This is the first article in my series on how to approach playing online poker in terms of:
Let's get started with...
The main reasons people play online are:
For fun, to improve, to grind out a side income, and to make a living.
If you are playing online for fun and don’t take it very seriously, then you are essentially gambling and should treat it as such.
This is by far the most common reason people play online. The main reason this works so well is the number of hands you can play, and the relative difficulty is much higher and thus provides good and cheaper practice compared to live tournaments. As an example, the difficulty of an $11 buy-in on ACR is likely equivalent to a $600 buy-in in Las Vegas.
If your goal is to improve, you are going to want to learn how to use the basic study tools like RangeTrainerPro, GTOTrainer, PokerTracker, ICMizer, and Holdem Resource Calculator. Respectively, these tools will help you with your GTO preflop ranges, as well as track your play so you can review and study, and help you figure out the profitability of various pre-flop decisions
Whether you are playing for fun or to improve; your online bankroll management doesn’t need to be very strict, but I’d still recommend never putting more than 2% of your Poker Bankroll into a single tournament.
If your goal in playing online is to make a consistent income, then you will need to follow the above advice, however, take it a lot further with regards to game selection and overall discipline.
TLDR: It depends and is fully up to you.
What you should play can be difficult to figure out. You have a lot of different options in terms of where to play, field sizes, and buy-ins. It can be daunting to figure out what fields are the best in terms of edge and balance that out with variance.
First of all, our main concern should always be our BANKROLL, when you are playing for your primary income you need to have it separate from your general living expenses. I’d treat my starting poker roll as any money I can lose and not have it impact me at all.
In order to play professionally, your starting roll should be money that you are comfortable with losing and is completely separate from your living expenses. You should also have at least 1 year of living expenses set aside that is not a part of your playing roll at all. It’s generally ideal to start with a smaller bankroll and add to it if you feel the need, rather than start with too much and play too big for your comfort zone.
This is easily the most important aspect of playing this game professionally. It doesn’t matter if you are the best player in the world, if you manage your money poorly you will very likely go broke.
General guidelines I’d suggest for various bankrolls would be:
The main thing I’d like to point out in the above is the increasing amount of average buy-in’s we should have as we move up in stake. This is because of the average difficulty of the games increasing and thus the increased variance.
Variance is a function of skill edge, field size, and structure. It should be our main concern in what games we choose to play in.
The difference between being a consistently winning player, and a winning player who mostly loses but has rare big winning months mostly comes down to how well they choose what games they play.
Using the Pokerdope Variance Calculator we can easily see that the type of financial swings we have are largely a function of ROI and Field Size. I strongly recommend playing around with the variance calculator to see results for yourself.
Let's consider 2 different players and see which one will have a better overall experience while grinding:
Player: “Trophy Hunter”
Average Buy-in: $10
Expected ROI: 30
Tournaments played in a month: 200
Average Field Size: 2000
Expected Swing: $2,348
Probability of loss: 50%
70% of time: -$1,470 to +$3,180
Average Buy-in: $10
Expected ROI: 30
Tournaments played in a month: 200
Average Field Size: 200
Expected Swing: $722
Probability of loss: 19%
70% of time: -$95 to +$1,400
In this example, the Trophy Hunter plays mostly big fields and isn’t careful about game selection. Because of this, their average field size is 2000. This leads to them having large financial swings due to what they play. They can have a $2000 downswing, and will only have a profitable month about half the time. Their results month to month will be heavily dictated by variance as 70% of the time their end result will be anywhere from losing $1,000 to winning up to $2,600. This player should have a bankroll of at least $3500 and should play a lot more volume if they want to play large fields.
The “Grinder” focuses on small fields and is very careful with game selection. Because of this, their average field size is only 200. Thus, their month to month results relies very little on variance and more so on their skill edge. Their downswing can be only about $700, and 70% of the time they’ll lose as little as $100 in bad months, and win $1400 in good months. This player only needs a bankroll of around $1500.
While chasing after big scores can be enjoyable, unless you are a very large volume player it will almost always be ideal to focus on smaller fields and utilize careful game selection.
As you can see, the most important aspect of playing is bankroll management and mitigating our variance. However, if you actually want to make consistent money you also need to actually play good volume and study and review.
One of the biggest mistakes I see players make is trying to play too much volume, either in terms of hours played, days played, or tables played. As everyone is very unique in these aspects I’ll give you a general guideline in terms of what your daily and weekly schedule could look like:
8 am: Wake up - Shower + morning routine
9 am: Yoga/workout/hike/walk +Breakfast/make food for rest of day
10 am: Review the deepest run from your last session and review all the questionable hands you tagged from your last session + watch a training video
11 am: Start grind. Aim for 6 tables, peak at 8
3 pm: Register last reg-speed
5 pm: Register last turbo
7pm-10pm: End grind. Eat, Sleep, MTT!
For a full-time player, you should take 2 days a week off from playing and spend at most 3 hours studying on those days.
How many tables should you play?
This is really player dependent. I suggest starting with 1 or 2 and spend a while (weeks+) where you play this few until you start to feel bored while playing, then slowly add more.
You want to find the balance between playing as many tables as possible, while not having it negatively impact your play. Thus, if you ever feel rushed or if you are forgetting action in hands or making poor decisions then you are playing too many tables.
It is way better to play too few tables than it is to try to play too many!!
Living in the state of Nevada I have 4 main options to play at. They are the first 4 listed. I’ll also discuss Ignition as well. These sites are focused more on our American players as I don’t get to play at the other sites unless I travel out of the country for a large series.
For fully legal and regulated poker, WSOP is available to players in NV/NJ/DE. This is a very soft site, has mostly smaller fields, and is pretty easy to deposit and withdraw from. It’s easily the safest and most secure site I play on. Unfortunately, the software is very outdated, and game selection options can struggle most of the day, and the structures are poor. They have a robust Sunday schedule and run series regularly. Overall, it’s a good place to play volume.
AmericasCardRoom is available globally. This site is run in a legal grey area in the USA. That being said, they have quick and easy cashouts and deposits using crypto and it’s easy to buy and sell funds between players. Being less regulated though it is a higher risk site to play than WSOP. Having said that, ACR has 10+ years of being a reliable place to play. They have a wide range of games all day and provide the most volume by far with some of the best software. However, they also have by far the most difficult games and largest fields. It’s still a good place to play volume, but I suggest doing so with caution.
This site is also available globally and is run in a legal grey area. Like ACR, they also have quick and easy cashouts with crypto. However, it doesn’t have player to player transfers. I’d classify them as also being a very high-risk place to play, more so than ACR even. They have a more limited selection of games, but still some worth playing every day. The fields are smaller and very soft. However, their longgggg late regs down to 5bb cause very short play through most of the tourney. While it’s a reasonable option to play at, I’d suggest so with a decent amount of caution.
Global is very different from the other sites on this list as it is only available to Americans and Canadians. They use a “Sweepstakes” model to circumvent USA laws, thus also in a fairly legal grey area. Their cashouts can be a bit cumbersome and use some form of debit cards lately to move funds off. It doesn’t have player to player transfers. Their schedule has been consistently growing in terms of options, and they mostly have very small and extremely soft fields. Their software being through the browser is very very weak, however, you get used to it. The structures tend to be somewhat poor, but are better than BOL. While a reasonable option to play at, I’d suggest so with a decent amount of caution as well.
As they have blocked players from a handful of regulated USA states, it is unfortunate that I cannot play there as, while also in a legal grey area and not the safest place to play, they have a reasonable selection of games that are EXTREMELY soft. It’s not the best software, and their structures could certainly be a bit better. But, considering how soft it is and how quick deposits and withdrawals are with crypto, it is a very reasonable option to play. Although, again I suggest a hefty amount of caution.
American players have some other options, however, most of these options would require using a VPN (which I strongly advise against), or playing on the phone apps which are by far the least safe and most legally dubious way to play. That is why as of writing this article I suggest these above sites if you live in NV.
If you live in NJ, I’ve heard mostly positive things about Party/Borgata.NJ and Stars.NJ. They have generally small and soft fields with reasonable schedules and structures.
If you are not American, you have a lot of options to play. From what I’ve heard through discussing with friends, the sites with the most difficult fields are likely:
Party/Stars/GG/ACR in some order thereof. These sites tend to also have the largest fields. Thus I’d suggest playing mostly on the regulated sites that are not these, but also highly rated, to focus on smaller and softer fields.
I hope this article helps give you a bit better of an insight on how to grind online and helps you make better decisions on and away from the tables.
Thank you for reading and best of luck at the tables!