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My current work schedule (at my legitimate job) is absolutely beautiful. I love it. I work third shift, from 6 P.M. until 6 A.M., on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, and every other Thursday night. This schedule provides me with ample time to play Poker when I'm not working, and allows me to play on the most profitable nights (Friday and Saturday). There was no reason to think that my schedule would change anytime soon until about a month ago, when certain organizational changes were made in our IT department, and the specter of a possible schedule change reared its ugly head.

I'm not quite ready to quit my legit job in favor of playing full-time for a living; it'll be at least another year for that to happen. So I instead turned my attention toward the great taboo, that in which I swore never to participate - Internet Poker.

My reasoning was purely economic: if it is profitable to play online, and I can play online from work, then why not make the most of my time here at work? If I'm going to be forced to work during some of the most profitable Poker-playing hours, then dammit, I'm just going to have to supplement my income here at work. That is, of course, assuming that it is profitable to play.

My biggest concern, understandably, is collusion. I have in the past stated that because the opportunity for collusion is so great online, that I personally would never play in a real-money game unless I was cheating as well! I have since adjusted my perspective on collusion, although it is still my primary concern.

Paradise Poker management is also concerned with collusion, and they even claim to have algorithms in place to track players' betting patterns relative to their hand strengths, with the intention of identifying situations where a player may be colluding with another player. If this is true, then it should catch the obvious collusion strategies: both you and your buddy jump into pots together, and when one of you has a hand you both get into a raising war.

From my own observation of the real-money games, there doesn't seem to be any obvious collusion. But even obvious collusion aside, there's the possibility that players are colluding simply by sharing information. It is this not-so-obvious collusion that really hurts the honest players in the game, and it's even more insidious because the damage is invisible. The honest player is hurt simply because other players have more information, and (assumably) use this information to their advantage.

In Seven-Card Stud, this information is absolutely vital. The variable of greatest importance in deciding how to play on Third Street in Seven-Card Stud is the layout of the board; that is, the other cards that are out. If I'm dealt a three-flush on Third Street, and only one of my suit is out, my hand is generally playable. If I know that another player has two diamonds in the hole, that probably turns my decision into a Fold. If on Fourth Street, a player pairs his or her door card and bets the maximum, he or she is representing Trips. If I have one of those cards in the hole, I have an edge in knowing that it's highly unlikely he or she has the case instance of that card in the hole. Furthermore, he or she doesn't know that I know get the idea.

So to be honest, I absolutely will not ever play Seven-Card Stud for real money online. The invisible edge against me from colluders is far too great.

Texas Hold'em, on the other hand, offers better odds against colluders. For example, if I hold a small-to-medium pocket pair, and I am against multiple players, I really want to flop a set. If I do not flop a set, I will probably check and fold on the flop. If, before the flop, I know that one of my cards is already out (say I hold pocket Sixes and my buddy throws away 10-6o), then I will almost certainly fold before the flop. But this situation occurs so rarely in colluding with another player that the times in which I do save myself a bet before the flop are really giving me only a small fraction of an edge against the other players. This is especially so because if I don't hit my hand on the flop, I'm not going to give another player much action anyway, because I'll likely check and fold.

Here's another example. Let's say I have Ks Qs and the flop is As 6s 2c. I put someone else on an Ax, so I'm pretty much counting on the Spades to win. Without any further information about the cards that are out, 46 cards are unaccounted for, giving me a probability of making a flush of approximately 0.357. If I know my buddy threw away two non-Spade cards (accounting for two more non-Spade cards), that only changes my probability of making a flush to approximately 0.371, a difference of approximately 3.92%. Even knowing that he threw away two Spades only changes my probability of making a flush to 0.296, a difference of approximately 17.1%. Now obviously, knowing that threw away two Spades is helpful; however, whether the odds against me making the flush are 1.80-to-1 (no additional knowledge) or 2.34-to-1 (knowing he threw away two Spades), the pot odds offered me on the Flop are usually much greater than the odds offered in either of these cases and so my decision will quite likely be the same.

Of course, some situations do arise when it's helpful to know what those two extra cards are. But the information isn't nearly as important in Hold'em as it is in Stud.

I have also spoken (in person) with a number of players who play online. Almost all of them play exclusively at Paradise Poker. They all indicated that they have found little to no evidence of collusion online, especially so at the lower limits. This makes a great deal of sense to me; why bother to collude at an online $3-$6 limit game, when there are online $20-$40 games in which to play?

Consequently, I am now of the opinion that my playing skill alone is enough to give me an edge at the lower-limit online Hold'em games. Having already familiarized myself with Paradise Poker's software by playing online for funny money, I decided to take the plunge and today I played in my first real-money online games.

I've devoted enough space to collusion, so let me list a couple of other observations on Internet Poker:

1.) Paradise Poker's software is incredibly well-designed. Although I haven't had the incentive to check out the other Internet cardrooms and their software, I am really impressed with Paradise Poker's software developers.

2.) It's amazing how many players they draw. It's part of a positive feedback loop: the largest cardroom attracts even more players simply because they are the largest. This results in a great selection of games at several different limits, often on a 24/7 basis. I've logged in at 3:30 in the morning on my play-money account and seen two full $20-$40 Hold'em tables, and plenty of full lower-limit tables.

3.) Hold'em is by far the most popular game. Paradise Poker also offers Seven-Card Stud, Omaha High, Omaha Eight-or-Better, and Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better. The Omaha High is sparsely populated at night; they generally only have a $3-$6 or a $5-$10 table full. Given the nature of the game, that's understandable. The Omaha/8 generally has a couple of full tables, even at the $10-$20 limit. Same goes for Stud and Stud/8.

4.) They also offer tables labeled "Fast Action" tables. These are tables with a maximum of 5 players. This is a good opportunity to practice playing short-handed. There are also a number of "One-on-One" tables. This feature, in fact, is what sparked in my head the idea of playing for real money online to begin with. I have an edge against most players heads-up, and I need the practice. Since it's impossible to collude at a heads-up table, that really took away my primary objection to playing online.

5.) The float.

This is important, so it deserves special attention.

Paradise Poker charges a fee (5.25%) for chip purchases made with credit cards. However, they recently began accepting payments made through FirePay ( ). There is NO FEE for payments made through FirePay, and FirePay itself charges NO FEE for deposits made by credit card.

Paradise Poker also recently began allowing customers to request cash-out payments to be made via PayPal ( ). This is also a much-welcomed addition, as Paradise Poker previously would only credit back your credit card the original amount of your purchase. Any "profits" had to be sent via bank draft. PayPal is a welcome alternative to waiting for a check to come from Costa Rica.

The concept of the float is rather simple: I make all my chip purchases by credit card. As long as I pay the balance by the due date, I am not charged any juice. I can buy my chips, play with them for 30-60 days, request a PayPal payout, transfer from PayPal to my bank account, and have my profits and pay off the balance without paying one cent in fees or in interest. After the next statement period ends, I simply start the cycle over again.

6.) Paradise Poker also occasionally offers chip purchase promotions. This weekend they offered a 10% bonus on all chip purchases made through FirePay, up to $60. This was a no-lose situation for me. Within a matter of minutes, I had opened a FirePay account, deposited $600 into my FirePay account from one of my Visa cards, opened a real-money Paradise Poker account, purchased $600 of chips with a transfer from FirePay, and made an instant 10% on my money. Of course, Paradise Poker has the stipulation that I play a minimum of 100 real-money hands before cashing out. If I wasn't as confident about playing online, I could just play ten rounds in a $0.50-$1.00 Hold'em game (yes, they offer such a game!), pay a whopping $7.50 in blinds, fold every hand, and walk away with $52.50 for less than two hours of work. As it is, I'm playing in the $3-$6 Hold'em game, and I'm well ahead on my capital investment.

7.) The $3-$6 Hold'em games I've played on Paradise Poker are easily the tightest $3-$6 games I've ever played. Even so, there are a number of very bad players who make the game worth playing. This month, I'm probably going to play only $3-$6 online, until I have a chance to observe some more $5-$10 games. I'm only playing from work, since it's silly for me to play from home when I live 15 min. from Casino Arizona.

8.) No irritating jackpot drop. No tokes. 'Nuff said. :-)

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