So, my recommendation is to go through the pages we’ve linked to from this page. Then read our room reviews. Then go through our 3-step guide above.
Introduction to Online Poker
Are you interested in playing online poker?
You’re not the only one. According to these 2007-2009 (pre-Black Friday) stats, more than 15 million people in the United States play poker online for real money. Which is about 2.5% of the entire adult population.
Can you blame them? I can’t – online poker is FAR better than playing live. Here are just a few of the many reasons I prefer it:
- Plenty of action
- Since you can play multiple tables, you can have as much action as you can handle. Some sites let you play as many as 40+ tables. That’s not possible offline.
- No problem finding a game
- It might be a cash game. Or, a tournament. You might have to play holdem instead of omaha. But you’ll always be able to find a game to join. That’s not the case offline.
- Large guaranteed tournaments
- What brick and mortar casino do you know of that frequently hosts 6 and 7-figure guaranteed tournaments? Like, once per week, or even daily? I can’t think of any. But most online poker rooms do.
- Lower limit games
- You can play cash games for as low as .01/.02 per hand, or tournaments starting at .05
- Unique game variations
- Online you have LOTS of unique game variations to choose from – many of which are not available (or even possible) offline. One example that comes to mind is fast fold poker.
I could go on and on. There are so many reasons to give online poker a shot, even if you’re a diehard live player.
But, getting started is scary. Especially if you’re brand new to poker.
And the internet adds an extra level of anxiety. Is it safe to play poker online? Is your information secure? Are the games rigged? Is it legal? Where do I play? How do I get started? I’d be surprised if you haven’t at least asked yourself one of these questions.
The good news – we totally get where you’re coming from. We were once new to online poker, too. But now we help poker players like you, new or veteran, get started online.
What you’ll find on this page is an introduction to online poker. Below we cover the details we feel ALL players should know and have an understanding of if they wish to play online.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
By the time you’re through you’ll have all you need to start playing today.
Important Pages to Read First
Before you play a hand – heck, before you create an account – you should read the following guides. You’ll learn how online poker works, how to choose a poker site, how to play poker, and more.
More specifically, you’ll learn:
The Rules for Different Poker Games
For your sake, and those playing with you, you should learn the rules of the poker game/variant you plan to play before you sit down.
We have added the rules of Texas Holdem and other poker variants in our section dedicated to different poker games. This section should be the first you read.
Is Poker About Luck or Skill?
Is poker a game of luck or skill? This debate has gone on for years. While it’s undeniable that luck and skill both play a factor, there are differing views about which has the biggest effect.
Of course, it doesn’t matter so long as you enjoy playing the game. But it’s interesting to know what the reasons are for both sides of the argument.
How Does Online Poker Work?
The key thing to recognize about playing poker online, as opposed to other gambling games such as blackjack or roulette, is that you’re playing against other real players. You can sit down at a virtual poker table and be up against opponents from all over the world.
Many people play online without even thinking about what goes on “behind the scenes.” It’s certainly not something you need to understand in order to enjoy playing or be successful, but for any of you that might be interested in knowing exactly how things work we’ve explained it all right here.
Why Play Poker Online?
Playing poker over the internet is somewhat of a different experience to playing live, but the basic concept is essentially the same. There are actually several benefits that playing online offers over playing live with very few drawbacks.
But, is online poker for you? There’s only one way to know for sure.
Choosing Where to Play Online Poker
Your first step to playing online poker is choosing where to play. There are dozens, if not more than 100 different sites to choose from. And it’s important (for many, many reasons) that you make the right choice.
Talk about stressful. And, overwhelming.
It really is worth taking the extra time to ensure you make the right decision, though, as there are several variables that will determine whether you have a good time …or a bad time.
But no need to worry, this is something we can help you with.
Poker Bankroll Management
One of the most important things that you can learn before and while playing poker is how to manage your money. Bankroll management is a vital skill for anyone looking to be a profitable poker player.
The good news is that managing your bankroll is something that can be learned and it can be learned fairly quickly. If you’re getting sound advice, it shouldn’t be too long before you know what to do with your money in order to make it last as long as possible.
Check out our complete guide on managing your poker bankroll in the article below.
Poker Bonuses & Rewards
Anyone that plays poker online, whether they play for fun or take it seriously, ultimately wants to make money. The most obvious way to do this is by winning at the tables. But you can also make some extra money through the bonuses and rewards that most poker sites offer.
If you’re playing online, or plan to, then you should really understand how these bonuses and rewards work and how you can use them to give your bankroll a boost. Please take a look at the following two pages to find out more.
More Advice for Playing Online
We have a few more pages offering information helpful to anyone playing poker online. These cover simple, yet useful things like etiquette, tips for winning and poker hand nicknames.
Glossary & Frequently Asked Questions
There’s a significant amount of jargon used online and our glossary will help you familiarize yourself with the most commonly used terms and phrases. In our FAQ we have answered a selection of the most commonly asked questions about online poker.
A 3-Step Guide to Getting Started Online
With all that knowledge under your belt, your next step is to play. And to do that you’ll want to follow these 3 steps:
1Choose a poker room
I wanted to say you needed to choose the ‘best’ poker room.
However, some people say that ‘best’ is relative. That there’s no best poker room, but instead a poker room that’s right for you might not be right for me, and vice versa.
That’s true …but only to an extent.
There are some poker rooms better for one player than another. These are rooms that cater to a specific type of player.
However, there are staples that all good rooms have.
We’re not playing casino games. You need at least two players for a game to run. So, the less traffic a poker room has, the less likely there are games running.
But traffic only does you so much good if the majority is seated at holdem cash games when you prefer to play omaha. Or, if the site offers nothing but tournaments when you’d rather player cash games.
The same goes for stakes.
The point? You need to find a room with traffic to the games and stakes you want to play.
Every poker room should have a VIP program. Again, we’re not talking about playing at online casinos where it might make sense to have an account at multiple casinos. With online poker it truly pays to be loyal – and I think you should be rewarded for that.
So, you need to join a room with a good VIP program. One that offers cash back, insurance, tourney seats, prizes, expedited support, and more.
You want to join a room that runs fair games, and who will pay you your winnings.
No duh, huh?
You’d think so. But many players make the mistake of choosing a 3rd or 4th tier poker room because they heard the games are softer or that the bonuses are better. Both are probably true …for a reason. It doesn’t matter anyway, since the room will likely stiff them.
The bottom line? Choose a poker site from our list of recommended sites.
Those are the staples.
However, there’s one more variable you need to think about before you choose a site, jump to the next step and create your account.
Pro or Recreational?
Some poker sites cater to all players (PokerStars or Full Tilt). However, many rooms (Bovada and Bet365) have been tweaking what they offer to cater more to the beginner or recreational player. This means beginner tables, lower stakes and prohibiting pros from playing too many tables, tagging you (to harass you later), and from using software designed to give them an edge.
If you’re a recreational player I recommend joining one of these sites. The games will be a touch easier. You’ll probably have a better time.
And if you’re a (semi/wannabe) pro? You’ll probably want to avoid these sites, unless you like playing no more than 4 tables with anonymous players and no software.
Armed with this knowledge, I suggest you take a quick break from this page to read our poker room reviews. Then choose a room to join.
Once you’ve made your decision, your next step will be to create an account.
2Create your account
The next step is to create your account. This is an easy process.
Once you land on the poker room’s website, you’ll want to find their join now link. This is usually a button or link at the top of their site, above their navigation. Sometimes they’ll have their links in various spots throughout the body and in the footer, too.
That link will take you to a special page where the poker room asks for some information. This will vary from room to room, but here’s the common stuff they ask for:
- Your name
- Physical address
- Phone number
- Email address
- Your desired screen name
- Your password
Once you fill all that out and submit your information – assuming there’s no problem – you’ll have an account. The only thing left to do now is to check your email, as most rooms send you an email with a link you need to click to ‘confirm’ your account.
Once you do that you’ll be able to log in and fund your account.
3Fund your account
Your next step is to fund your account. Each room is different – more so if you compare a US-facing room to one that accepts players from all over the world. But mostly only in the banking options you’ll have.
Here are the most common payment methods poker rooms accept:
- Credit/debit cards – this includes Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc.
- Prepaid cards
- Bank wires
- Money transfers – this includes services like Western Union.
Some options are for deposits only, cash outs only, and some can be used for both. And, it often depends on where you live.
To make your deposit, all you’ll need to do is find the bank or cashier link. It’s usually a big button in one of the corners of your lobby window. But, when in doubt, you’ll find it in the main navigation. Then choose your option and plug-in your details.
Deposit limits vary from site to site, but most poker sites will let you deposit as little as $5 to $20. The max will range from the hundreds to thousands. Enter how much you want to deposit and click submit.
Again, it depends, but deposits can clear within seconds to long as a few hours – even a few days if you’re sending a check or something.
But once your money clears you’ll be all set to play.
Types of Poker Games & Variations You Can Play
One thing you’ll notice about online poker is that you have LOTS of poker games and variations to choose from. Far more than you’ll ever have offline. There are a couple of reasons why that is:
There’s no space restrictions online. An online poker room can offer as many games and tables and variations as they want without taking up much space. And if they ever need more room, it’s far cheaper and easier to get more space online than it is to get more square footage offline.
Two, offline rooms are going to offer only what’s most popular. And for most casinos and poker venues that means holdem cash games and tournaments, with maybe the random omaha or dealer’s choice game mixed in.
And the last reason – there are just some variations you can’t play offline. Variations that require software to work. The easiest example I can think of is fast fold poker. There’s simply no way to offer a live version of that.
So, if you’re into trying different poker games, online is definitely the place to be.
With that in mind, I thought it’d be helpful to give you a rundown of the most common games, variations and betting types you can choose from online.
The most common poker games you can play are:
- Texas Holdem
- Mixed Games – These are games that usually rotate through 2 or more games. For example, HORSE is holdem, omaha, razz, stud and stud hi/lo.
- 5-Card Draw
More games exist. It’s just that if they’re uncommon, you won’t see them offered at every poker site (unlike the games above – most, if not all rooms offer them). Chances are the more obscure they are, the less often you’ll find a game to join, too.
Every poker site will offer games in no limit, pot limit and fixed limit betting. The most popular games played are no limit, though, followed by pot limit.
From here you’ll have your pick of cash games, tournaments and sit and go tournaments (sngs). If you’re not sure what these are, or what to choose, then you’ll have a better idea once you read our summaries and pros and cons for each.
These are the games shown mostly on TV.
The general idea behind a tournament is to buy-in for a set sum, say $10+$1. The $10 will go to the prize pool and the $1 covers your fee. Then each player is given a stack of chips. The amount depends on the tournament.
The tournament ends when one player has collected all the chips. Your goal is to be that player.
Tournaments pay out prizes based on the number of players who’ve signed up and the amount of money in the prize pool. Sometimes only 1st pays, while in other cases the top 3, 10, 50, 100, 500+ will pay. It just depends –
there’s no fixed number. And you’ll know once the tournament has stopped taking registrations or re-buys.
That’s the general idea, anyway. Now for the pros and cons.
- If you win a (large guaranteed) tournament it can pay life-changing money.
- Tournaments also happen to have lots of entertainment value. Where else can you buy-in for $1 or $10 or whatever, and play for hours?
- The skills learned in tournaments will transfer to sngs.
- You can go a LONG time without cashing in a tournament.
- Even longer between winning a tournament.
- There’s a lot of luck needed to do well, which only increases as the number of players increases.
- And while there are breaks in tournaments, you can’t exactly leave when you want (at least, not with your stack/money).
Sngs are similar to tournaments. The biggest difference is that sngs start when a predetermined number of players have bought in. So, if you signed up to an 18-man sng, it’ll start once 18 players have bought in. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same as a tourney.
- Sngs don’t last as long as tournaments. For example, a 180-man only takes 2 hours for the turbo variation and between 3-4 for the standard version. An 18-man takes 45 minutes from start to finish.
- Also, these are a solved game, which means anyone can learn to beat them.
- And they’re excellent bankroll builders.
- Like tournaments, you can’t exactly take a break whenever you want. If you sit out, you will pay your blinds every round until you come back or your stack is gone, busting you from the tournament.
- These, too, rely a bit on luck (more so the larger they get).
The general idea behind a cash game is you’ll choose the game and stakes you want to play, say 5/10 no limit holdem. Buy-ins vary, but the standard max buy-in is 100 big blinds. For 5/10 that would be $1,000.
From here a cash or ring game is just one perpetual poker game that doesn’t change. The blinds will never go up. And the game won’t end until the room closes or no one’s playing anymore.
What separates cash games most from tournaments is that the money you bring to the table is the money you play, win or lose with. Which means you can win or lose money much faster than what’s possible in tournaments.
Here are the pros and cons to cash games.
- You can sit down and get up whenever you want.
- Cash games are great if you want to be proficient at all aspects of poker.
- You can earn more money, consistently, compared to tournaments.
- Cash games are a bit tougher for bankroll building as your money doesn’t stretch as far. When you lose 1,500 chips in a tourney, you only lost your buy-in (which can be anything, even $1, $5 or $100). And that can take hours. But not in a cash game. If you lose $5 in chips, you lost $5 of your bankroll. Making money at cash games are also more a consistent grind. You won’t win large lump sums unless you’re playing for high stakes.
So, which one is best? Which type of game should you play?
Honestly, there’s no right or wrong (although some would disagree with me). The best game or variation is whatever best fits your budget, you’re most interested in, and have the most time for.
That said, if you have a low budget and time to kill, I’d recommend sngs. Then use the money you make beating those to play tournaments. Once you have a large enough bankroll (min 20-50 big blinds), then start playing cash games.
But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
Now, the last thing I want to cover are all the poker variations you can play. Most of them will only apply to tournaments, though you’ll find a few for cash games. But you’ll want to know what these are since most games contain at least one of them.
The most common variants include:
- These have faster blind levels than normal. For example, instead of 10 minute blinds you’ll play 3 or 5 minute blinds.
- Deep Stack
- Instead of receiving 1,500 chips, you might receive 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 chips.
- These are also known as bounties. A portion of every buy-in (for sngs/tourneys) will serve as a bounty. Whoever knocks you out will collect your bounty. Whenever you knock someone else out of the tourney, you’ll collect their bounty.
- These are smaller tournaments that have cheaper buy-ins. The winners here will advance to a more expensive tournament. For example, you can play a $15 shootout, and if you win, you’ll receive a $215 coupon for the Sunday Million.
- In a multi-table tourney, each table plays until there’s one player left. Then these players join a final table to play for the prizes.
- A tourney that lets players buy back in if they’re knocked out early, but only for a short period – usually the first couple of blind levels.
- An option to buy additional chips when you first buy into a tournament.
- A table with only two players. This applies to both cash games and tournaments.
- 4, 6, 9, 10, 12+
- A table with only so many players. This applies to both cash games and tournaments.
- There’s a max on how much will be wagered. Applies to cash games.
- When everyone posts a mandatory bet (in addition to the blinds) before the cards are dealt. Found in both cash games and tourneys.
- A tournament with a guaranteed prize pool. If it’s not covered by the players who buy in, then the poker room will pay the difference resulting in an “overlay”.
- Fast Fold
- A game where a player pool seeds each table with new players. You’ll receive your cards and will have the option to fold before the action gets to you. When you do you’ll be taken to a new table with new players and a fresh hand.
- Short Stack / 40 big blinds
- Cash games where you can buy in for less than the standard 100bb table – usually around half.
That’s a good start. And you’ll notice that many games have a combination of variations. For example, a deep stack knockout tournament, a turbo fast fold cash game, a short stack turbo tournament, and so on.
And again, there’s no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of finding a game and variation you like to play. Most poker rooms will offer the variations I listed above. That said, it will vary from room to room. So, if there’s a specific variation you want to play, the best thing you can do is read our poker room reviews to see who offers what.
Final 5 Tips for Getting Started Online
I want to wrap this section up with a few tips. Just a few ideas to help make sure your experience online is the best it can be.
Here we go – in no particular order:
- Try different games and variations. Every poker game will be different in terms of strategy, time needed, payouts, potential hourly rates, volume, etc. The only way to know what works for you is to choose a few different games and play them. If you’re worried about hourly rates you can always join a forum for ideas. I recommend 2+2.
- Practice at low stakes. Low stakes ($3/game or .10/hand) is the best way to learn. The games are soft enough where you should be able to quickly learn the nuances and tactics for beating that level, but without having to risk losing your shirt. You can even play for free if you don’t want to risk real money yet.
- Join the beginner tables. Many poker sites offer a beginners-only table. Often these are only available to new customers for the first 30-90 days after they create their account. And you’ll only play against other new customers, which means you don’t have to worry about better players preying on you.
- Play with all the features. I recommend you play a few free games or hands to get familiar with the software before playing for real money, especially if you plan to multi-table. Learn where all the buttons are. Figure out what color scheme is best. Add the features that help you play better (like multi-colored decks, no chat, or showing the bets (in text) everyone makes).
- Is the poker room compatible? This is becoming less of an issue nowadays, but one thing you do want to keep in mind when choosing a site is that not all poker rooms have a Mac download. Instead you might have to play from your browser. And, in fact, some rooms only offer browser software.
This also goes for mobile – not all rooms have apps. This is something to pay attention to when reading our reviews if that sort of thing (playing on the go) is important to you.
Conclusion – Get Started Now
Wow, we covered a lot. And, honestly, we’re only covered the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to online poker than this.
So. Much. More.
But we’re afraid that if we throw everything plus the kitchen sink at you, you’ll spend most of your time reading and not enough time playing. You won’t take action. Yet, taking action -actually playing poker- is where you learn the most.
Once you’ve done that, stop reading and get to playing. Log a few dozen tournaments or a few hundred poker hands.
After that, we encourage you to come back to learn more in-depth poker strategy. To improve your game so that you can make more money playing poker online.
We’ll be here waiting for you.