Assume that all the cards dealt in cyberspace are totally random. In other words, assume the deck and all cards dealt are completely random and therefore assume the site you are playing on is honest. This is necessary in order for you to not drive yourself crazy by always wondering. You will therefore be more relaxed and being relaxed is a good thing especially while playing poker.
Players would be very naive to think that collusion would never occur on any online poker site. With the ease of using a telephone or an Instant Messenger service, some players may be in collusion with one or more players. This fact may affect your hourly rate a little bit over time but certainly not enough to make you quit playing online. I have done very well online and I know for a fact that several of my friends have as well, so if collusion is rampant then the colluders are doing a lousy job of it. Unless you are playing in big limit games, dont worry about collusion! If you are in a game and something seems out of line to you then change games or come back later. If you do encounter suspicious play, you should strongly consider reporting your suspicions to the site where the incident(s) took place. You will, however, most often find that the games you will be playing in are just fine (especially at lower limits).
Deciding Where to Play
At the time of this writing (April 2004), there are just under two hundred online poker sites; however, numerous poker rooms are part of a network and are merely a different skin or front end to games. In other words, not counting various skins all belonging to the same network, there are actually only thirty-eight poker rooms. You must choose the site(s) that best suits your needs.
Some Pros of Large Sites
There are many types of games to choose from as well as numerous limits because of the large player base, therefore games can be found during any time period. This also means there is much less chance that the site will close down, at least for many years to come. Due to the vast number of players, many players will not know you and therefore will not know your play.
Some Cons of Large Sites
Due to the large player base, most likely you will not know many of the players at your table until you have played an extended period of time on that site. This makes it a lot more difficult for you to track players and keep notes.
Some Pros of Smaller Sites
Due to the smaller player base, you will have a much easier time getting to know the play of your opponents. Some of the smaller sites have friendlier games because it becomes not just a game but also a social club, this can be good for you because friendlier games are often easier to beat because of the relaxed atmosphere.
Some Cons of Smaller Sites
Choices of games are often limited and there may not be a game to your liking when you want to play. Observant opponents will get to know your play faster because you will often be in the same game as them. Smaller sites are more at risk for not being able to survive.
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Site
Most sites offer player incentives but some incentives are better than others. Sites that are part of a network (a skin) may offer different promotions than other skins in the same network. If bonuses are important to you then it would make sense for you to do your homework.
Some players are extremely good. Some may be seasoned pros with lots of skill in all aspects of the game. Many players are good players and manage to win or at least break even due to circumstance. But the greatest majority of players range from not so good to EXTREMELY bad. This is most likely due to the fact that lots of online players are very new to poker and are sitting in some little room somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. They can play as badly as they want and no one will actual see them do it. Players online have no faces and this fact alone gives the bad players unlimited opportunity to play bad and not be ridiculed by someone face to face in public. In the long run this is very good for the average or above average player, the more skilled you are, the more you will benefit.
Playing Multiple Games
Playing online offers one option that is not available to you in B&M cardrooms, the ability to play in two or more games simultaneously. The software on some sites will not allow a player to play in more than one game simultaneously but many sites allow you to play three or four tables at one time. There are pros and cons to playing in more than one game, whether or not you decide to is a personal decision.
Naturally, when playing in two or more games at once, you will not be able to focus on the play in each game to the same degree as you likely would if you were just playing one game. Forget about tracking the play of your opponents, this task would now be almost impossible. Continuously alternating between games and having to make fast decisions in each game can also be very stressful.
One positive aspect of playing in multiple games is that you see more hands during your session. More hands usually also means you will be dealt more quality hands over the course of your session.
Playing multiple games may enable you to earn a higher hourly rate during your session but you need to decide if earning a higher hourly rate is worth much bigger swings and the higher level of stress that you will no doubt endure.
Tracking the Players
Do not log on and sit right down in the first game you find with an open seat unless you know its a good game. Online poker offers great tracking opportunities if you want to take the time to take advantage of it. Being able to sit at home and make notes on players is of obvious value. Having some idea how a player plays before you are even dealt a hand can only be of benefit to your earning potential. TAKE THE TIME TO STUDY THE PLAYERS AND MAKE NOTES! Believe me, it takes lots of work and lots of focus but its worth it. Armed with some information on some players, first decide what game suits you best and then take a seat. If you are not sure then take an open seat but sit out for a round or two until you get a feel for the game.
In B&M cardrooms a good player should earn one big bet per hour. In the world of online poker I believe a good player should earn more than one big bet per hour. This is partly due to facing a lower rake in most cases and saving money by not having to tip and in most cases you will be dealt a far greater number of hands per hour. The immense number of tremendously bad players found online also contributes to a higher hourly rate over time compared to the live cardrooms. How much more? It is hard to judge that exactly but I would guess that two big bets or more per hour is not far from reality for very good players.