Most people these days start out playing poker online for free with play money. In fact, the majority of players on nearly all sites are playing in these fake money games.
Play money poker is a great way to learn the game and also to understand on a basic level how people think at the poker tables. But if you ever really want to get somewhere in poker, then you eventually have to switch over to real money play.
In this article I am doing to discuss a few of the ways to use the skills you can learn in play money games to help you make money at the real money poker tables.
Tight is Right
The first thing that you will probably notice when playing play money poker is how crazy and loose everybody is.
There is a reason for this. When nothing is on the line there is no incentive for most people to care about what hands they play or if they win or lose.
They are essentially just splashing the chips around and having fun. Many of your opponents probably do not even know that there is a skill advantage to be had in this game in the first place! So you can immediately gain a huge edge in the play money games by simply playing tighter than your opponents.
Now this doesn’t mean that you need to be folding everything but the absolute nuts. But you don’t need to be playing every ace-rag hand, unsuited junk, and all the other bad cards that they play.
This approach actually transitions well to the real money tables. Even though you will notice a huge difference in the “seriousness” of your opponents at the real money tables — where, in fact, several of them will play tight — many games at the lower stakes still have plenty of loose players in them.
By making sure that you fold a lot of the junk hands that they play, you will immediately gain an advantage over them by starting with a stronger range. This also makes it much more likely for you to reach showdowns with hands that are just a bit better than your opponents', such as when you out-kick them or have a higher flush.
Many bad players chalk these hands up as being “coolers” when in fact they are not. If you choose to play a lot of trashy hands, then you are going to get the short end of the stick more often than others do.
Learning to be Aggressive
Another skill that play money poker will teach you is to be aggressive. Something that you will notice in these games right away is that every hand is one big limp fest. Everybody and their dog calls the big blind and enters the pot.
When you have a good hand, you need to raise in these situations in order to thin the field. You also simply want to get more money in the middle when you have the best of it.
Learning this skill will also be useful when you make the jump to the real money games. While you won’t see anywhere near as much limping, it will still happen at the lower limits in particular on a regular basis.
It is important to use this skill that you learned to isolate the weaker players who limp and then to also follow it up by betting again after the flop, especially if you connect with the board well.
The fact is, poker players at the play money tables and in low stakes real money games are by and large very passive. This means that in order to win a big pot you often need to build it yourself. And the only way that you can do that is by betting and raising.
Avoid the urge to slow play your big hands and start building that pot. As you saw in play money, they love to call. Give them a chance to do just that.
Letting Go of Weak Draws
Another way in which you can immediately gain an edge over your play money opponents is by letting go of weak draws.
As you know in these games, play money players are notorious for chasing every weak draw to the river or even calling the whole way with bottom pair. However, simple math tells us most of the time they do not hit their long shot and therefore lose the hand.
Understanding the need to let go of weak draws transitions to real money play as well. In order for you to have success in these games, it is necessary for you to fold weak draws, especially when your opponent is betting big.
You can even take it a step further and learn some of the basic math in these spots to help guide your decisions. Memorize the odds of hitting a flush draw, straight draw, a gutshot, making two-pair hands, and so on, both with one card to come and with two cards to come.
You can then quickly calculate the pot odds that your opponent is giving you in order to determine if you are getting the right price to continue or not. These are all things you can practice at the play money tables, then benefit from when you carry them over to real money games.
Learning how to beat play money games when playing poker online can actually help you win at the real money tables as well. Many people write off play money as a place simply to learn the rules of the game and then move on.
For the most part this is true. If your goal is eventually to start making money playing poker, you should not spend any considerable amount of time at the fake money tables because it isn’t real poker and of course you aren’t playing for anything.
But many of the skills that you will learn in order to beat the play money games such as how to play tight, learning to be aggressive, and how to value bet and let go of weak draws will help you win at the real money tables as well.
Nathan "BlackRain79" Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.