your player name or “handle” and the amount you have in play are listed above or beneath your virtual representative.
Vibrantly colored cards, tables, chips, and player costumes mimic the visual elements of real casino poker.
An invisible dealer announces bets and raises and declares winning hands. (However, he doesn’t accept tokes.)
You hear the sounds of cards being shuffled and dealt, and chips clack- ing when the pot is pushed to the winner.
You “converse” with other players in the “chat window” by typing messages back and forth on your keyboards.
To check, bet, or raise, for click on-screen choices with your mouse. Help and hand history are easily summoned by clicking other options. Want to leave the game or go to another? Click!
Internet play-money poker isn’t real poker, but it’s not supposed to be. Real poker is played for real money. Even so, you can practice many skills in these cyber games. For instance, you can brush up on: evaluating hands; reading hands; folding, betting, calling, raising, and reprising; categorizing opponents, figuring pot odds.
As in most free (or nearly free) things in life, there are some inherent limitations when you play in online play-money poker games:
You won’t be able to watch for tells (the involuntary physical and emotional slips that often give away a player’s hand) unless you’re psychic. The opportunity to fire in a raise because you’ve seen fear in an opponent’s eyes is an experience you won’t have in Internet games.
You won’t be able to practice tricky strategies. You’ll probably have to “show down” a real hand after all the cards are out -forget fancy moves and bluffs. Players will usually call with anything when no money is involved.
The games are generally slower than live games and much slower than interactive software where you play against computer opponents. Many people play in the games while doing other things, or they may have slow computers or problems with their Internet service providers (1SPs).
What the games are like?
Most Internet play-money games are loose action games. (That’s putting it mildly!) Players enter pots with guns blazing, firing bets and raises at will. Much of this activity is just smoke and mirrors, but when the smoke clears, someone will have made a hand. Don’t expect to win a pot without a struggle! There are many family pots (pots in which all players participate in the action), and you won’t find many wallflowers sitting on the sidelines hand after hand. Betting is frequently capped (when players put in the maximum number of raises allowed). Hang on for the ride – if you have a hand. You’ll see players call or even call raises with cards they should have folded ‘ without a moment’s hesitation. You’ll see people calling with a bottom pair, with backdoor draws, even with as little as one over card – hoping to get lucky. After all, it’s fun to play and no fun at all to fold! Your challenge in these games is to keep from joining the party!
At a good play-money site you will find at least Texas Hold’em and Seven- Card Stud. Omaha is another popular offering, and if you’re lucky you’ll have a choice between Omaha High-Only and Omaha/% The trend is toward a wider selection of games. You can also find tournaments. Game menus change with popular trends, and even game sites themselves come and go. To find out what games are currently available, post an inquiry at the Internet poker newsgroup RGP. (We tell you all about RGP later in this chapter.) HOW these games help you to improve?
You’ll be playing with people who, like you, are learning the game or have limited experience. But unlike you, most of them will be playing strictly for fun. Those folks will be mired in bad habits because they either don’t care or just don’t know any better, while you’ll be playing seriously in order to improve. That’s right, seriously! Play as though it’s for keeps, as though your chips in cyberspace will be cash in your pocket when you win. Oh, you lost? Oops, there goes your bankroll! Better keep your day job! You can’t refrain from playing when you get a streak of bad cards? Better get a second job while you’re at it -you’re going to need it.
Think playing cyber poker is going to be easy? Maybe for the first 30 or 60 minutes. After that you’ll be fighting the 4F trio: frustration, fatigue, and the fun factor – the tendency to join in the loose play to have a better time. So lick temptation now, while there’s no cost.
Make these sessions count. Keep records. Determine when your break point occurs: How long can you play without yielding to the temptation of playing inferior hands? Of calling when you shouldn’t? Of getting emotional when a poor player draws out on you? Remember that the hardest victory in poker is conquering yourself!