Poker is like any major sport – the more you practice, the better you are likely to perform when you're on point. Regular training is necessary to keep your game on form, and if you're going to play professionally, then you need to invest time in trying out new strategies.
Luckily, the Internet is a fantastic place to do this, because if you're prepared to look around, you'll be sure to find a wealth of games that are going on for free where you can sharpen your poker skills against real human players, and it won't cost you a cent.
You have much to learn, padwan
Star looking around for poker sites that offer free games. Often they won't say this outright, but will prefer to describe it as “Real Money Games” and “Play Money Games”. What you want is Play Money Games. Most of the better online poker sites offer this sort of game, and all you need do is sign up for an account at a site that does in order to get access to them.
Most of the best sites won't even require you to make a deposit into your playing account to get access to the Play Money games. Instead, the common system is to assign you a fixed number of Play Money credits every day.
From the poker site's side of things, it makes sense, because it gives new players a chance to check out the poker software and learn how to operate it. It also gives them a taste of what the scene is like without having to risk their real money.
This has multiple benefits for everyone – the players become interested in playing in some of the online poker tournaments that the site offers, and when they do so, they won't be bewildered by what's going on because they'll already have mastered the controls of the software.
However, we're going to assume that you know how to play poker, and you're here looking for training. With this in mind, you must remember that to get the most out of free games, you will have to behave with discipline.
Why? Because free games are often loaded with idiots. Truly. The kind of competition that you find at free tables is either complete noobs who are learning the game and thus making all kinds of wild and uncoordinated actions that confuse the heck out of a seasoned player, or regulars at the site who are bored and have just come past to intimidate the noobs.
In this kind of environment, it's easy to play some shockingly bad poker, because it's easy to get riled. Also, because your cash balance is free money – and you aren't likely to feel it leaving your stack – you find yourself making similarly rash and stupid moves.
This is why discipline is so important, and why these sites are in fact so valuable. If you're going to be a champion poker player, you have to be able to deal with serious aggravation.
Using free games properly
Recognise from the outset that you are going into a warzone where anything can happen and where people will generally be mucking about. But you don't have to. You're here to train and to learn.
So don't get drawn into stupidity. Play the game properly. Even though it's only for toy chips that aren't worth anything doesn't mean you have to make the vastly stupid and risky moves that others are making. Pretend it's real cash. Act accordingly.
If you do this, you will find you learn a lot about strategy and how to deal with the extremely tense and difficult situations that will arise when you start taking on $1,000/$2,000 No Limit Hold'em ring games. Because the action at those tables is utterly brutal.
The raises will be savage and aggressive. People will be trying to needle you in the chat box. A lot of players at the top end of the game owe their success more to being able to upset other players than to serious skill.
But you're training in the trenches where people toss around huge sums of (albeit imaginary) cash all the time. You're preparing for the big leagues. And if you use free games correctly, you'll be unstoppable when you get there.