The only true way to get better at poker is to dedicate lots of hours to practice.
Of course, going to a casino or getting together with friends for a home game isn't always feasible on a regular basis. Luckily, there’s another option. You can play online for free — or for money — to sharpen your skills.
That's exactly what many of the world's top players do on a regular basis.
If you’re considering online play as a form of practice, there are a few key adjustments you'll need to make to your game. Because as much as playing online poker is a good training tool, it's simply not the same as playing live poker. Therefore, online poker must be approached in a different way.
The biggest difference, of course, between live and online play is that you can't see your opponents when playing online. You won’t be able to depend on physical tells to help you make decisions. Online, you'll be forced to make decisions by focusing solely on opponents’ betting patterns. And to do that effectively, you’ll need to adjust the way you bet your own hands.
In online poker, your objective should be to define your opponents’ hands as early as possible by making information bets. These probes can help determine where you’re currently at in the hand. They can also make it easier for you to make proper decisions on the later streets.
Another big difference between online poker and live poker occurs in play after the flop. In online poker, you’ll need to play more aggressively.
Let's say, for example, you’re in a live game scenario and you've called a raise holding pocket nines. The flop comes J-7-3 and now your opponent bets.
If you think your opponent will make a continuation bet with A-K, A-Q, or any other hand he's raised with, you should call and see what develops on the turn.
Online, however, it will be impossible to pick up any tells on the turn. But you can try to define your opponent’s hand – and your own – by making a raise on the flop. Now, if your opponent calls or reraises, you must assume that he has a hand that's better than yours, and it’s time to abort mission.
Yes, you could make that same play in a live game, but it just might not be necessary. Because you can actually see your opponent in a live game, you’ll be able to take in many more physical cues. That can be a much cheaper method of finding out where you stand. You’ll be able to gauge the strength of your opponent’s cards simply by being more observant.
The one thing you want to avoid in online poker is trying to play your hands too deceptively in marginal situations. That type of play will only complicate things for you and could cause your opponent to play his hand in such a way that your trickery ends up costing you the pot.
The key concept, though, that online poker teaches is the ability to focus on betting patterns. Frankly, that’s the most important skill required to become a good hand reader.
All great players — even the ones that pride themselves on being able to "see through your soul” — are successful because they’ve developed a knack for reading betting patterns.
Now, I wouldn't dare call poker players athletes. But much like those true athletes, poker players need to train between events to stay fresh. They need to focus their minds in order to be prepared for the big game. That’s where online poker comes in to play.
Visit www.cardsharkmedia.com/book.html for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.
© 2007 Card Shark Media. All rights reserved.