Once you’ve downloaded the poker room software and created an account (and hopefully made a deposit), you are ready to get familiar with your new “home”. Opening the poker client (or App) will take you to the main area of the poker room – the Main Lobby.
The first thing you will want to see is how everything is laid out so that (in the future) you can navigate to your favorite games as quickly as possible. In particular, pretty much every room nowadays has a “custom” tab or lobby filter that allows you to narrow down the tables shown to only the ones you want to see. But for now, just try to soak in the overall functionality. Here’s an example of a typical lobby in the Cash Table view:
Before you can get to the main lobby, you’ll probably be bombarded with a pop-up box (fully downloaded versions only). These are perfectly legitimate as they are generated by the poker room (usually pumping an upcoming tournament or promotion) but for now, just close it down so that you can see the entire lobby.
Most poker rooms separate their lobby with tabs: the highest level is used for the game format (Tournaments, Cash Games, Sit & Go’s, Fast Poker); and then depending on which format you select, an array or matrix of columns replaces the main lobby and allows you to segregate games by stakes level or buy-in, type of game, schedule (start times and ‘in progress’ status for tournaments) and game availability/traffic.
Tournament Tab – Typically, you’ll see a list of all the tournaments with their buy-ins and start times, and the number of players currently registered or playing (if the tournament allows late registration). Each column is sortable – by clicking on the name of the column – so the first thing you will probably want to do is sort on the Start Time column. That way, you know right away which tournaments have just started or are about to start. If you find that there are too many tournaments listed and you have to scroll down to see the ones you want, you will probably want to use a filter to show only the buy-ins that you are considering. Buy-ins can run from pennies to hundreds of dollars, so creating a filter for tourneys with buy-ins of between say $5 – $20 will cut down the list to a manageable size.
At some of the bigger poker sites, you’ll also have sub-tabs to the Tournament Tab – usually these are for things like Freerolls, Private Tables, Satellites and the like. It’s really just another way of filtering your selections, so unless you are not worried about missing any big tourneys you might want to just leave it on the All Tournaments tab, at least until you are totally comfortable with the layout.
Cash Games Tab – Again, all the cash game tables will be listed in some default order. Here, you are going to be more interested in the stakes levels and the number of players at the table (and whether the tables are full or not). So, sort by stakes level first – again, if that leaves too many tables you will want to filter to the range that you prefer – and then sort by the number of players at the table. If you are looking for a 9 or 10-seat $0.10/$0.25 NL Holdem’ game, you are not going to want to sit down at a table that has only 3 people playing. Similarly, you won’t be able to find a seat if the table has 9 (or 10) players on it already. So, you’ll be looking for almost-full tables with 7 or 8 players. If all the tables are full (or mostly empty) you have another option, joining the waitlist.
Waitlist – If a table is full, or if none are currently available, you have the ability to add yourself to a waitlist. You can choose the parameters: wait for a specific table (by name); or wait for any table of a certain stakes level when it has X number of players (you decide how many). Once someone leaves the table, and you are next in line, you will receive an alert (prompt) and have a couple of minutes to confirm that you want to sit down and play. It’s a handy feature and guarantees your place in the (virtual) lineup.
Sit and Go Tab – Very similar to the look and feel of the Tournament Tab (since SNG’s are essentially just one or two table tournaments!). The only difference being that there is no start time column because SNGs start as soon as the table(s) is full. The best thing to do here is sort by buy-in level and number of players entered. There may be a $5 Turbo SNG that has only 1 (of 6) players registered and a $5 Regular SNG that has 5 of 6 players and will start as soon as the next person registers. Unless you are prepared to wait for the Turbo table to fill up, you might want to go where you know there is going to be a game up and running shortly.
Speed Poker Tab – Rush Poker, Fast Poker, Go Poker, or any of the other brand names that it may go by, will be referred to as Speed Poker for now. You’ll find other articles detailing speed poker, but briefly this is a variant of poker whereby as soon as you fold a hand, you are transported to a new table against new opponents such that the action essentially never stops! All the players are pooled together by stakes level, so all you need to do is decide which stakes you prefer and add yourself to the pool. Then strap yourself in and hang on for the virtual ride.
Regardless of which game type you choose to play, getting to the tables is easy – just double click on the table from the lobby, and you’ll be taken to your seat or given further instructions. In the case of a cash game table, if there is a choice of seats available, just click on any “Open Seat”.
The Poker Table
As noted initially, if you are very new to online poker, you might want to find a play money table or a micro-stakes game so that you can get a feel for the actual game play. Tables are found in the Lobby, as described above. Here’s a sample table:
Seating Options – Upon finding a seat, the first thing to note is whether or not the table rotates once you sit down. At some rooms, if you click on a seat at the right side of the table, you will be seated at the right side of the table. At some rooms, the table will rotate, putting you at the lower-center of table every time. Some rooms allow you to actually choose which seating option you’d like, and even let you configure your preferences to the number of players at the table. Regardless, figure this out first so that you establish a point of reference right away.
Once you find an appropriate table to check things out, look for the Options button. This can usually be found in one of the corners of the live table. Look for an asterisk or wheel-type shape (something like an asterisk).
This will open up the menu of options available to you. Depending on the poker room, table options can be accessed in a variety of ways, which include clicking an obvious button at the table, clicking the dealer’s chip tray. Alternatively, there might be a “Table Features” option available in the main lobby. And some rooms have both. Here are some of the most common features which you will want to adjust to your preference as soon as you have a chance:
Some rooms allow you choose from a selection of felt colors and background. It’s much easier on the eyes if you try simple, bland colour schemes but live it up as you see fit! Most rooms also allow you to stretch individual tables to fill up more or less of your monitor. Play around with this until you find table dimensions you are most comfortable with.
Player images/avatars are another feature that you’ll find at most poker rooms – it’s fun to be able to upload your own image to be displayed at your seat, but these can get irritating sometimes, so it’s nice to have the option to turn them off, and again the less stress on your eyes the better if you are in for the long haul.
Deck (Card Options)
Choose what colour deck you want to play with. Sounds like a silly thing, but some patterns can really get on your nerves and/or strain your eyes. And it is strongly suggested that you select a Four-Color Deck – it makes it much easier to differentiate hearts from diamonds and clubs from spades. When you’re up late at night and think you have a flush (but don’t) you’ll really regret not taking advantage of this simple feature.
Do you want to see every poker room message, dealer message, hand detail, and player comment in the chat box? Maybe you don’t want to hear from observers (people who are at your table but not currently seated)? Adjust to your taste. Choosing the Summary Chat feature is usually your best bet. You get the nuts and bolts of every hand, without all the nitty gritty details.
Bet display – If you like being shown bet and pot values in number form, rather than only seeing the chip graphics on the table, turn this feature on.
Auto-Pop Up – Similarly, when it’s your turn, do you want the table to pop up to the front of your display or not? If you’re multi-tabling, you often don’t want the table to be forced to the front, as it will interrupt whatever you are doing in another window. But it’s your choice.
Animation and sound – depending on the software, sometimes you might want to turn off certain features to cut down on distractions and annoyances, or improve the software’s performance. The clinking of chips sounds awesome when you first start playing online, but it can get annoying over time. Usually, you only want to hear a prompt when it’s your turn to bet and/or when you are still in the hand. Unfortunately, many sites are all or nothing (i.e., all the available sounds or mute, that’s it).
Some rooms actually have a dealer voice, which tells you when there’s a new deal, when the flop comes, when it’s your turn to bet, etc. Again, neat at first but more annoying over time. You will surely want to turn it off eventually.