By Consumer Dummies

Even if you’ve “mastered” brick-and-mortar Poker play, you can’t simply walk in and take all the virtual candy from the online brats. You’ll likely come screen to screen with some pretty savvy players. But coming out on top of your favorite game is certainly possible, and to do that you need to know your Poker theory.

The most important thing to understand about Internet Poker is that you’re still playing Poker.

With very few exceptions, nearly all the Poker theory you already know and have gleaned over your life applies in the virtual world. You must deal with nuances and fine points, yes, but Poker is Poker, no matter the form or forum.

If you aren’t familiar with the nuances of Poker itself, you should read and study up on general theory first before you play online.

In any betting situation, the key to winning is being more informed than your opponent. If you fail to read up on Poker theory, the players who aren’t so cavalier will beat you in the long run.

Stepping Out of the Casino Mentality

Although they both offer run-of-the-mill Poker, the online Poker environment is far different from the brick-and-mortar world. You need to give up what you know and love about playing in the casino and hunker down by yourself, in the corner, with your computer. Besides your physical surroundings, you experience other differences too . . . like when you want to play, you have to first download a Poker site’s software. Next you have to realize that looking for tells is a bit different because your opponent may be sitting somewhere across the planet rather than across the table in front of you.

You also have many more paths you can take in the online world compared to brick-and-mortar casinos. You can play in tournaments or ring games. You can play Hold’em, Omaha, or Stud (and even wild card games). You can play at tables with as many as nine other players or head’s up against a sole contender. What separates the Internet world is that you can play all these types of games at any time, not just when management gives you the go-ahead in a brick-and-mortar casino.

Looking for tells online

The most obvious difference between the physical and the online world is that you don’t have another player glaring at you from across the table. The lack of player presence directs your focus to the game, whereas before you may have split your time between looking at your opponent and the cards in play.

But being alone doesn’t mean that you play in a world devoid of tells and clues about another player’s bluff (or worse, when he tries to sucker you in with a killer hand). It just means that the clues you want to keep track of and watch for are different.

Experiencing Poker in the pure

Experience shows that, in many ways, Internet Poker is a purer form of the game. The decisions you make tend to be more positional than in the brick-and-mortar world. Where you sit in relation to betting around the table and the number of chips you have relative to the other players (especially in tournament play) hold bigger roles.

In the online world, you see bigger betting (pushing all-in, for example), largely because you come across more novice players who don’t have anything but time to lose. You also see less folding than in the brick-and-mortar world.

Crafting Your Identity

Before you begin playing in the virtual realm, you need to make a few of the following decisions about your online persona.

What’s your name?

The site asks you for a user identification name (user ID). This is the moniker that the site uses to identify you at the table. Unless you tell them, the other players at any table can never know your “for real” human name; nor can you know theirs.

After you pick a user ID, you’re stuck with it for the life of that site; so make sure you pick something you like. Being called “Spice Girls” may have been cool in 1997, but it isn’t so great now (although, personally, we’d kill to have that one).

Expect obscene and semi-obscene user IDs to provoke a reaction from your Poker site’s Thought Police; you can avoid the hassle by not goading them in the first place. Keep it clean.

What’s your sign?

Some sites give you the opportunity to pick a small thumbnail-sized icon to represent your presence at the virtual table. Again, choose something you can be happy with for a l-o-n-g time because some sites only let you change your icon once. Others never do.

Regardless of your gender, you may be tempted to choose a picture of some super-hunky dude or ultra-busty chick as your icon. We encourage you to think twice about this tactic, unless you really like the idea of talking about that image every time you sit down at a table.

People don’t have a whole lot to focus on when they sit at an online table; you may find that some become obsessed with what little eye candy they do see. Several players from the virtual world have turned their chat off because they just couldn’t take bantering about their picture any more.