Note: I am interested in playing NLHE.

Short version:

I live near a large casino. I would like to eventually get good enough to play there and consistently win money. However, the lowest stake table is $1, $2 with $300 max buyin. Presumably I would want to buyin at the max amount and I do not want to go in with no experience and blow $300. I would like to reach a certain skill level before I go. What steps should I take to do this as efficiently as possible(most experience gained per amount of time and money put in).

Long Version:

I have played in friendly games before but rarely for money. I am good with numbers and have college level education in mathematics, probability, and statistics. I would like to increase my skill level. Specific questions I have are:

  • What would be a good book to start with for someone in my position? (i.e. I do not need a book to explain the rules. Nor do I need a book to explain how probabilities work. I would prefer a book that jumps right into strategy. Are there any go-to first books or 'must reads' in the poker community?)
  • What is the deal with online play for real money in the U.S.? It seems to be popular belief that it was banned in the U.S. however I read here that there are sites that residents of the U.S. can still play on. Are these fully legal? If so, how come they can do it while other popular sites no longer can? (like pokerstars)
  • Based on the posts here, it seems like all online players use some sort of software to track their statistics and the tendencies of other players. What software should I get before playing online?
  • When I do feel confident enough in my skills to try out live games, should I search out lower stake local games in my area before buying in at $300 at the casino? If so are there any popular websites that are used to organize games?
  • 4
    Hi JFo. I like the idea of this question, but what I like most about it is that it could be about 3-4 distinct questions rather than one big one! Please consider splitting the post into individual questions, that focus more closely on each aspect you're hoping to learn more about. Also, you'd no doubt get a lot more responses, as people would give clearer, more succinct answers and not essay length responses as this seems it would need. Some of the questions you propose are likely already covered on the site.
    – Toby Booth
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:26
  • Toby makes a great point. I have done my best to answer your question, but its so broad as one question.
    – Gaz Winter
    Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 9:58
  • You should know that in poker, especially live poker, what we call winning "consistently" can include having months where you've had a net loss. Even the best players lose lots of money in this, relatively long, "short" run.
    – moteutsch
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 23:11

7 Answers 7


I would suggest you play some online freerolls to get the feel for online poker. If you can deposit (not sure based on the US rules) then I would deposit as much as you are comfortable losing. Dont deposit $200 if you can only really afford $75 for example. Then you need to stick to some strict Bankroll Management.

With regards to books, there are hundreds of books out there that you could learn from. The ones that always crop up are the Harrington on Holdem. There are 3 of them and they are a bit dated, but they will give you a good solid foundation to build upon.

I would also suggest you watch youtube strategy videos and any live poker you can to pick up tips. Then you just need to put in some volume and learn as you go along.

One thing to note is that online play and live play are totally different, you may be really good at live poker but not to good at online, or vice versa. Only you can decide when you are ready in my opinion.

I could write all day giving you things to research to help you improve but you would be better off just reading poker forums such as Two Plus Two and Pocket Fives and of course browsing through this site.


There is a lot of tracking software out there. The two most popular are

I have only used HEM2 so cannot comment on PokerTracker.

HEM2 will track all cash and tournaments on certain sites, you will have to check if its compatible with any site you decide to play on. It will also give you a HUD on each table that shows you each players stats which helps you to make decisions based on what kind of player they are. HEM2 also has several addons available such as:

  • Sit and Go Wizard
  • Leak Buster
  • Note Caddy
  • Table Ninja

The top two can be used to help you analyse your own hands and see where you are leaking chips and help you to learn places where you should be getting your chips in to try and pick up good sized pots.

Again i could write a lot more about software, but its probably best that you look into each one yourself. They are not free, but you can quite often get special deals through sites like the ones i mentioned above.

Tracking other players

There are a couple of good websites that will allow you to track other players to see if they are profitable players or losing players. I recommend the following:

They dont cover all sites, but the main ones are covered.

Hope this helps. Gareth

  • 1
    +1: I have used almost all of these at one time or another in the past, and all are great recommendations! I would add to the list that joining an online poker training site where you can watch videos of pros not only playing, but explaining WHY they are doing what they do. This will help you more than anything! There are a bunch of them, but I personally have used pokerxfactor.com and they have a lot of great info. The value of the poker forums also can not be over-stated. Researching even this question on those sites will give you a treasure trove of good information!
    – lnafziger
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 22:27
  • 1
    Oh, and also: I would strongly recommend that you NOT start with limit poker if your goal is to play no-limit. They are two VERY different games, and you will carry many bad habits from limit poker into no-limit which are hard to break. I would much rather see you playing low stakes no-limit on the internet, for as little as $1....
    – lnafziger
    Commented Feb 5, 2013 at 2:31

There are a lot of questions here and I'm only going to address your casino concern. I would bet that your casino runs a 3-6 Limit game, $60 min buy in. I would take $80-$100 and sit down at that table first. The action is usually slower and you'll be less likely to lose your roll as quickly as you might at an NLHE table. This will provide you a relatively inexpensive way to get used to the mechanics of playing in a live game at a casino. Once you get comfortable there, then I would transition over to the NLHE (presumably after you've educated yourself via some of the other means you mention.)


As Gaz Winter says there is a huge difference between playing online and live. If your aim is to play at casino then try to play with friends (friends that know how to play) twice a week for a month and you will probably have understood the basics of nlhe.

If you can play online then do it, you can play for free or for real small amounts versus different kinds of player. That's the main interest, the risk when you always play with the same persons is that you will take some habits only based on the style of your usual opponents.

I'll not suggest to read books in the first place because you'll not understand properly the content if you don't have any poker experience. Better keep that later.

Don't expect to be a good poker player in 1 month, you'll need much more time to have good chance to earn money in front of experienced players. And yes try first cheaper tables if you can. I guess $300 is quite high for a beginner, more money often means better players.

PS : If you want to track player online I suggest sharkscope.


Trying limit games in casino, playing online/using different statistics analysing tools/ watching tutorials/reading books. Anyway this "education" will cost you your bankroll or your time. The alternative way is hiring a poker trainer.

But the truth is somewhere in between, as always.


Online poker training sites can be of great help. You can go to acepokersolutions.com to gain exposure of various strategies by experts. Using a poker HUD will allow us to definitively see patterns in our opponent’s play and deduct strategies that can exploit those to our advantage. These stats will give you an instant impression of how loose, tight or aggressive an opponent is preflop.


I will give you the short answer: you cannot be a winning player in a month and even in 6 months - even if you read 3-4 good books. You have to lose in order to gain experience. If you are serious about your game you should consider your losses as an investment for future. There so many variables in this game especially in live cash games. Strategies, hand reads, body reads, speech tells, etc. - I mean you cannot cover them within that short period of time. You have play and then analyze hands, work on your game every day.

The best starting point will be to play online like Pokerstars and see as many hands as possible. And then analyse your hands after each session, write down your mistakes and play again trying not to make the same mistakes. But before starting to play the best is to read at least couple of good books. Harrington on Holdem (Cash Games) and The Theory of Poker by Sklansky are must read by any novice.

And lastly, playing for real money and just friendly games without money are completely different things. You should consider yourself as a complete novice without any knowledge. Don't understand me wrong - but you cannot consider yourself a good player even if you are brilliant in math, statistics. Actually there is little math needed in this game. It is people's game - you need understand much more than just math and statistics. You need to see those faces, hands, emotions, the way people stack their chips, the way they act and 'hollywood', etc. - and all these things come with experience.


First of all you have to study the rules of the game well. The best way to do it is to start playing freerolls. Thankfully there are pretty much freerolls atm running at many online poker rooms (but I suggest to choose 888, cause they are the best now in this case). Play as much freerolls as you can. You can win some real cash there.

Alternatively you can get a no deposit bonus to start playing for real money in tourneys with real money buy-ins.

While playing you have to think on your decisions. After every session you have to review your hands and discuss them on forums (2+2 for instance). Read articles. Do not read poker books, cause they are mostly useless.

And run good!

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