Online poker sites offer a very good selection of games generally. While this extends into games such as 7 card stud, Omaha, and sometimes others, we of course are dealing with strategies surrounding the forms of Hold'em. This is not only due to its enormous popularity, the choice of almost all online players in fact, but in addition to that it is the game where superior play will be rewarded maximally. This is due not only to the community nature of the game, where hands are more likely to be closer, it is also due to the fact that most online hold'em players play very badly, and are thus easy prey for those more skilled and informed. Most importantly, since hold'em is so popular, there will be a LOT more juicy games to choose from, especially at the higher levels once you get there.
Among the choices available in hold'em, we have full ring limit, full ring no-limit, shorthanded ring limit, shorthanded ring no-limit, sit and go tournaments of numerous varieties, and larger tournaments of several varieties as well. Although the lessons here will be starting with full ring limit games, and proceeding into the other forms in due course, a great many of the concepts are interchangeable. However, in addition, questions or comments related to any of the variations may be posted in the forum, where I and others will respond and provide insight and advice.
You're still going to want to give proper heed to your choice of games though, and there's no reason why even newer players to the game need start out at full ring limit games. Let's take a look at the various forms and see why they may be a good choice to at least try.
At the outset, it is worth pointing out that although the majority of your play may be at one type of game or another, there is no real harm in trying out other forms. In fact, the skills you develop at the other forms very often will help your play at your regular game. And you may even find yourself preferring the secondary form, either in terms of finding it more enjoyable, more profitable, or both. Although profitability should be the paramount consideration, it's also important to consider the entertainment aspect as well, as a slightly less game which is more entertaining can lead to higher profits overall, as of course one has the tendency to play more often and longer at a game he or she finds more enjoyable.
Another consideration that needs to be accounted for is how much fluctuation in one's bankroll one can comfortably stand. If your bankroll is small, you may not want to play in very many large tournaments for example, since the distance between significant payoffs can be relatively longer, even though those payoffs tend to be larger. In other words, you need a larger bankroll to and more patience in fact to withstand the greater variance this type of game provides. If you require lower variance, the best choice would be single table tournaments, provided you are skilled enough at them of course, as you can expect to get paid half the time or more, without having to endure the swings in bankroll you would encounter in cash games.
Let's look at this a little more closely. Let's say you have a decent amount of money in your account and you're deciding what game to play. Looking at the various games available, let's say you could select comfortably among any of them. We're also going to assume you're good enough at all of them to make them all an option to be considered. Of course, if you're not skilled enough at a particular form you still may play it here and there to build up your experience and skill at it, but you're usually not going to want to stake any significant portion of your bankroll to it.
With any game available to be played though, without any variance concerns, what it will come down to is the difference between your level of skill at a particular game and the average level of skill of your opponents. First of all, you need to be at least fairly skilled at it of course. The second condition, and one that is often overlooked even by expert players, is that this is all relative to how well or badly the game is played by others you'll be against. So, given this, while a certain game may be your best game in terms of your own skill, it may not necessarily be the best choice, as another game that you don't play so well at may yield even more profit if the difference in your skill level versus the average skill level of your opponents is greater.
So now let's take a look in more detail at the major forms of hold'em: large tournaments, sit and go's limit cash games, and no limit cash games:
Large Tournaments: These are often referred to as multi-table tournaments, but in order to eliminate any confusion, we're going to refer to them as large tournaments since many sit and go tournaments involve more than one table as well. Large tournaments typically involve quite a few more players than the sit and go's do though, ranging from a couple of dozen right up into several thousand. They are scheduled at a certain time, as opposed to sit and go's which start once a predetermined amount of players have signed up. The buy ins can range from anywhere from $1 right up to $100 or more for the higher paying ones. In addition to the buy-in, there is an entry fee, usually 10%, which the site keeps. The rest is put into a prize pool which is divided among the top finishers. Often, sites will guarantee a certain prize pool for a tournament, and will put in the extra money if enough entrants aren't obtained.
As mentioned, the level of variance, which is the degree of swings your bankroll will take, is highest at these games. However, the caliber of play of your opponents tends to be the lowest, as many participants, and at some sites almost all of them, are involved mainly for the entertainment value. Losses by opponents tend to be more transparent, as even successful tournament players can go awhile without any kind of significant payoff, so most participants are quite oblivious to the fact that they are long term losers at the game, much more so than in other variations. In addition, the skill level required a this level is second only to what is required in the sit and go's, due to all the added strategic considerations tournaments require over and above that needed in a cash game. To put it another way, tournaments are quite a bit more complex, and if you possess these extra skills, since your opponents probably do not, you can increase your advantage playing these tournaments, provided you can stand the larger variance.
Sit and Go's: Also called single table tournaments, although often they will involve 2 or 3 tables. They are set up to run with anywhere from 2-30 players, with 10 being the most common. The prize format is similar to the larger tournaments, although a much higher percentage of participants finish in the money in these shorter variations. For example, typically around 1 in 3 on average get paid off at a single table tournament, while around 1 in 10 finish in the money at a larger one. This is much more significant than it appears, and in fact sit and go's have the lowest variance among all the hold'em games, as opposed to the large tournaments having the highest.
In fact, the variance is quite a bit lower than you'll find in cash games as well. Let's say you have $220 in your account. You play decently at both limit and sit and go's, earning 2 big bets an hour at limit and 40% return on investment at sit and go's (both typical for a fairly good player). You look at sit and go's and decide you're comfortable with playing $10 ones, since this would give you 20 buy ins, and the chances of you ever experiencing a downturn of 20 games is extremely unlikely. So you're making $4 a tournament with this, and making it without really having to worry about the variance at all. For the sake of comparison we'll say your tournaments last an average of one hour, although it will probably be a bit less than this in actual practice.
In order to make the same hourly rate at limit, you'd need to play $1/$2, which would only leave you with 110 big bets. And downswings of 110 big bets at limit aren't unusual at all in fact. It's going to be much easier to lose all your money at limit with this bankroll and required earn rate in fact, as losing all your money with 20 sit and go buy-ins would be extremely unlikely as long as you were a skilled player, whereas losing all your bankroll at limit given these conditions would be a fairly common event even among very skilled players. This is because the variance of sit and go's is lower, making it preferable if you are good enough at them and want a decent earn rate in relation to your stack without incurring too much risk of ruin.
Limit Cash Games: Even though the variance is higher than sit and go's, this doesn't mean this game isn't worth considering. For one thing, you may not be skilled enough at sit and go's, which require a significantly higher skill level in fact, but still be skilled enough for limit cash games. Or, if you're after the big bucks, you can find bigger games at limit than you can usually find at sit and go's, which are generally limited to $200 buy ins at the time of this writing. Limit cash games go up to $100/$200, so your earn rater per hour can be quite a bit higher than a tournament provided you have a big enough roll to support it.
The relative simplicity of the game is appealing here, although it may not be anywhere near as simple a game as you may now think once you proceed through all our lessons on it. The amount of difficult decisions you'll be making will be less though, which is going to be of particular benefit if you're fairly new to the game. Many every experienced players play limit cash games exclusively though, as well as a fair number online professionals, so it's not as if this is a kiddie game by any means.
It's always a good idea for less experienced players to master limit first though before proceeding on to other more advanced variations of hold'em, since the skills learned will serve as a foundation for mastering the other forms.
No Limit Cash Games: This is similar in a lot of respects to limit cash games, with two very important differences. First of all, the level of risk and variance is going to be quite a bit higher than limit, since at limit the amount you can lose on a given hand is limited by the stakes, where in no limit you can lose all your chips on one turn of a card. The second major difference is that the earning potential with no limit is going to be quite a bit higher as well. A good player at limit can average 2 to 3 big bets per hour, while a good no limit player will average much more. Since the bets aren't limited, the earning potential is less limited as well. The main reason for the higher earn rate at no limit is that mistakes by your opponents will usually cost them a lot more per mistake, as they will tend to lose more per hand. Plus, since the game is more complicated, opponents are apt to make more mistakes as well.
Keep in mind that your own mistakes will cost you a lot more as well. Those who don't have a lot of experience at no limit are advised to seek to improve their game though low buy-in no limit tournaments, where the most you can lose is your buy-in and not your whole stack of chips at the table. As an alternative, you could try very low level no limit games, which run as low as 1 and 2 cent blinds. The competition at these games isn't particularly good by any means, but you can work your way up the levels this way much more safely than just jumping in with both feet at a game you could put a serious hurt on your bankroll with.
Getting back to variance here, once you do become skilled, you'll find that although the swings can be greater than at limit, the added earn rate will more than compensate for this. A bad run of cards at limit can take a fair amount of time to get back - for instance if you lose 100 big bets and you make 2 big bets per hour, it will take you 50 hours of play on average to get it back. If you lose 200 big bets at limit though, you can get this back much quicker than in 50 hours if you are a skilled player, since your higher earn rate would allow you to recover quicker. As an example, if you go all in and lose, you've lost quite a few chips, but all it takes to get this back is a single hand going all in and winning.
Whichever game you prefer, it's a good idea in time to become skilled in all the variations. This will allow you to select the most beatable game at any particular time, regardless of the variation. It will also allow for more variety and more entertainment while playing.