Get Started Playing Online NLHE the Easy Way

By Sky Matsuhashi
January 09, 2020

Playing your first hand of online poker is no different than your first hand at a brick-and-mortar cardroom. You remember the day. You walked through the door and took an empty seat at a table full of other players. You exchanged a few Benjamins for a stack of chips and began playing with the first hand dealt to you.

There are only two small changes with online poker; you’re playing from home and on your computer. That’s it!

Live poker players can be daunted by the idea of the online realm, though. They hear online players like me in my Smart Poker Study Podcast using weird lingo like “poker tracking software”, “negative variance”, “heads-up display”, “VPIP” and “multi-tabling”. It must feel like I’m talking about an entirely different game.

But that’s not the case. Online players like me were simply willing to jump in and take a shot.

The good thing is, you can too because it’s easy to do.

Online Poker Hardware Setup

All you need to play online poker is a computer. You don’t even have to deposit money if you don’t trust it just yet. There are loads of “free play” sites like Zynga or Play WSOP that allow you to start your online poker career for free.

Sign up for an account at one of those sites to see if you enjoy online poker at no financial risk.

This quick video shows my own hardware setup at home:

Do I need to learn any new software?

That’s entirely up to you because it’s not necessary for online play. Poker software just helps online players play and study more effectively.

  • Poker tracking software helps keep track of results and allows you to study past hands.
  • A heads-up display (HUD) gives statistical information on other players to help you exploit their tendencies.
  • Equity calculators show you how well a hand or range fares against other hands and ranges.
  • GTO solvers help analyze specific situations to give an idea of profitable ways to approach them.

These programs can be difficult and time-consuming to use, but the good news is that you don’t have to pay for any of them because many offer free 30-day trials.

Take poker tracking software for example. You can try out PokerTracker 4 for 30 days then when time’s up, try out Holdem Manager 3 for another 30 days. Each of these have built-in HUDs and equity calculating software, so you can use them for free as well.

This is 60 days of free software use before you have to make a purchase.  What a lovely gift for first time online players!

Check out my software setup for online poker:

I wish I knew these two things

When I made the switch to online play, I didn’t take the time to do any research and I treated it just like playing in my local cardroom.

I wish I knew that players are better at lower stakes. I incorrectly assumed that a $1/$2 player online had the same skills as a live player at that same stake. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I blew through my first two $600 deposits in just a few days.

What a costly lesson to learn. I had to pick-up loads of serving shifts at the steakhouse to make up for that blunder (I was a server for many years).


You’ll find players at 25nl ($.10/$.25 games with a $25 buy-in) just as good as live $5/$10 players or even higher. I recommend new online players start at either 5nl ($5 buy-in) or 10nl ($10 buy-in) games. It might sound like chump change to you, but you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run. If everyone’s weak and you’re taking their chips left and right, great, move up in stakes. Don’t forget, you’ll be playing many more hands per hour online than live.

The other thing I wish I knew was to follow bankroll rules. I recommend using a 40x buy-in rule for cash games (5nl = $5 buy-in x 40 = $200 bankroll). Use a 100x buy-in rule for tournaments. This will help you avoid “scared money” play and will keep your online career alive for a long time.

So, give online poker a shot. If you play free games, there’s nothing to lose at all. Once you switch to real money, you can play games for stakes as low as $.01/$.02 with a $2 buy-in. If you start your online bankroll with $80, you already have 40 buy-ins at your disposal.

In my next article. I’ll discuss the 3 reasons why every live poker player should play online as well.

For more great coaching, strategies and tips from Sky Matsuhashi, check out his poker training site, The Poker Forge. Here’s our review.



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Written By.

Sky Matsuhashi

Sky Matsuhashi is the creator of the Smart Poker Study Podcast. He has authored 4 poker books including ‘How to Study Poker Volumes 1 & 2’, ‘Preflop Online Poker’ and ‘Post-flop Online Poker’. As a poker coach, Sky is dedicated to helping his students play more effectively, earn more money and be 1% better every […]


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