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Q&A #108: Home Game Player Takes Up Online Poker

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Today’s question (or a similar variation) is one I’m commonly asked. In general form, it goes like this: I’m winning in game X, but I’ve recently tried game Y and I’m struggling. What’s up?

In more specific form, here is today’s question from Ed (not me, another Ed :) ).

I am writing you hoping that you will be able to advise me on what I could do to in regards to a dilemma I am facing with online poker. I am a fairly consistent home game winner and have placed in a few home tournaments. Now, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about the next bit of information I am about to drop on you. I play very low stakes – probably sub-micro stakes if such a classification existed. The home game blinds I play for are usually .05/.10 and have never exceeded .25/.50 – all no-limit.

I have attempted online play, currently at PokerStars, and have not had the success I’d hoped to. I’ve been trying my hand at the .01/.02 NL bloodbath games and usually don’t come out ahead after a session. I’ll go out on a limb and say that I do play tighter than most of the table and I do get aggressive when I feel I should. I do, however, seem to be prone to being trapped – betting my top two pair against flopped bottom set, for example. I know that trapping is an extremely important weapon in no-limit play and I can usually “smell” it when playing live. I have studied tells, profiling, hand reading, and the psychology of poker. I just can’t seem to apply it properly to online cash games.

I do alright in nine- or ten-handed Sit & Gos. But I just see so much more profit out there in the side games (especially for the small amount I have in my account).

I am more interested in the skill aspect than with trying to make a living at playing poker online – although I wouldn’t not accept a huge pot. ;-)

I have been told (by people I play with at home games) that it is just how low I am playing and that if I could play higher I’d clean up. (Thoughts on this?)

I guess my question (now that you know more about me than you probably want to) is that I don’t know what the difference is that is causing such variance between my live home game winnings and my online losses. I have read many poker books and watched many videos. Nothing is really screaming at me and telling me where I need to adjust. Do you have any thoughts on this?

First of all, I feel just great about the stakes you play. The vast majority of poker players play at stakes like what you’re talking about, and only a very small percentage play in the big, big, big games that get so much attention. So that’s a-ok with me. Now to try to answer your main question.

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14 Responses to “Q&A #108: Home Game Player Takes Up Online Poker”

@ Wed Jun 04, 2008 11:38:41 AM


I do have some experience at PokerStars 0.01/.02, and was very successful. I’m also a winner at 0.50/1.00 on Pokerstars, but those games are much tougher, and require a different strategy.

Generally to win at 0.01/0.02, keep on the look out for maniacs. Usually they will be showing their big bluffs, or they will be showing down big pots with very marginal holdings. They also like making big bets. Make note of them. They are the only ones you want to get all-in for large stacks with Top Pair.

Against passive players which is most everyone else, I generally keep betting my TPTK and overpair hands provided none of the draws hit, and no one is raising me. If draws hit I don’t pay them off, even at risk of being bluffed out of a pot. The passive ones generally don’t bluff. If they raise or put in a big bet, you can believe them.

I’ve also had very bad results with bluffs in these games. When you play these micro games, keep repeating to yourself “Don’t bluff…..Don’t bluff…..Don’t bluff”, and you’ll do fine. Now, yes, sometimes, against some players you can bluff, but pick your spots very carefully. If you never bluffed I think you’d still have a very nice win rate at 0.01/0.02

@ Wed Jun 04, 2008 01:50:10 PM

Ed, I am surprised you did not recommend short stacking as an online strategy to the other Ed. I think short stacking is the way to go online and have been greatly influenced by your writing on the subject. Thanks and good luck.

@ Wed Jun 04, 2008 02:31:26 PM

Very wise advice for an online beginner, of course.

My only suggestion would be to add a note about sample size. Since “the other Ed” didn’t tell how many hands he’s played to infer that he’s struggling, he may simply be running bad. I guess point 2 about downswings is related, but there are downswings because you’re unlucky and downswings because you don’t have the edge you thought you had. If only we could always tell the difference. :)

At normal stack sizes (~100 BBL), getting stacked by bottom set with top two is pretty much always bad luck. (I suppose you might know your specific opponent to be only a set miner and slow down after he hang around past the flop.) Unless Ed thinks his opponents will know how to get away from top two in the same situation, I wouldn’t worry too much about it specifically. But getting stacked by two pair or a set vs. his overpair or TPTK is a different matter.

The Other Ed
@ Thu Jun 05, 2008 11:46:25 AM

Wow! Thanks for the reply, Ed. And the comments as well.

Any thoughts on playing 6-Max vs full table?

@ Thu Jun 05, 2008 03:00:30 PM

“Develop your postflop skills and hand reading.”

I think this is crucial part, and probably the biggest challenge for me. I am a bit confused as to how to approach this. Is it necessary to sit down with pen and paper and calculate countless EVs for various situations? Or is it a more organic process that people go through? Also, in a game with lots of raising: in the absence of showdowns can you make semi-accurate assumptions about peoples likely ranges?

Cheers, everybody

@ Thu Jun 05, 2008 05:10:25 PM


You asked,

Is it necessary to sit down with pen and paper and calculate countless EVs for various situations? Or is it a more organic process that people go through?

Well, assuming you’re not a computer, you’re unilkely to be able to solve EV problems at the table in time to act. :)

But you can learn some of this by going back over hands, explicitly stating certain assumed ranges for people, and evaluating your decision. For example, “I think he might have a set, two pair, a flush draw, an OESD, or very rarely one pair.” Now calculate your equity against that range. (PokerStove is essential.) Did you make the right decision, based on your guess at the range?

Now run the hand by others you trust, maybe on the forums here, and ask if your range looks realistic. Be sure to include any reads. Maybe you were being too generous about your own chances.

Professional NLHE talks a lot about learning to read hands and maximize against ranges, especially the stuff on REM. Have you read it? If not, consider the above just a stopgap while waiting for the book to arrive. :)

Also, in a game with lots of raising: in the absence of showdowns can you make semi-accurate assumptions about peoples likely ranges?

Without showdowns, you have to make wild guesses. But over time you can make inferences that “typical” players play hands a certain way, and perhaps shade those inferences based on whetehr the people in question appear aggressive or passive, loose or tight.

But really without showdowns you’re flying blind. Keep watching; eventually someone will have to show something down!

@ Thu Jun 05, 2008 07:01:27 PM

Thanks for the words of advice AKQJ10. I ordered Professional NLHE on-line yesterday so am happy you are recommending it. Anyone else have any reading suggestions to help me get a handle on this?

@ Sun Jun 08, 2008 04:32:45 AM

You should try the 1/2 games in downtown Detroit. I don’t know if it’s because the games are mostly full of people who have much larger rolls than you’d expect to see playing the lowest stake game in the city, or if it’s that the vast majority of them are piss poor players, or if they’re actually all sharks just crushing me completely.

I play downtown semi regularly, and I’m rarely up. When I do leave up, it’s usually some ridiculous amount like 10 or 20 buyins. I don’t think I’ve ever played a table there where less than 4 people would see a flop. Frequently there are players with a grand plus at the game, two or more grand now that they’ve increased the buy-in to $200 max, who will call every pre-flop raise, period.

I make 400-500 a week playing 25c/50c and 50c/1 online, and usually unless I can sit at the casino and wait for aces, AND get them to hold up against 3 or more players, I’ll slowly go broke over several hours. It’s really kinda sick. :D The play to me, looks like the Limit 2c/4c games, which I’m never able to beat :D

Fortunatly, we’ve just recently had a card room open up on the other side of town that has a super low buy-in (10BB min .. your articles on shortstacking would be awesome to read for playing at this place) that is attracting tons of players that are mostly either total rocks, or total calling stations, and both are usually pretty easy to spot .. (at least until you run into the calling station that is showing down the nuts damn near every hand)

@ Sun Jun 08, 2008 11:50:36 PM


The following is an excerpt from an e-mail to my son-in-law. In it I talk about my inability to win online in, at first, $2-$5, then all the way down to $.05 – $0.10 on FullTilt. I couldn’t figure it out. I was doing well in tournaments online and locally; I am ahead in money. But I just could not fathom the cash game. Read on…

I have had an amazing turnaround in success online. It just may be a run of good cards. Of course, this is all still small stakes, but something has happened.

One good thing about the cash game is that you can get up on almost a moment’s notice and quit if something comes up. That is part of the reason for the many sessions in one day. You can see that I did pretty well in the tournaments during this time too. There is a rake charge for the cash games, but there is no way for me to keep up with it on the spreadsheet. Therefore, the percentages are somewhat warped.

The funny thing is that I do not recall doing anything differently. Since I wasn’t having any success (in the full table .05 – .10 game) I decided to try the 6 max (six player) games and to move up in blinds to $.25 – $50. A $20 buy-in is a significant increase from the previous $4. I don’t know what the difference is that is producing the new results, though.

One adjustment I did make was to reduce to one table (from 4). Better concentration? Then I increased to two. I seem to be able to handle that, so I am contemplating a rise to three or more. I hear that some of the internet pros play from 4 to 16 tables. Frankly, I find playing 16 tables almost beyond belief.

Sometimes, I have found that you just have to grit your teeth and call. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and shove. Sometimes it goes badly, but you can see I have gone from $169.40 to $368.40 in five days.

Addendum: I am now up to $419.00, mostly from cash games, but with a few $5.00 tournament success thrown in. I have not had one losing session at 6 Max, .25 – .50 since I started. Frankly, I am amazed and think that maybe it is just the good run of cards that you hear about. And, my statistical sample is relatively small at this point.

Maybe I am just better at short handed play. I know that in tournaments most of my success comes when the table gets short and I start getting very aggressive.

Hope this helps some.


@ Mon Jun 09, 2008 01:50:28 AM

Not only might you be better at short play, Natcheztoo, but it could also be the other players being terrible at short play, too.

Different strategies are usually needed at 6max or full, and i see a lot of people doing really bad things at 6 max that they wouldb e better off playing at full

The Other Ed
@ Mon Jun 09, 2008 07:43:34 AM


I am intrigued by your comment about “short stacking.” I did a search and it appears articles related to that topic are currently unavailable… Could you, or someone else, give me a quick definition or explanation of the term “short stacking?” Thanks!

@ Mon Jun 09, 2008 02:20:51 PM

Dear Ed (the other one),

I have been greatly inspired by what Ed Miller has written on short stacking. Here is a link to what I have written on short stacking.

We Love Poker in New Zealand
@ Fri Jun 20, 2008 09:31:15 PM


I really like your post about online vs live play. I have recently made a transition to playing more live casino play. I have played online for a couple of years generally around the 0.50/1 –> $2/$4 level on many sites including pokerstars and am a small winner (i.e. 1-2BB over 100,000 hands)

Your point about live games being easier than online games is true to an extent but tougher in other ways. Here are some issues I have had to deal with to reach the point where I can beat the 1/2 game consistently.

1. Early on I struggled to cope with the looseness of play. For example, in a 10 table 1/2 TH/Omaha NL cash casino game I might raise 5xBB from early position with AA and get 8 callers!!!

2. I found it more difficult to control my emotions. I would tilt (especially in Omaha) as I would take badbeats personally.

3. Casino players relied heavily on physical reads and didn’t have sophisticated strategies. Often I over-read situations.

4. I gave too much information. I often analyse hands out loud when I play online. And I found myself doing that at the casino.

5. I got bored and leaked money. 25 hands per hour is slow when your used to playing 2-3 tables at near to 100 hands per hour.

Now I win consistently at the casino but have found my online play has suffered. :(

As I have discovered I need to continually work on improving my game.

Ed Miller
@ Sat Jun 21, 2008 10:28:33 AM

New Zealand,

Your post makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of adjustment between live and online, and it goes both ways. If you’re used to online play, then live play will definitely take some getting used to. Comparing apples to apples, there’s more opportunity to generate an edge in live games (in general)… but if you’re used to online games then you’re going to miss out on a lot of that extra edge at first while you’re adjusting.

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