November 15, 2008

How to make £1/hour playing online poker

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I have just completed my 50th online poker game. I lost. My top pair turned into a straight on the river and so I went all-in against a player who check-called. Turned out he made a full house on the flop! Now seems like a suitable milestone to think again about my play.

After the home games I thought I’d try online poker for real money (opposed to the online “play” money with which I learnt the game). So I put US$50 on Pokerstars. Pokerstars also invited me to a beginner’s tournament, which seemed to be a ploy to get some more money into newbies’ hands – I won US$32. Thus I started with US$82 and that is my baseline. I decided to focus on one type of game and chose micro stakes heads-up Hold’em sit’n’go tournaments. That is, there are two players, each puts in US$2.20 for a set number of chips and play until one person has all the chips. The winner gets US$4 and the site US$0.40 in fees – the loser gets nothing. There are always a couple of these games going so you can play whenever you want. It would take a long time to go broke and with a single opponent I could learn the basics in the simplest environment possible.

At first I started winning. I think I won my first 3 games straight. I started dreaming of becoming a poker pro. Then I starting losing, dropping to around the US$60 mark after nearly 20 games. I started paying more attention to the game and writing down results – 5/10, then 7/10, then 8/10, lastly a loss to reach the 50 game mark. In total I have won 25, lost 25. Thus, due to fees I have US$72 – US$10 down on where I started. I think in the right circumstances I can beat this level of the game. In the final eleven games I played noticeably worse than my opponent three times (I lost one and won two – lucky). Winning 7 out of 10 seems a reasonable goal. Which at about 2.5 hours per 10 games equates to roughly £1/hour (hence the title).

There is however one small problem. I have a tendency to tilt. Tilt is a great concept in poker, it is when for whatever reason you are not playing rationally and letting your emotions influence your decisions. This can be getting bored; overbetting back at someone who is annoying; or a vast range of other suboptimal play. I certainly think that my poker maths skills have a great deal of room for improvement, but that doesn’t seem to matter too much at my level. My opponents have a lot to learn too. What seems to separate us, in my limited experience, is temperament. Over the last 30 games or so I focussed mainly on ensuring I was in an appropriate frame of mind before starting (patient, relaxed, time to play and a desire to win) and stopping if I felt this slipping. That lead to the improvement.

So what now? I have started reading a book on poker theory, so hopefully my game will slowly improve. Other than that I aim to control my tendency to tilt. I’ll play another 50 games (which will take a couple of months) and aim to win 70%, which would mean I break US$100. If I can manage this and I think I’m playing well, I’ll consider going up a level or trying a different game.

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