All online poker games starts as a struggle for the antes. If there were no ante, there would be no reason to play. It's true that some players would play anyway, but a good player in such a game would simply wait for the pure nuts and nearly always win. A good player would have no reason to play anything but big starter hands - three aces, say, in seven-card stud - because with no money yet in the pot, there would be nothing to shoot for. To play with anything less would be to risk getting picked off by someone else who played nothing but the pure nuts. If all players in the games played nothing but the pure nuts, there could be no games. Any time one person bet, everyone else would fold. Obviously, then, there has to be an ante to establish a game.
On the other hand, if the ante were ridiculously large in relation to the betting limits, the games would pretty much deteriorate into a crap shoot. It would be like someone walking by a $5-$10 games and tossing a $100 bill on the table saying, "Play for it, boys." With that big an initial pot, in which you would be getting at least 21-to-1 odds on your first $5 call, it would be worth playing just about any hand right to the end.
These two extremes - no ante and an absurdly high ante - suggest a general principle of play. The lower the ante in comparison to future bets, the fewer hands you should play; the higher the ante, the more hands you should play. A different way of looking at it is: The lower the ante, the higher your starting requirements should be, and the higher the ante, the lower your starting requirements should be. Or in the language of the online poker games room: The lower the ante, the tighter you should play; the higher the ante, the looser you should play. I consider 5 percent or less of the average future bets a small ante and 15 percent or more of the average future bets a large ante. Anything in between is an average ante. Thus, $100 would be an average ante in a $1,000-$2,000 games, while in a $5-$10 games, 50 cents would be an average ante.
The antes are not always the only things that make up the initial pot. There may be forced bets, or blinds - forced bets that rotate around the table from hand to hand. In Las Vegas seven-card stud, for example, the low card on board starts the action with a small bet. In most $1-$2, $1-$3, and $1-$4 stud games the forced bet (50 cents) actually replaces the ante. In razz the high card starts the action with a small bet. And in hold 'em there is almost always at least one and sometimes two or even three blinds. When we talk about antes in this page, we are including any forced bets or blinds.
To repeat, all online poker games starts as a struggle for the ante. This struggle for the antes is what determines all future action. It is a struggle that increases and builds up, but it should never be forgotten that the initial struggle for the antes is what started the war. Players who do forget this, no matter how well they play otherwise, frequently find themselves in trouble. Most often they play too many hands in relation to the size of the ante; sometimes they play too few.
The best way to evaluate the size of the ante is to think about it in terms of pot odds and expectation. Let's say you sit down in an eight-handed $10-$20 games, and everybody antes $1. That creates an $8 pot. Starting with that $8, you should play your hand in terms of the odds you're getting for each bet in relation to your expectation of winning. If you bet $10, you are laying $10 to win $8. If someone calls you, he is getting $18-to-$10.
The fact that $1 or one-eighth of that ante money was originally yours is of no consequence. In truth, it is no longer yours. The moment you place your $1 ante in the pot, it belongs to the pot, not to you, and eventually to the winner of the hand. It is a common fallacy for players to think in terms of the money they have already put in the pot. They make a bad call because they called one or two bets on earlier rounds. However, it is absolutely irrelevant whether you put the money in there or someone else did. It is the total amount, no part of which belongs to you any longer, that should determine how you play your hand. In home games the dealer often antes for everybody. Some players play much more loosely when they are dealing, thinking that the ante is somehow theirs. But to play differently just because you anted, rather than someone else, is absurd. It is the same amount of money out there, no matter from whose stack of chips it came.
On the other hand, when you have the blind in hold 'em, for example, you can and should play a little looser, not because that blind is yours, but because you're getting better pot odds. A single example should make this clear. Let's say you have the $5 blind in hold 'em, and someone behind you raises it to $10. It now costs everyone else $10 to call, but when it comes back around to you, it costs you only $5. If the pot grows to $35, someone calling the $10 would be getting 3'/z-to-1, but since it's only $5 to you, you're getting 7-to-1 for your money. So you don't need quite so strong a hand to justify a call. You are considering your present pot odds, not the $5 you already have in the pot.