The online poker boom of the early 2000s seems like an age ago now. However, with many poker sites now altering their structures to appeal to casual players, it’s never been a better time to get started.
Land-based poker is great: you can play across from real-life legends, and pit your skills against the great unwashed online kids (OK, perhaps that’s not such a good idea). Get good enough and perhaps you’ll be one of the next big name SA pros like .
But if you live a flight away from a casino in Durban, Jo’burg or Sun City, you’ll have to resort to an online poker site. Luckily, there are more ways to gamble on your laptop or mobile phone than ever. All you need is a credit card, a good username, and a well-thumbed copy of Doyle Brunson’s .
Getting Started Online
Before you start playing, make sure you clear the hard drive of suspect video files you don’t want your girlfriend to find.
Online poker software needs a little space on the hard drive, and if you’re smart you’ll need half a dozen accounts for a great spread of games.
There are two ways to play online: a download client or an instant-play site. If you don’t want to clog up the computer with software, you can play ‘no-download’ games via your web browser.
If you’re on the download: Windows 7+ or Mac OS X 10.7. 1 GB of RAM is ideal, and have 200MB or free disk space for EACH download you need.
If you’re into some instant action: Make sure your Chrome, Safari or IE is up-to-date. Instant-play software usually works in Flash, HTLM5 or Java, so make sure your machine can handle the updates.
If you’re on a Linux machine (yes, there are some of you out there), you can usually access a Java or HTML5 version of the site’s software.
Choosing a Username and Password: Getting started online is simple: download a client or app (if you’re playing on a mobile phone) and pick a username and password. Always make the username memorable unless you’re happy storing Cookies on your PC or Mac.
Verifying Your Account: Once you’ve set up an account, you’ll need to make a deposit (unless you’re happy to grind the play-money tables). Some sites require some ID verification before you play. This usually just involves scanning a passport or driver’s license and emailing the Customer Support team. With this verified, you are free to make real-money deposits.
Using a Welcome Bonus: Welcome bonuses are to new players. Basically, they “match” your first ZAR deposit in return for some real-cash play. As you play cash games or tournaments and pay fees (every online poker game incurs a small charge) you will earn “player points”. Over a month or two these points are then converted back into cash – pretty sweet, eh?
A welcome bonus is great if you have some cash ready to play with. However, you can also earn a few Rand with a small no-deposit bonus. No-deposit bonuses work by awarding players with a little cash or a tournament token to get your real-money journey off to a steady start.
Finding an Online Poker Site
While setting up an account is simple, finding a place to play often isn’t.
In their wisdom, the SA government still considers online gambling to be the spawn of the devil. And while they struggle with the way honest South Africans use their own cash online, it can be tricky to find a site that will accept ZAR.
Most online poker rooms are licensed in gaming jurisdictions around the world like Gibraltar, Malta or Antigua. However, some sites may restrict players if they come from countries with “grey” laws on Internet gambling.
If you’re unsure, always check for ‘restricted countries’ at your chosen poker site. It’s a quick way of avoiding disappointment.
Picking the Right Games
Despite all the bright colours and noises of the big online poker sites, games work the same way – more or less.
You make a deposit, click on a game to play in the lobby, and sit down to take on opponents sitting in their own homes or offices. They might be in South Africa or thousands of miles away.
Texas Hold’em: Hold’em is the first game you should tackle. In fact, just ignore everything else. Better still, just customise the games lobby (possible with most online poker sites) to only include Texas Hold’em games.
In Texas Hold’em, players get dealt two cards face down. After a round of bets three “community cards” called ‘the flop’ are dealt face up in the centre of the table. These are shared by ALL players at the table.
A round of bets follows, and a fourth “turn” card is added to the community cards. After another round of betting, a final “river” card is added to the board. There is a final round of betting and remaining players reveal their hands. The winner is the player with the .
Cash Games: Cash games are played where the “blinds” (enforced bets placed by two players before a hand starts) remain the same throughout a game. Players can sit down or leave a game at any time. You’ll find games in the online poker lobby with a range of small and big blind levels ($0.01/$0.02, $50/$100, etc).
Tournaments: Good sites will spread a decent range of scheduled tournaments and ‘Sit and Gos‘ (single-table tournaments that start when the table fills with 9 or 10 players).
Unlike cash games, tournaments have a set amount of chips to start off with. The blinds will also increase through a series of levels. This helps the action along and brings the game to a logical conclusion after a few hours.
Improving Your Game
So, you’ve found a site to play at, you have your bankroll, and you have a machine that won’t wave the white flag in surrender when you try to open up 12 tables at once. Now you have to improve your poker skills.
The Internet is crammed with how-to guides and strategy articles designed to improve players’ games. You don’t need to become an all-conquering genius to crack the games: just a simple grasp of starting hands, pot odds, and pre-flop play is usually enough to make a modest profit online.
Get a grip of No Limit Hold’em rules, work out a strategy, and find some profitable games against “fish” (bad players). After a month or so you’ll be in a position to know whether you need to increase the stakes. Start dreaming of Las Vegas now.