The Basics of Online Poker Cash Games

Beginners to online poker often gravitate towards tournament poker. The appeal of tournament poker is obvious – low investment with potentially big rewards. With a bit of luck you can win more than you dreamed possible. What’s not to like about that? Well nothing of course. However, many players prefer to play online poker cash games – which rely less on luck, and can be more rewarding, both intellectually and financially.

Play Money vs. Real Money Cash Games

If you’re completely new to online poker cash games, then learning the basics of the game on the play money tables is a good idea. The advantage of playing play money tables is obvious – you’re not risking any money. However, the downside is very few people take it seriously. You will find a selective few players that will play properly – but at the end of the day, most don’t really care enough. Poker will always be about the money, and that will never change. That is how you keep score, and that is what makes it exciting. There must be something at stake.

Online Poker Cash Game Stakes

Real money online poker cash games start with stakes as low as $0.01/$0.02. You’ll find games to suit all budgets and the stakes are nearly always grouped into different levels such as micro stakes, low stakes, medium stakes, and high stakes. The grouping will differ depending on the online poker room, but here are typical groups you might expect to find at your chosen online poker room:

No-Limit/Pot-Limit Hold’em
  • Micro ($0.01/$0.02 to $0.05/$0.10)
  • Low ($0.10/$0.25 to $0.50/$1.00)
  • Medium ($1/$2 to $4/$8)
  • High ($5/$10 +)
Fixed Limit Hold’em:
  • Micro ($0.01/$0.02 to $0.25/$0.50)
  • Low ($0.50/$1.00 to $3/$6)
  • Medium ($5/$10 to $10/$20)
  • High ($15/$30 +)

While online poker rooms display cash games by the stakes, such as $0.01/$0.02 and $0.05/$0.10 etc – most online poker players usually just refer to games by the maximum buy-in amount, usually 100 big blinds. So while an online poker room might call a game $0.05/$0.10, online poker players will often just refer to it as a $10 game. Here are a few examples:

  • $10NL = $0.05/$0.10
  • $25NL = $0.10/$0.25
  • $100NL = $0.50/$1.00

The NL means no-limit. Fixed limit games would be labeled as FL, and pot limit as PL. It’s just a shorter way of describing the stakes and one that you’ll become familiar with if you decide to play real money cash games.

Buy-in Amounts

Each online poker room offers different buy-in amounts, but a typical site might allow anywhere from 20 big blinds to 100 big blinds in a no-limit or pot-limit cash game. So in a no-limit game with blinds of $0.05/$0.10, you can generally buy-in for as little as $2, and up to a maximum of $10. Some sites such as Full Tilt Poker have a higher minimum buy-in of 35 big blinds for their standard no-limit and pot-limit cash games. Fixed limit tables usually require at least 10 times the small bet. For example, a $0.50/$1.00 game would have a minimum buy-in of $5.

Bankroll Requirements

If you’re a casual player with deep pockets, who can dip in and reload when you go broke at the poker table, then bankroll management might not be an issue for you. However, if you’re serious about beating the online poker cash games and you have a limited bankroll, you need to come up with a plan. Variance affects all poker players, and you need to manage your bankroll to lessen the impact a losing run (which happens to the best of us) will have on your funds.

The following table shows our online poker bankroll guidelines:

Cash Bankroll

For no-limit and pot-limit games we recommend a bankroll of 20-40 the maximum buy-in. So in a $100NL game, which would have blinds of $50c/$1, the maximum buy-in would be $100. Therefore you should be aiming for a bankroll of $2,000 – $4,000 for these games. For limit hold’em we recommend a bankroll of 300 to 400 big bets. So in a limit game with blinds of $1/$2, we recommend a bankroll of $600 – $800.

A loose aggressive (LAG) player will experience more variance than a tight aggressive (TAG) player. The general tightness/looseness of the games you play in will also affect your variance, as will the number of players. If you’re play on short-handed cash game tables then you’ll experience higher variance than you would in a full ring game, and should therefore aim for the higher end of the recommended bankroll requirements.

Table/Game Selection

The lobby of your favourite online poker room will typically include information about the cash games that are running. It’s important you understand this information, because picking the right game can be the difference between winning and losing. We recommend you browse, search, and filter the current cash games being played at the online poker room, and pay close attention to the following:

Flop Percentages

One of your most important considerations when using the lobby to pick the right cash game is the flop percentage. This is an indication of how many players are seeing the flop (as opposed to folding pre-flop) throughout the game so far. A lower flop percentage is an indication of a tighter table, where more players are waiting for premium hands before pursuing the flop. A higher flop percentage lets you know that there are plenty of loose players at the table, bringing weaker starting hands to the flop.

Average Pot Size

The average pot size of a game is another way of anticipating the type of play in progress at that table. When using the lobby to pick the right game, you should pay special attention to the average pot size in conjunction with the flop percentage. Usually, these numbers will have a direct correlation. Tables with a higher flop percentage will often have a higher average pot size as well, due to the looser play at these tables.

However, this is only a general rule. Sometimes, a table will have a small flop percentage and a higher average pot size. This means that fewer players are bringing hands to the flop, but when they do, they’re playing aggressively by raising and re-raising. This is typically an indication of strong players, and a table that you’re better off avoiding.

Hand per Hour

This section of the lobby interface is self-explanatory: a number value indicating how many total hands are being played at the table per hour. A higher number is an indication of a faster pace of play. Hands per hour can vary wildly even within a single stake. For example, a quick scan of the Full Tilt Poker lobby indicates that, in the micro-stakes room, tables are seeing between 50 and 120 hands per hour.

The number of players at the table is something else you should consider when using the lobby to pick the right game. At a table that is full or nearly full, you might not have the benefit of choosing your seat and obtaining a good betting position. At a table with fewer players, you’ll see more hands per hour, but you can obviously expect the average pot size to be somewhat smaller.

And finally…

Don’t make the mistake of playing in a higher stakes game than you’re ready for. High stakes games are best reserved with players who have a large poker bankroll and a thorough understanding of online poker strategies. Low stakes games are the perfect place to hone your skills and familiarize yourself with the online poker room’s interface. In the next section we’ll look specifically at the micro-stakes games – the perfect starting point for new online poker cash game players.