Do you want to play poker in India? You might have your work cut out for you.
That’s because many Indian states do not see poker as a game of skill. As such, they have banned it. We talk about which states have banned poker in our guide below.
For everyone else – those of you that live in states where poker is legal and regulated – you can continue to play poker online, and your options will range from okay to great.
You should only join great poker sites such as the ones we listed below. Find the one you like the most and sign up now. That way, you can take advantage of their current offers, tourneys, and soft games.
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It should go without saying that you can join any of these poker sites listed above and feel good about it. That’s because we only recommend sites that we’d play at ourselves.
How do you know that you can trust us? Well, several of our team members are or used to be online poker players. We know what’s important for a poker site to have in order to be worth your time.
We list some of the most important (absolutely non-negotiable) items each poker site must have before we’re willing to join them below. Keep in mind that this is on top of all the usual stuff – having a current license, positive reputation, and a variety of fast-paying banking options.
We’ll get to that stuff in just a minute. But first, we’re going to talk briefly about the poker situation in India – namely the legality of it and what your options are.
After that, we’ll talk about the items each poker site should have before you join. Then we’ll wrap things up with a few tips for how to keep your bankroll afloat while you improve your game and a few extra tips on how to get better at poker.
Let’s get to it.
One of the first questions we receive when we talk about gambling in a specific country is “Is it legal?”
Is playing poker in India legal?
The short answer – it depends. It’s legal in some states, and in other states, it’s not.
This is sort of crazy to read if you know anything about their gambling laws. Most forms of gambling are illegal in India. However, each state is allowed to set their own gambling laws. This is why it’s possible to gamble in states such as Goa, Sikkim, and Daman.
Casinos in these states are relatively normal. You can play slots and a variety of table games.
For everyone else, your gambling options are limited to the lottery and games of skill. There’s a little bit of a debate about what games are skill games and which ones aren’t. So far, it sounds like rummy and greyhound race betting is included, though this may depend on the specific state you live in.
Either way, you’ll notice that we didn’t mention poker.
That’s because poker isn’t considered a game of skill in many states. In fact, a judge ruled that poker doesn’t involve skill in a hearing held in December 2017. This was in regards toa case where officers broke up a poker game. The defendant stated they had no right to do that since poker is a game of skill.
However, the judge disagreed. He’s not the only one to disagree, either.
In December 2017, a new law was passed – the Telangana Gaming (Amendment) Bill, 2017. This effectively bans all online gaming and games of skill – which includes rummy and poker – in the state of Telangana.
This is awful news. It sets the state back several steps in terms of regulating online poker. And it means that a lot of players are unable to play poker legally in India.
Most Indian poker players will have to play at offshore poker sites. These are sites that don’t operate from within India. Instead, they are based elsewhere, such as the UK, Canada, Malta, and so on.
Most of the offshore sites that Indian poker players can join are legit companies. They might not be the best poker sites in the world, but that has nothing to do with safety. It has everything to do with their traffic levels, game options, and software.
However, beggars can’t be choosers. For some players, those sites will be your best bet. Just remember that gambling online illegally can have consequences if you’re caught.
One option that might be available to you is PokerStars, which is the largest poker site in the world. They have teamed up with lottery conglomerate Sugal&Damani Group to offer a ring-fenced poker site in India. They are going to soft-launch their poker site towards the end of 2018.
However, they will only be available to players in states where poker is legal and regulated. Everyone else will be able to play for fun/fake money. You can learn more about what they’re doing by reading this interview with the PokerStars India CEO.
Players who can play at PokerStars for real money will still get to play some of their flagship tournaments. This includes the Sunday Million and Sunday Warm-Up, for example.
Only time will tell if the games are as good as they are on PokerStars’ main platform.
Choosing an online poker site is trickier than choosing a sportsbook or casino. There are things you need to think about when choosing a poker room that you don’t need to worry about when choosing a different kind of gambling site.
Many of these are make-or-break items. They’re non-negotiables – if you want to have a good time playing poker online, anyway.
We’re going to cover the 3 make-or-break attributes in the next section. After that, we’ll cover 3 more things that might be nice to have but aren’t always necessary when choosing a poker room.
These first three items are important. Without them, we recommend you find a different poker room to join. You might not have fun otherwise.
This is the most important attribute. Without it, you might as well not even bother playing poker.
Every poker site needs traffic. It needs other players.
Think about it like this – have you ever tried to play Texas Hold’em by yourself? It doesn’t really work, does it? Now, have you ever tried to organize a home poker game? It probably wasn’t very easy, because you need enough people who are free at the same time to come together to play.
It’s the same idea for online poker sites. The fewer players there are, the harder that it will be to get any game going, much less the specific game, variant, and table stakes that you want to play.
We can’t give you a specific number to aim for since it doesn’t guarantee that your specific games will run. Heck, there’s no guarantee that all the players logged in will even play for real money.
That said, we’d recommend aiming for at least 5,000 players and preferably closer to 10,000 or 20,000 players online during peak hours. Do that, and you should be able to find some action.
If any poker site fails to meet this minimum mark, then chances are good that you’ll be far happier passing them up and finding somewhere else to play.
Trust on us this.
Another thing that’s non-negotiable is a VIP program. There are a couple of reasons why this is a must-have item.
For one thing, if you’re a serious player, then chances are you’re going to give one or two poker rooms the majority of your business. They should reward you for that loyalty.
You’re also going to amass a lot of hands or tournaments over your lifetime. If you have the choice between two poker sites – one that offers a VIP program and one that doesn’t – that’s a lot of money you’re leaving on the table by joining the site that doesn’t have a VIP program.
For professionals, receiving that little extra kickback will smooth out their variance in the short run and add to their profits in the long run.
For recreational players, getting some of your money back can reduce your losses. This will help you get more learning mileage out of every dollar spent. You can also go from a losing to breakeven player or breakeven player to slightly profitable player from the VIP perks you receive.
Now, as for which VIP program to choose, that’s something you’ll have to figure out. If you want to squeeze every penny out of every hand or tourney you play, you’ll need to do some math to see which VIP program will be best for you.
Here are some of the things you’ll need to know to do that math.
You need to figure this stuff out for every room you’re thinking about joining. Then you want to compare your findings to see which room has the most valuable VIP program.
Once you find the best rooms/programs, then you can compare the other things you like about each room to find the best all-around poker site for you to join.
The next thing that’s non-negotiable is a large variety of tournaments with a large focus on guaranteed tournaments.
We know that not every poker player is into tournaments. Some people decide to focus exclusively on cash games.
However, we think that’s a mistake.
There is so much value in tournaments. These types of games attract players of all skill levels for a variety of reasons.
The bottom line – tournaments are important.
The exact kind of tournaments you look for will depend on what you like to play. We recommend looking for sites that have knockout/bounty, step, and satellite tourneys. These offer a lot of value due to their prize pools and fishy players.
Ultimately, your goal is to find a site that offers loads of tournaments. Do that, and the rest should take care of itself.
The things above aren’t the only things that matter. They’re just arguably the most important things that you should concern yourself with.
That said, there are a few other things you might want to consider before you join a poker room. The following are 3 more examples of things that you might want to look for before you join a poker site.
Many poker rooms nowadays have picked sides in terms of the types of players they want to cater to.
For example, many poker rooms have decided they want nothing to do with pro players. They feel that professional players have ruined the games and driven the casual players away.
One of the things they’ve done to cater to the casual player is to offer anonymous tables. Every player is identified with a number only. There is no screen name.
This means that you can’t take notes on other players, and there’s no way to track them using software. You’re starting from scratch each time a new player sits down, sort of like playing live.
This sucks for the professional player. They want as much data as they can collect so that they can make more optimal decisions.
For the casual player, though, this allows them to fly under the radar. No one will know you’re a beginner unless you make it painfully obvious you’re one.
If you’re a beginner or just someone that doesn’t want to be targeted by sharks, anonymity might be something you look for during your search for a poker room to join.
Let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. If you’re a serious player, then something you’ll want to look for is whether the poker site allows you to use third-party software. This includes heads-up displays (HUDs), data mining, auto hotkey programs (AHK), calculators, and more.
Whether they allow these tools or not will be a pretty good indicator of whether they allow serious (winning) players, too.
You’ll want to check this out before you sign up anywhere. You don’t want to sit down to play a 20+ table session only to find out that you’ll have to do so without stats.
The most popular poker game is Texas Hold’em.
In fact, many rooms don’t offer much else. They might offer Omaha, but that might be the extent of their game selection.
We recommend you avoid these poker rooms whenever possible. There are a few reasons why.
For one thing, if you’re even the tiniest bit serious about being a solid, all-around poker player, then you’re going to want to learn how to play new games (and play them well).
These games can be super soft, too. Many people think they know how to play these games when they really don’t. All you’ll need to do is learn a few basics and then be primed to take their money.
Finally, it’s nice to have a little variety. When you’re having a bad day at the Hold’em tables or you’re burned out, you can fire up a game of HORSE, Omaha, Stud, or Razz and enjoy a change of scenery.
It can be tricky to find a legit poker room. There are so many variables that need to go your way for the site to work out in the long run. That could be one of the reasons why so many rooms have failed over the last couple of decades.
However, if you stick to the must-haves above – especially the first three – the odds of you finding a poker room you can play at day in and day out increase exponentially.
One of the things new poker players have to deal with is keeping their bankroll afloat. This is tough to do when you’re new and losing more hands or games than you win. No bankroll is safe if you’re a losing player.
What can you do, then? How do you extend the life of your bankroll long enough so that you can get better – preferably without having to top your bankroll off?
Here are a few ideas you can try.
Rakeback is a deal that poker rooms offer where they’ll give a percentage of the rake you pay back to you. For example, if you pay $100 in rake and have a 30% rakeback deal, the poker room would give you $30.
Some rooms will give you your rakeback daily. Others will do it weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly. Itdepends on the room and the deal you have with them.
Now, rakeback won’t solve your bankroll problems if you’re a terrible poker player. But a slightly losing player can all of a sudden be a breakeven or slightly winning player with rakeback.
This is especially true if you combine it with one of the other tips below.
Joining a VIP program is a smart thing to do. You can receive cashback, bonuses, trips, tournament seats, cheaper withdrawals, and much more for doing something you were going to do anyway – play poker.
These perks may not directly add to your bankroll, but the value of each perk cannot be overstated.
Take a tournament seat, for example. You can play in a free tournament, make a deep run, and collect a nice 4-, 5-, or even 6-figure score.
Or what about cheaper withdrawals? Say you receive one cash-out for free.What will that save you – $35, $50, even $75? Don’t laugh – it all adds up.
The bottom line – don’t ignore VIP programs. Any money or value you earn from one can go back into your bankroll one way or another so that you can live to fight another day.
Another way to boost your bankroll is to claim a bonus. Bonus money is free money to any profitable poker player. It’s already theirs – they just need to fulfill the bonus requirements first.
If you choose to go this route, you need to resist the temptation to play higher stakes than you usually would. You also can’t punt games just because it’s not your money and you’re bored or frustrated.
You need to play your best as if this money came out of your pocket.
Do this, and you can learn and get a little better on the poker room’s dime. Along the way, you might even earn VIP points/rewards, which is like hitting two birds with one stone.
Another simple way to boost your bankroll is to play satellite tournaments. There are a couple of ways you can approach these.
One way is to approach these as intended. Play to win a ticket to the next stage or to win a seat to the big tournament they’re promoting. Win a seat, and you’ll have a chance to play for a 4-6-figure score.
The other way to approach these is to try to win like normal. Then, instead of playing in the tournament you won a seat to, you use the money to play other cheaper tournaments instead. For example, one of our team members here used to play satellites to the $215 Sunday Million.
He played in the Sunday Million once but figured the tournament was too difficult. So, the next time he won a satellite, he used the $215 for other tourneys instead. Many rooms will let you do this – they’ll just convert the buy-in into tournament tickets.
If you were to do this, you could take the $215 and play almost onehundred 180-man tournaments at $2.20 each. These have solid prize pools and teach you solid tourney skills. You could no doubt become an excellent player at these games and use those skills to slowly move up through the ranks.
These games will provide you with at least a couple hundred hours of entertainment, too.
This option is for serious players only. But another option we have firsthand experience with is being staked to play.
Poker staking is sort of like investing. Someone gives you money to play with, and in exchange for thebankroll, you agree to give them a percentage of your winnings.
These agreements often come with coaching, too, which means you can level up fast if you partner up with the right backer.
However, these agreements often come with volume requirements (hands/tourneys), hour requirements, commitment requirements (months or years), and so on. You’ll also have to agree to make up any losses you accrue, which can be difficult to do if you’re not getting any better at the game.
Just make sure you read the fine print before you agree to anything.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to be a losing poker player. Winning is far more fun, and there’s a sense of accomplishment knowing that you can join any random poker table and have an edge.
The good news is that you can be as good a poker player as you want to be. This is one of those games where you get what you put into it.
That’s also the bad news – improving your poker skills takes work. Work not everyone is willing to do.
However, if you’re one of the people that are willing to put in the work, then the following tips should put you on the right path to becoming a better player.
This is one of the best things you can do to level up your game. Find a coach that knows the games you play inside and out, and you’ll see a night-and-day difference in your win-rate.
Now, there are a couple of ways you can go about this. You can hire a coach for one-off sessions. Or you can join their stable (if they also stake players).
If you’re willing to commit, going the staking route will be the cheapest out-of-pocket option since your coach will just take a piece of your action. If you go this route, make sure there will be ample coaching involved.
That said, one-on-one coaching will be far better if you want to fix your leaks right now. Hire someone for a couple of hours, and all the focus will be on you and your leaks. Just be prepared to pay for it – coaching can cost anywhere from $25 to $500 or more per hour.
You’ll also want to make sure that you show up to the session prepared. Send the coach your problem hands before the session starts and write down any questions or concerns you have. That way, once your time starts, it’s all business.
We were going to suggest you read poker books, but the problem with books is that they quickly become outdated. The strategies that worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow because of how fast the game evolves.
That’s why joining a training site is a better choice.
These training sites are created by players who continue to play the game and are familiar with the strategies working right now.
Another reason we like training sites isthat you can consume the content whenever it’s most convenient for you. They’re also much cheaper – less than $100 per month – which makes it more economically feasible compared to paying for hourly coaching.
These are a great option for players of all levels, but definitely for a beginner or intermediate player who’s playing at the micro or low stakes.
Forums are a great place to learn for a few reasons.
For one thing, there are years of archived information. There are some poker fundamentals or strategies that still work even today.
Then there’s the community. Forums are chock full of people that play poker. You can talk strategy with them, specific hands, hire them to coach you, and loads more.
One of the things we like most about forums is that you can post individual hands to discuss. Not only will you receive brutal honesty about how you played your hand, but you’ll see how others would play the hand and their reasons for it.
You can learn a lot from that.
No matter which of the options you choose above, you should also review your own hands. Set aside time each day or week where you sit down and review a tournament or a number of hands that you played the previous week.
Reviewing your hands can be tricky, though, because it’s hard to look at the way you play objectively. You obviously had reasons for what you did. So, you could easily say that you did nothing wrong and not bother to take this exercise seriously.
But that would be a huge mistake.
In fact, it might be a good idea to hire a coach for a couple of hours to see what your biggest leaks are. Then search for those mistakes as you review your hands.
If you need to, maybe review your hands with someone else so that you can get an outside opinion. That way you know your bias isn’t interfering with your progress.
Our last suggestion to help you level up your poker skills is to sweat other players – watch them as they play.
You won’t be able to sweat just anyone, though. You’ll need to sweat someone you know, as people tend to be protective of showing others how they play.
And make sure that you watch them using a screen sharing program so that you can see their hole cards, how they set their tables up, how they size their bets, and – most important of all – so that you can listen to them explain what they’re doing and why.
Don’t forget the why – that’s one of the most important things to focus on. You need to have a reason why for every action you take at the poker tables.
What do you know?There’s tip #6.
We covered a lot of ground. Congrats if you made it this far.
To sum things up, online poker is hit and miss in India. If you live in one of the states where poker is legal and regulated, well, you’re in good shape, then. Make sure you take advantage of it.
For everyone else, you’re in a much tougher spot. You run the risk of hefty fines and other consequences if you’re caught playing online. That’s assuming you can even find a room to join since several poker networks and rooms have left the Indian market.
Either way, when you’re ready to play, we recommend you use the suggestions at the top of this page. They’ve been vetted to be the safest and most trustworthy sites to join. They also have the best variety of promotions, games, tournaments, and banking options available to Indian poker players.
Give them a shot and thank us later.