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Difference Online & Offline Poker


What's the biggest difference between online (or Internet) poker and "in-the-flesh" play in a real casino card room, or home games?

The impersonal, disembodied anonymity of the Internet demands play that is far more card-based than opponent-based. In most cases, winning play will depend simply on first investing in good starting hands, and thereafter on making only good decisions based on what cards appear next and whatever action takes place before it's your turn to act.

Forget "playing the player" in the sense of detecting most common tells (physical gestures or verbal clues or betting mannerisms that serve as tip-offs about an opponent's hand), preventing a bet or raise by cupping your chips as though ready to call, making hand movements yourself in a deceptive fashion, or staring down a bluff. You can't "make a play" when you and your opponent are invisible to each other.

Your strategy repertoire online is largely limited to the six basic actions: folding, betting, calling, raising, re-raising, and check-raising - supplemented by other poker skills, such as good games selection, good site selection, careful note-taking, astute observation of action, alertness to opponent behavior (such as noticing who is playing in two games rather than one, who's on tilt, or who has been playing all night), and wise money management.

What does an Online Game Look and Sound Like?

It looks and sounds like a sophisticated video games. It's rich in graphics, realistic sound effects, and complex split-second synchronization of player action. You'll see a mock-up of a poker table sporting colorful chips, cards, player seats, and - possibly, though not necessarily - a dealer box, with or without a mannequin-like representation of a dealer. Since all dealer functions are executed at lightning speed by the games' Programming if there's a dealer box shown at a cyberspace card table, only for show.

You'll hear realistic sounds of cards whirring, chips clattering as pots are pushed and the clacking of bets and raises during action. Also, you'll be able to verify the amount in your stack or the amount of a bet or raise or pot simply by positioning your cursor above the designated chips or stacks. State-of-the-art software keeps instantaneous and accurate track of chip stacks bets and raises, all-ins, and accruing pots.

A beep, buzzer, or repetitive sound will signal you to act if you're distracted from the monitor. If you fail to act within a designated time, you'll first be declared "sitting out," but after a few rounds of inactivity you'll be unceremoniously dumped from the table in far less time than the traditional forty or sixty minutes you may take for a meal in a casino.

You'll communicate with other players by typing into a "chat window" seen by everyone participating in the games, but the only way to "call the floor" to make a complaint or check the history of a hand may be to fire off an e-mail to customer service. As online poker casino technology evolves, these procedures are likely to become faster and easier. As we go to press, several online card rooms offer on-the-spot live help through Instant Messaging.

How easy is it to get into a game, or to change games?

It's simplicity itself. In a real casino you have to go to the podium, get on a waiting list, endure short waits or even lengthy waits of an hour or more, or perhaps join a "must-move" games before reaching your desired table - only to have to repeat the process all over again if you want to change limits or games.

All this unpleasantness is averted online. You simply click on the games of your choice if a seat is open or, if the table is full, click on a waiting list for the games desired. Many games types and limits are available, including a wide range of tournaments. A pop-up screen plus a sound signal summon you when your seat is ready. As long as the volume is turned up on your computer, you can step away from it until you hear the prompt.

Don't like the games? Simply click to exit and get on a waiting list, or simply take a seat at another table by clicking on an empty seat. In a real casino, you'd have to move your chips -and you'd also have to notify the floor man or "brush" to get permission to move in the first place. Changing games through the podium is tedious and time-consuming and often not even possible if a game has a very long waiting list.

Online, you won't have to consult anyone. You just click and go. Often you can be in a different game within five seconds. And you won't have to rack those cumbersome chips you just won; they're automatically added to your account through software wizardry. When you arrive at your new table, a welcoming pop-up screen will give you the option of buying in for as many chips as you like (as long as you have the money in your account to purchase them).

Can I play in more than one Games at a time, unlike in a real card room?

Yes! Many online poker casinos allow and even encourage you to play in two or more games simultaneously. After all, they rake more money this way. It's easier at some online casinos than at others to segue from screen to screen (meaning table to table), so if you want double or even triple action, try out several sites offering multiple games play to see which has the most congenial software. And yes, you may also play at more than one site at a time if your computer is up to the job - meaning, in general, that it's anything better than a dinosaur.

Exactly how much will I know about my opponents, and how will I know it?

Beyond what you observe of their play, you'll know only their made-up screen names or "handles," and - above or below each handle - the city, state, or country the player declared as his place of residence when he signed up to use the site. However, very little policing seems to go on regarding verification of this information, since such obvious phonies as "Planet Earth," "Skid Row," "Doghouse," and "Beyond the Rainbow," have been spotted even in cash games online.

Opponents' handles are customarily accompanied by colorful visuals such as computer composite figures or avatars, photos, or cartoon caricatures submitted by players or created through software at the site. These "stand in" at cyberspace tables for the live people they represent.

But aren't players likely to choose handles and avatars that are misleading or deceptive?

Yes, and most do. Screen name "Granny Hannah," predictably accompanied by a composite avatar or photo showing a bespectacled old lady in a rocking chair darning a sweater, is likely to be a 25-year-old card shark from Atlantic City. Be forewarned: When it comes to identity, little online is what it appears to be. So you may as well join the crowd: Choose your "handle" and accompanying avatar or photo carefully to mask your identity and playing style. Once you've submitted them, you may not be able to change them, so put some thought into what name and image will represent you online.

How can I compensate for the scarcity of information about my opponents?

You can do one thing easily online that's awkward during in-the-flesh games, where you're forced to walk away from the table or grab a few stolen moments between hands to scribble something beneath the table: You can take notes. More and more sites are providing convenient screens for note-taking. By all means, use them. Depending on the site, you may be able to save these notes to your hard drive, so you should learn the mechanics of doing this. If your site doesn't offer this capacity, keep important notes in a physical note Site or in a spreadsheet.

But couldn't a wily opponent change names to keep me from tracking his play?

Online poker casinos recognize that the only way you can remember an online opponent's playing style is through his screen name. Therefore, requests for screen name changes are usually denied unless someone has an excellent reason, as a name switch would give unfair advantage. Remember: Choose your screen name carefully - you may not be able to change it!


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