VEGAS: Playing poker online–is it for you?

You see the ads on TV: “Play poker with the pros” or “Become the next poker superstar by qualifying for free online!”

It’s almost as bad as an informercial.  Is playing poker online really that easy?  Kind of like Publishers Clearinghouse–anybody can win!

Right? Stories of college kids depositing $50 into an online site and turning it into $2,000,000 are true.  Take Jupiter’s Harrison Gimbel, who at just 19 won a tournament in the Bahamas last year.  He won his seat in the tournament online for a fraction of the cost.  He promptly dropped out of the University of Alabama after the tournament win to concentrate on playing poker full-time.

And then there’s the story of Norway’s Annette Obrestad never depositing a dime online, and turning her freeroll tournament winnings into a multi-million dollar bankroll.  She was all of 15 when she started playing online.

For the older generation, there’s 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion Chris Moneymaker.  Moneymaker was a struggling accountant who parlayed a $40 online tournament into a winning the $2.5 Million and a hefty endorsement from Poker

For every player who has found stardom through online poker, there are 1000 guys who say things like, “I’m never playing on (insert online poker website) again!”  I actually got a text like this last week from a good friend of mine.  As a seasoned poker player, why would he say that?

First of all, playing online is a completely different animal than playing live.  Instead of playing at a table with people you can see, hear, and sometimes even smell, you play against a person who is represented by an avatar.  Actual poker chips or $100 bills are replaced by a number on a computer screen.  To say playing online feels like a computer game isn’t far from the truth.

Secondly, the fact you can’t see a live opponent can be maddening.  There are few things less satisfying than losing money to an avatar.  What is worse?  Losing money to an avatar when your hand is a 90% favorite to win.  Over, and over again.

Anyone with anger management issues might do well to stay away from playing online completely.  Three-time WSOP bracelet winner Mike “The Mouth” Matusow has won over $6 Million playing poker tournaments over the past 14 years.  After losing big online one night, he threw his laptop from his balcony and into his pool.  Closer to home, a former roommate of mine put a hole through his bedroom door after losing his $7,000 online bankroll in one night.  Guess who didn’t get their deposit back for that apartment?

Hey, I’ve had my issues too.  If it is fair to say that I’ve paid my rent several months ahead thanks to playing poker online, it is also fair to mention that I’ve sent a 1,200-word letter to Full Tilt Poker questioning the high amount of variance involved in a certain session where my top full house was beaten by a rivered royal flush.  Their customer service representative handled it beautifully, and he referred me to an excellent essay written by Darrell “Gigabet” Dicken on the topic.  It took one of the great minds in poker to get me thinking rationally again, as you almost have a better chance getting struck by lightning as you do getting your full house drawn out on by a royal flush.

One of the biggest keys to successful online play is keeping a level head.  Knowing how to make all the right plays doesn’t doesn’t matter if you can’t keep your emotions in check.  Start out with a small bankroll to make sure online play is for you.  Especially now that there are several local poker rooms to choose from.

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