A poker players' decision as to where he/she is going to play poker is perhaps the most important decision affecting the players' enjoyment of the game and his/her bankroll. Generally speaking, a player has four possible venues to choose from, they are:
1) Online poker sites
2) Casinos/Local Poker Rooms
3) Home games with family & friends
4) Local Charity/Fund-raising tournaments
Each of these four venues has their own unique 'pros and cons' to be considered. One venue may be best for Player 'A', but not necessarily a good choice for Player 'B'. The correct venue is relative to your personality, bankroll, and skill level.
Lets' take a look at each of the four venues more closely, and discuss the characteristics of each. I will be speaking in broad generalities which are consistent wherever where you live, but you should realize geography plays an important role in venue selection. Gambling laws vary from one locale to another, so please research the laws in your area and play within those laws. With that caveat in place, lets' examine online poker first.
Without a doubt, online pokers' popularity has exploded in recent years; so much so, the Federal government has placed limits on the ability of US players to move money to and from the poker sites. These restraints pose a real problem for poker players, and several player associations are trying to fight these restrictions. The future of online poker laws is uncertain at this time. A full discussion of the legalities of online poker is beyond the scope of this article, but I encourage all poker players to do their research before you jump into online play.
Pros of Online Poker:
- The best thing about playing poker online is the ability to play from the comfort of your own home any time you wish. Sites such as Poker Stars, Full-Tilt, Ultimate Bet, etc. will literally have tens of thousands of eager players online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whenever you are ready to play, you will have no problem finding an available game.
- Online play allows the player to play a wide variety of games. If you would like to take a break from Texas Hold'em and have the urge to play Omaha, Stud, Razz, Horse, or virtually any other game you can think of, the online sites will accommodate you.
- Another benefit to playing online is that you can play any stakes you are comfortable with. If you are conservative, or just starting out, you can play for as little as a few pennies a hand. If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, you can play for as much as several thousands of dollars. The sites will offer a wide variety stakes in between these two extremes as well.
- Finally, because the online sites keep the games moving quickly, you can improve your game by playing a high volume of hands in a relatively short period of time. More experienced players may play multiple games at the same time. These players are seeing an extraordinary number of hands per hour.
Cons of Online Poker:
- Online poker can quickly become addictive. Online poker addiction can have severe negative consequences for the players' physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being. An addicted player will often start staying up all night playing while ignoring his need for sleep. This may lead to emotional problems and ultimately lead to a strain on the players' home and professional life. A player must be vigilant to remember poker is not as important as family, friends, or your career away from poker.
- The online player may also become a victim of cheating while playing online. The poker sites try to catch cheaters through the use of sophisticated software that monitors play and looks for irregularities, and I believe they are partially successful in these efforts; however, it cannot be denied some cheating goes on without be caught. The problem for the individual poker player is that he can never be certain he is not being cheated. The poker world was a buzz last year when the media reported the scandal involving Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker. Some cheating occurs between the players themselves when two or more players gang up on an unsuspecting player through the use of telephone communication while the hands are being played out. If your opponent has more information about B29 the hole cards than you do, you are at a significant disadvantage.
- Because poker is played quickly online, the less skillful player will likely lose more of his bankroll online than if he played elsewhere. If a losing player plays more, he will naturally lose more over the long run.
For this discussion, I will consider full service casinos (which you are likely to encounter in Las Vegas or Atlantic City) and local Poker Rooms (commonly found at Kennel Clubs, Horse Racetracks, or other Pari-Mutual facilities) to be one in the same. The size and degree of sophistication may be greater at a full service casino, but Poker Rooms have come far in recent years and can offer similar services to a poker player. Each facility provides the tables, chips, dealers, and pit bosses to manage play, and each provides a comfortable atmosphere for the players to enjoy. In exchange for providing these services, the 'house' will rake the pots or charge you an hourly fee to play (more on this later).
Pros of Casino Poker:
- Casinos/Poker Rooms typically do a good job at offering the player a comfortable environment to play. As more and more card rooms spring up, they realize they must compete for your business; therefore, you are likely to be treated well because the casino would like you to become a regular player at their facility.
- A player can be relatively confident the games will be run by professionals. The entire staff from the dealers to drink servers know their jobs (and their tips) depend on providing the players with excellent service.
- Casinos and card rooms are generally conveniently located within a community, and they are open 12 or more hours a day seven days a week. On short notice, a player can head off to the casino and expect to find plenty of action. Texas Hold'em is king at casinos, but other games are offered when enough players are available to fill a table.
Cons of Casino Poker
- Playing at a casino can be an expensive experience. A casino has considerable expenses, and must recoup these expenses through a 'rake'. Some card rooms charge an hourly fee to play, say $10-12 per hour per seat. Others will take a percentage of each pot, or a percentage of the total tournament entry fees. A house rake of 10-20% is not unusual and must be overcome to be a long-term winner. A player must also be mindful that good etiquette dictates the player should tip the dealers and servers for the service they provide. These tips will add to the cost of playing at a casino.
- Another pitfall to playing at a poker room is that you may be the victim of a couple of 'regulars' who team up to soak the new fish that sits down at their table. Players can communicate their holdings through subtle hand signals which puts the unsuspecting player at a disadvantage.
Home Poker Games
Every night in America there are thousands of home poker games underway between families and friends. Poker requires very few supplies to host a game, and these items are readily available through many internet sites. You can start playing at the kitchen table and eventually move up to a true poker table complete with drink holders, padded rails, and a felt playing surface. The next thing you will need is a good case of poker chips, a 500 count set of 11.5 gram (or higher) chips will be adequate for up to 9 players. The final and most important item you need for the home poker game is a setup (two decks) of 100% plastic playing cards. Expect to invest between $15-25 per setup for quality cards.
Pros of Home Poker Games
- The one big advantage home poker has over venues of play is that you can pick and choose the players you play with. Typically, a group of 3 or 4 hard core players will decide to start a home game and they will invite their friends and family to play. This selection process nearly assures a group of players that get along well with each other. Chances of a loud or obnoxious player being invited to the game are minimal. The more harmonious the game is, the more you will enjoy playing there.
- A home game fosters social networking which may lead to new professional relationships as well. You may make a helpful contact with a lawyer, accountant, contractor, etc. through poker.
- Home games are great opportunities for husbands and wives, fathers and sons, etc. to share some quality time while playing poker.
- Generally speaking, little (if any) 'rake' is taken from a home game which means the money stays where it belongs, with the players!
Cons of Home Poker Games
- Do not fool yourself, organizing and hosting a home game can be a lot of work. If you are the host, you must be prepared to make calls, provide a place to park and play, provide the snacks and drinks, as well as the cleanup afterwords.
- A potential problem with home game poker is that in some localities, it may be against the law to wager money while playing. You must research and abide by the laws in your community.
- In a worst case scenario, a disagreement make break out in the card game which ultimately leads to a dissolved friendship or hurt feelings. All the players must be respectful of each other and sensitive to each others needs.
Charity/Fund Raising Poker
- In these turbulent economic times, some well known charitable organizations have turned to hosting poker tournaments to bring in much needed funds. Some private schools are even hosting poker games to supplement their scholarship funds. A poker player can give back to his community by supporting these events.
Pros of Charity/Fund Raising Poker
- Charity tournaments can be great social events which bring together large number of poker layers to support the cause. Somehow, it is more palatable to pay an 'entry fee' than it is to write a donation check!
- The skill level of the players that show up to these events is poor. Playing good poker is secondary in the minds of many players to having a good time while supporting a good cause. This mentality presents an opportunity for the skillful player to "clean up' at the expense of the social players. Depending on the size of the tournaments, the payouts can be significant. You may be able to parlay a $60 entry fee into a $1,000 pay day for winning.
Cons of Charity/Fund raising Poker
- The biggest problem with these type of poker games is the lack of professional management by the event organizers. A serious player can quickly become irritated when a tournament starts a half hour late, or he gets seated at a table with an inexperienced dealer, etc. Violations of the rules and etiquette of the game are commonplace at fund raisers.
- The 'rake' can be quite high at these events. Remember, the primary reason the charity organization hosting the game in the first place is their desire to raise money. A rake of 25-40% is not unusual at these games which is unacceptably high to a player trying to boost his bankroll.
- A word of caution regarding the legality of these games, the charities often believe they are immune from compliance with local laws regarding gambling, but the sheriff does not always agree! Do your homework before deciding to play in fund raisers so you can make an informed decision.
Let me restate my original premise that deciding where to play poker is perhaps the most critical decision a player must make and will have the greatest impact on the players' bankroll. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, you must decide which venue is best for your situation. In my opinion, the player that plays only occasionally and just wants to have a good time should probably head over to a casino and enjoy the atmosphere and service. However, if you want to build your bankroll, I recommend finding a few good home games with little or no rake. These games will provide you with the best opportunities to make money in the long run.
Now go play some poker!