Guide to Poker Cash Games
In the world of online poker, there is always a seat open. Many players make a living grinding out cash games on the internet. When you first make your entry into the online poker you’re going to be faced with many games to choose from. From cash games, to tournaments, to sit & gos, the world is your oyster.
Cash games run 24/7 and have never ending action. It is easy to get drawn in by the speed of the game; hand after hand after within a fraction of the time it takes for a single hand of live poker to be played.
No matter your skill level, there is a cash table for you. Players of all levels and abilities can find a home at any limit in any game at ay given time.
Before you take your seat, however, you’re going to want to make sure that you have a good grasp of the game you’re looking to play so that you’re not the one other players are licking their chops at.
If you’re worried about pulling up a seat for your first time, fear not. We got you covered with a few basic strategies and some tips and tricks that will help get you off to a profitable start.
Understanding Cash Games
Before you get started there are a few things to keep in mind. When you pull up a seat there are going to be players from all over the world at all different skill levels. So it is important to keep in mind that while it might be your first time at the table, there might also be a few seasoned vets there as well.
A good idea when first sitting down is to take it slow and observe. Sure there are many players out there that will tell you that aggression and putting pressure on other players is important. While this is definitely true, it can be a very difficult way to start.
Take a few moments to get a feel for the game and try to gauge who might be at what skill level.
If you’re playing from the comfort of your own home it’s very tempting to turn on the TV or get involved with any number of things that will keep your attention away from the table.
But if you’re looking to get better and make a profit, it is important to pay attention and pick up on player tendencies and betting patterns.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind when first taking a seat…
Even for a person used to playing high-stakes cash games, starting with lower-stakes online is advisable. The goal of these first sessions, other than playing solid poker, should be to familiarize one’s self with the nuances of playing online.
Starting out at lower stakes also enables you as a beginner to begin playing online with a smaller bankroll.
This can alleviate undue stress about losing sessions, and allow you to focus on the long-term goal of becoming a profitable online player.
Familiarize Yourself with the Software
Another reason to start at smaller stakes is because you want to risk the minimum amount when it comes to getting used to the software and playing online. The last thing you want to do is lose a chunk of money due to a misclick or some other aspect of the online world that you might have been confused about.
Getting used to the betting features and even using the time bank might be a little foreign to beginning players, so it’s important to get a good grasp on those before getting heavily involved.
Start with a Single Table
While the option to play multiple tables at once is not only available, but enticing as well, your best bet is start out by playing a single table first. When getting acclimated to the software and the flow of the game, playing too many tables at once can become very overwhelming.
Just like with the stakes, start small and then grow as you become better and more familiar with your surroundings.
Position, Position, Position
We will touch on this a bit later, but if you’re familiar with the old real estate adage of “Location, location, location”, this is the poker equivalent. Ideally, you want to play the majority of your hands in late position, that is form the dealer button or the few seats to the right of it.
By having position on more players at the table it enables you to see what everyone is doing before it your turn to make any decisions.
Tight is Right
Later we will discuss implementing aggressive play and opening up your game and hand ranges, but when just getting started, try playing a game that favors the tighter side.
Remember, if you’re just get acclimated to the software and the speed of the game, you don’t want it to be too costly of a process. Start by playing tight and then when you feel comfortable begin to open up your game a bit.
We all love the ATM because we love anything or anyone that gives us money. The last thing you want to do is be an ATM at the poker table for other players. That’s why it is important to start of slow and get acclimated to everything before really diving in heavily.
Not everyone’s bankroll is created equal. It’s possible you might have players at the table that have 10x the bankroll you do and are playing very aggressively. Don’t fall victim and feel the need to push back if your bankroll can’t handle it.
Continue to play slow and smart at first and you will find the perfect spot to allow that player to serve as YOUR ATM.
Types of Cash Games
One of the many great things about online poker is that you can find any game at any stake. Most players break into the game playing Texas Hold ‘em, but poker doesn’t stop there. Never has it been easier for poker players to learn the various disciplines of the game.
In addition to being able to find every variation of poker available, you can also find numerous specifics of each. Not only can you find full ring games, but for many game variations you can also find a 6-handed, 4-handed, and even heads-up table selection of tables.
This allows you to truly find the game that is right for you. In the online world you will find 6-max specialists, heads-up specialists, and everything in between. You have the opportunity to try your hand at all of them and see which one you are best at and be able to choose the best possible games going forward.
If you’re looking to venture away from Hold ‘em be sure to check out our handy poker guides below that will give you a leg up on the competition in all the poker variants.
As you move up in the ranks of online poker you will notice that strategies and theories can change drastically. Some of the tricks that you were able to get away with at the low or micro stakes cash game tables might not seem to be as effective at the mid or higher stakes tables.
That is par for the course though. The more you see certain scenarios in poker the more you begin to pick up on them and act or react accordingly. Being a student of the game is critical in terms of getting better and growing as a player.
When you’re just starting ourt however, you want to have a few good baseline strategies and ideas under your belt. Not only so that you can use them, but so that you can be aware and ready to spot the same kinds of plays when your opponents are trying to implement them.
So let’s take a look at some of the more basic strategies and plays you can employ. For the purposes of this article we will focus on the game of Texas Hold ‘em since the vast majority of players break into online poker via this variant.
We touched briefly earlier on the importance of playing position. being in a position where your opponent has to act first is always the ideal situation to find yourself in. Pre-flop you get to see what 5 or 6 other players do before it is your turn to act. This puts you in a powerful spot.
If most players in front of you fold, it’s always a good idea to put in a raise from late position. With only 2 or 3 players left behind you to act that makes the chances of you winning the hand right there that much greater.
Even if the big or small blind call your raise, you are still in perfect position to see what they elect to do first when the flop is laid out.
Being in late position allows you to steal more pots when it appears as if your opponents have missed the flop. Even if you missed also, having position on them allows you to pounce when they show weakness.
If you were renting property on a poker table, late position is where you ought to be looking.
Steal the Blinds
This sort of piggybacks off of playing hands in late position. After playing for a while you get a handle on who defends their blinds and who does not. It is wise to be strategic and attempt to steal the blinds of the more passive and weak players. While it is best to do this from late position, there will be times when you can make a steal attempt from any position if the right players are in the small and big blind.
The blinds may not seem like much now, but after a few successful steals you will have increased your chip stack by 6-10 big blinds.
How to Raise
Don’t worry, we’re not about to actually tell you how to raise. It is more about how to apply the raise and what a good raise amount typically should be. While this number has changed a lot over the years, a good place to start is 2.5x the big blind.
If you are coming from a live poker background this might seem strange to you. If you’re playing a $1-$2 No Limit Hold ‘em cash game at a casino then you know that a pre-flop raise to $5 does little to nothing. You are more likely to open for $10 in that game.
Online is different in that regard. Because players see so many hands an hour, they don’t mind folding marginal or subpar hands to a small raise. So a good rule of thumb is to raise to 2.5x the big blind. Additionally, if there are any callers in front of you, you should increase the raise one big blind per caller.
If you’re playing in a $1-$2 No Limit Hold ‘em cash game online and there are no callers in front of you a raise to $5 is perfectly fine. If one person called the $2 big blind before it was your turn to act it is a good second rule of thumb to increase your raise amount by another big blind to 3.5x, or $7.
When it comes to re-raising or betting and raising on the flop and at further points in the hand there are a lot of variables to consider. That being said, you’re going to want to try different things throughout your sessions to get an idea of what works best for you and why.
In theory, you’re going to want to make bets and raises relative to the pot size, but some of that can depend of what your opponent is holding or what you think they’re holding and how they have approached the hand.
In the low or micro stakes cash games that players are likely to start out at, turning up the aggression can be pretty profitable. In almost all cases, especially if you are in position, you are going to want to be double barreling. What do we mean by that?
Double barreling is when you raise pre-flop and then continue the aggression with a bet on the flop. In most cases, you’re going to want to double barrel no matter what the flop brings. As the game progresses and you start to have an idea of the types of hands your opponents are likely to have, there are cards that can hit the flop that might make you pump the brakes before firing that barrel. That’s ok, that’s poker. Not every play is going to work every time.
In fact, it’s ok if you have to slow down at times because balancing your play is important to keep your opponents guessing.
Sorry, but that is not the name of a poker beer. A three-bet is simply a re-raise of an opponent’s opening raise. When we say “light” we are referring to hands that aren’t quite your premium holdings. Hands like suited connectors, suited Aces, or small pairs all fit the bill.
You never want to three-bet with total junk as you want to have hands that have some sort of equity.
This is a move that you want to utilize when you have position on a an opponent that is fairly tight and fairly weak or passive in general. By doing it in position this allows you to control the pace of the hand should they call. Additionally, you will be able to get in value bets if you hit your hand, or bluff if you feel as though they have missed the flop.
Three-betting in position can give you numerous ways to win the hand as it plays out.
But getting it all in before the flop with pocket Aces can backfire, too. No one play in poker is going to have a 100% success rate over the course of time.
Raise with Your Draws
More often than not, players at the early stakes are going to give you credit for the hands you represent. This is why raising with draws, whether it be a flush draw or a straight draw, can sometimes be very profitable.
If you’re in position and are drawing after the flop, go ahead and put in a raise if your opponent bets. In some cases you can win the hand right there. In the event they call and you hit your draw on the turn, chances are they aren’t putting you on that flush or straight and so you are likely to get in a few more value bets.
In the event you miss your draw on the next card it is highly likely that your opponent will slow down and not bet, giving you a chance to see the last card for free. If you miss again and they check, since you have shown strength it gives you the option of one more play…
Bluffing the River
Sure it sounds simple, but do you have the guts to pull it off? Being in position on the river always gives you the last word. If no one has shown any confidence in their holdings throughout the duration of the hand, go ahead and show some strength and fire a bluff on the river. Chances are you will take it down.
As they say, fortune favors the bold. Anytime you have position on your opponents, especially if they are showing weakness, it often times pays to be bold.
Sometimes, the exact opposite of that bold move is the right play. If you are facing a bet and holding a marginal hand, it is some times best to live and fight another day. When you fold, your chips stay in your stack.
If you are not utterly confident about your hand versus your opponent, go ahead and lay your hand down. Just make sure to have a strong hand the next time that situation presents itself so that you can capitalize.
Pot odds will often dictate whether or not you should make a call that you think might not be the most optimal play.
In poker, pot odds are the ratio of the current size of the pot to the cost of a contemplated call. Pot odds are often compared to the probability of winning a hand with a future card in order to estimate the call’s expected value.
One thing that pot odds doesn’t take into account, however, is the tendencies of your opponent and what their play has been like up to this point.
Very often, people talk themselves into making a bad call because they were getting the right pot odds. It’s always good to know the odds you’re getting at any given time during the hand, but just be cautious and it may not always be the be all end all when deciding on a call.
Game theory and strategy in poker cash games is ever changing. Watch the first season of High Stakes Poker and compare it to the last season and you will find that the strategies being deployed are far different.
There is, of course, more advanced strategies to cover as well. For now though, you are equipped to go into your first battle at the cash game tables with some nifty tricks up your sleeves and padded armor for when you’re opponents are firing off bets.
While the above strategies were depicted against the backdrop of a Texas Hold ‘em game, the basic ideas, things like position and aggression, can be applied across all forms of poker for the most part.
Don’t forget to check out our Online Poker FAQ section as well so that you have all the bases covered before sitting down to play.