Working the lobby is as important as working the game you play. In casino poker you can walk around the room, briefly look at all the games and limits being played, and study what type of game each one is. On the other hand, the online lobby offers a wealth of information just by clicking buttons: average pot size, number of players seeing the flop, how many hands played per hour, names of the players in each game, who is on the waiting list, and how many games of a particular limit are underway. (There is also another critical use of the lobby, but we will get to that below.)
Each bit of information is something we can use to choose the right game and limit. Some folks like wild games. Some prefer more passive ones. Some like full games; some prefer short-handed. Players who are nearly equally competent in all games can choose between dozens of games at the limit of their choice. Game and table selection is a critical part of casino poker. Fundamentally, it is even more important online. At first glance it might seem that table selection is less important online because it is extremely easy to move from one game to another. I think that really is just an argument for why table selection is more important online. The tools are available for players to be constantly aware of where the good games are. Constant vigilance is a price of winning online.
When signing up for games, never choose the "any game at this limit" option. This hamstrings your ability to independently manipulate your position on each sign-up list. For instance, if you've signed up for any $15/30 Holdem game, and your name comes to the top of the list in a game filled with players you don’t want to play with, if you pass this game, you are removed from all the $15/30 lists. Likewise, if you rise to the top of the list on a game that doesn't look good now, but has potential because of others behind you on the waiting list, you may want to unjoin that list and then rejoin again at the bottom -- perhaps when your name, now seventh, rises to the top, the game will be good. If you've signed up for "any game," that option is not available to you. You simply will be put at the bottom of every single list you are on!
At the busy online cardrooms, you have many options to choose from, and a lot of information to use in choosing. Don't restrict yourself. Keep several cardrooms on your computer to choose from. Look for the games that fit with your style. When your game texture changes from favorable to mediocre or worse, cruise the lobby for greener pastures. Keep constantly vigilant. Knowledge is power.
Playing Two Games
One enormous difference between casino poker and online is the ability to play two (or more) games simultaneously online. Many players choose this option. And that is very, very, very good for us. No matter how good a player is, it is inevitable that when playing two games, a player's ability will diminish a little or a lot. A player making $20 an hour playing one game is simply not going to make $40 an hour playing two games. It's a certainty that sometimes hands will overlap, small opportunities will be missed, decisions rushed. This player may do better overall by playing two games, say making $34 an hour combined from the two games, but as opponents, they will do less well in any particular game they play in. This means, instead of facing a player who has an expectation to take $20 an hour out of our game, we face one who will only take out maybe $17. And, a player who expects to lose $30 an hour will now lose $37 an hour (or whatever) in our game. There may be a few scatterbrained players who the confusion of playing in two games actually benefits but those people will be rare, and they will likely play so poorly that it hardly matters.
So we have some good players' expectation going down, and some bad players' expectation going down. Where does that expectation/money go? Some of it should go to us. The other lobby monitoring skill I mention above is: you should monitor the lobby to see which players in your game are playing two or more games and who isn't.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying you shouldn’t play two games (once you have experience playing online). If you are like the player above who could make $20 an hour playing one game or $34 an hour playing two, by all means play two. You should just recognize that there are many strategies available to be used against a player playing two games.
For instance, suppose you are head-up in a fairly passive Holdem game against a player who is also playing in a high-action second game. Suppose you both check the flop. Now the turn card comes, and you pause. You take some time. You know what just happened? Your opponent very possibly was just dealt a hand in the lively game. Maybe even a monster! Maybe he has two aces. He doesn't want to be dawdling over this stinky little pot here, so he may check the "check/fold in turn" box as he impatiently waits for you. You should see where this is going -- players who play two games inevitably are going to be easier to bluff. Why call with bottom pair at this table when you can be raising with two kings on the other table? Why waste time waiting for some dip taking time over a tiny pot when it's just been raised in your other game and you have AsKs?
Of course, your opponent might have 72o in the other game. But the point still remains, this opponent will simply be more bluffable because sometimes he will have good reason to focus his attention elsewhere.
And it's not just bluffing either. Against opponents playing two games, you should be much more willing to value bet mediocre hands. Suppose a Holdem board is Ts7h2d. You bet 66. Your opponent, holding KsQs, is dealt two jacks at his other table. It should be obvious that in general you are going to win a lot more pots uncontested from players who play two games.
Players playing two games will generally lay down their small blind more; be more likely to go on tilt (two games to get a bad beat!); be more likely to actually have a strong hand when they do play a major, drawn-out pot; be more likely to use the check/fold/raise "in turn" buttons; be more likely to play straightforwardly; and any number of other things. While alone none of these may be huge, they add up to John giving away a significant advantage to a player who knows John is playing two games.
Just like in casino poker, online your income comes from the application and re-application of your advantages over the long haul. Each one of the small edges that the two-game players give up represents a real amount of money in our pocket. Pennies from here, quarters from there... adds up to a lot of rand in the long run.
Most important, playing two games leads to players taking more emotional defeats in a short period of time. Two game players inevitably tilt more than one game players.
Finally, if you are a losing player, here is the number one lesson for you: play only one game at a time. You will lose less money.
Monitor Stack Sizes
Keep an eye on the precise size of the short stacks. Some cardrooms have poor rules where a bet of any size below a full bet does not constitute a raise. For instance, playing $10/20, on the turn you check with the intention to checkraise. A player bets all-in for $19, and another calls. Your plan is screwed. All you can do is call. On the other hand, if you know that player has $21, you will be able to checkraise. In casino poker, you very often can't tell how many chips a player has left. Online you know within $1.
Another consideration here is because of the bad rule about betting, be careful about completing bets. If two people check, then somebody bets $19 all-in, you better have a super-monster to make it $20. Those first two players can't checkraise the $19, but they can checkraise you when you make it $20. Likewise, a player behind you can raise it to $40 if you make it $20, but can only raise it to $20 if you just call.
Like in casino poker, bigger stacks tend to get bigger respect, especially from new players. So always keeping a decent amount of chips "in front of you" is a good idea. However, you should always have enough chips available in your bank to jump into a different game. If you keep your whole bankroll in front of you, you can't buy-in to second game without cashing out of the first.
If you are a winning player, a smooth, prompt game is almost always in your favor. The more hands you are dealt in, the more money you make. So be sure to check the "muck losing hands" and "auto-post blinds" buttons. There are times you would want to uncheck the auto-post option (like if you go to answer the doorbell or the game gets short and you consider quitting) but I can't think of any reason to ever uncheck the muck losing hands button. Also, if you do leave your computer, check the "sit out next hand" button rather than getting dealt in and letting yourself "time out" when it comes to you to act. While it's rude to make people wait for you when you are not even in the room, you also shouldn't slow down a game in any case because a slower game is generally a less profitable game.
Perhaps 5% of online players are very rude. Sometimes literally half the game is spent repeatedly waiting for the same self-absorbed player to act on his hand. While this obnoxious behavior might tilt opponents a bit, creating enemies and being a jerk is seldom profitable in the long run. Playing promptly is the courteous and profitable thing to do.
Careful When Using "In Turn" Buttons
While the online software is mostly terrific, there are minor glitches you should try to avoid. The "in turn" buttons allow you to act on a hand before it actually is your turn, allowing you go back to reading or playing another game or vacuuming. But on occasion, especially when you have an internet connection delay, when you click the "check in turn" button, the action may actually be on you already and at that instant the yellow "call" button will pop up right above where you are trying to click "check".
My own misfortune with this came when I had JJJ3 in the big blind playing Omaha8. No raises so we saw the flop -- A76. Okay, not one penny of my money is ever going into this pot with this hand on this flop. The small blind doesn’t act for a moment, so I click "check in turn." But I was having an Internet delay, and all of a sudden me clicking that area of the screen means I call the small blind’s bet! Ten bucks I'll never see gain.
These buttons can be useful tools, but often should be avoided (see the "online tells" section for more reasons). The button that seems to be the most dangerous one is the "fold" one. If you check in turn, then click the fold button, and nobody bets that round, your hand will be mucked the next round, even if there is again no bet