It's true, and really kind of amazing.
The principal exception, also noted in the first chapter, is that you cannot directly observe or assess your opponents in an Internet cardroom, at least, not in the traditional ways. But there are some evolving methods of gathering information and putting out disinformation at the virtual tables. In the future, I suspect, game historians will look back on this era and marvel at how the game poker adapted so well to the digital realm.
Tracking Your Opponents
Do yourself a big favor and get into the habit, early on, of taking notes on your opponents' playing and betting habits. Take advantage of the online cardrooms' note-taking and hand history features. (See Chapter 15, "The Top Online Poker Rooms" for more details.) This is a genuine benefit of the online game-you don't have to keep it all in your head. You can look it up and write it down. In a live casino game, this simply isn't an option. (I suppose you could sit there and take notes while you play, but tell you what, you go first and let me know how it works out ....)
Using the Pre-Action Buttons
We touched on this in earlier chapters, but remember that you can use the pre-action buttons as strategic and tactical weapons. For instance, if you plan to play conservatively in the early rounds of a tournament , use the pre-action buttons to fold your hand before your turn to act rolls around. This gives the impression of a super-tight player who is instantly folding all of her hands. When you're ready to switch gears, your aggressive wagers will look even scarier by contrast.
On the other hand, if you want to give the impression of a loose, wild, or criminally insane player, use those same pre-action buttons to make your raises hit the table instantly. This is the online equivalent of players who pounce on a preceding bet by quickly flinging their chips into the pot.
Using the Clock
You can go the other way, too. Suppose you're sitting on a monster hand and you want to slow-play the table. It's time to do some virtual acting. Let that action counter tick down as you "agonize" over whether to call the previous bet. Or, if you have a hand you know you're going to fold, you might wait a few seconds if someone makes a big bet obviously designed to scare off other hands. This will make the aggressor pause to take notice of your play, and it may prevent future intimidation gambits.
Mucking and Flashing
Mucking, you'll remember, means discarding your hand face-down while flashing means showing your winning hole cards to the table after everyone else has folded out of a hand. In live games, there's an unwritten rule that if you flash your cards to one player at the table, you must reveal them to the others as well ("Show One, Show All").
A Word from Uncle Charlie
My Uncle Charlie had a hard-and-fast rule about mucking and flashing. Any time he got an opponent to fold out of a big pot, he would muck the hands he thought would have won anyhow and flash the hands he thought were losers. He especially relished flashing his total bluffs.
His thinking was that by revealing big bluffs and loser hands, he would entice his opponents to call his bets in a later game. Or, at the very least, confuse them badly. Uncle Charlie was no poker pro , but he knew when to get out of a pot. He always said he made most of his money by roping in players who didn't even know that.
Online, you have the option to auto-muck losing and uncalled winning hands, usually by checking the appropriate pre-action buttons. When this option is activated, any hand you're not required to reveal will be discarded face-down into the muck. The upshot of all this is that your opponents won't know you?re down cards, and as a result, they can't tie your betting pattern to a full hand.
There are certain situations, however, in which you may want to flash that winning uncalled hand. Flashing a pure bluff on a big pot, for example, can unnerve your opponents and throw them off their game. Sometimes, if you've caught a miracle hand such as a royal flush, you'll want to flash that just for pride's sake. Hell, you'll probably want to print it out and frame it.
And that's that. If you employ the principles and strategy outlined in these final chapters to your game, you'll have a serious leg up on the competition. But always remember that poker, online or off, requires a basic foundation of knowledge, built with planning, practice, and discipline. Books, websites, and instructional software can help, but for the most part, you learn to play poker by playing poker. The growing popularity and sophistication of online cardrooms means that you can find good games-for real money or not-any time of the day or night. Your timing is just right.
Shuffle up and deal me in!
(© 2006 Deal Me In! Online Cardrooms, Big Time Tournaments, and The New Poker Book. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed)