Online poker doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to learn. You can get started at the micro stakes and play against real people for pennies before moving up to the bigger games. When you play over the internet, you get to see more hands per hour, you can log on any time of the day or night to find games. These are just a few of the reasons why I love online poker websites so much.
It all begins with finding a safe and high quality place to play. Your experience with online poker sites largely depends on where you ultimately choose as your “home base”. Here’s a look at my favorite places to play poker online.
Online poker sites are largely responsible for the incredible growth of the game over the past decade and a half. Not only did it introduce millions of new players to the game, but it evolved the way we all think about poker. Poker, as we eventually learned, doesn’t actually revolve around staring deep into your opponents’ eyes and calling their bluffs. What we realized is that it is possible to have just as much a deep-thinking and fulfilling game of poker over the internet as it is in real life.
Even better, we learned that you can actually win real money playing over the internet – lots of it. Chris Moneymaker helped kick off the online poker boom after he won the World Series of Poker in 2003. It was later revealed that he had qualified for his seat by playing in a satellite tournament at an online poker site. All told, Moneymaker turned a $39 online tournament into a $2.5 million payday at the WSOP. Since then, we’ve witnessed story after story of people winning millions of dollars playing online only.
The difference between an average poker site and a great one is massive. The best online poker sites attract the most traffic, which in turn means you have more people to play against, more tables to choose from and bigger tournaments to play in.
There are two key criteria to consider when looking for a place to play poker online: safety and traffic. Safety should be pretty self-explanatory. There’s no need to play at online poker sites with dubious origins or that have issues paying players promptly.
Reputation plays into safety as well. Stick with safe poker websites that are known for processing withdrawals in a timely manner. Avoid internet poker rooms that have had major security breaches and operators that have problems paying their players.
Traffic refers to the average numbers of players seated at real money tables at a poker site. It’s easier to find open tables at a wider range of stakes at busier poker sites. The tournaments are bigger and prize pools are more lucrative. And on top of all that, popular poker sites tend to be safe and financially stable.
Of course, we can’t expect everyone to have the same wants and needs in a poker brand. If you read on, I’ll explain a few other factors that you may want to consider when choosing a place to play. Safety and traffic should always be foremost in mind (in my opinion), but there are plenty of other factors to consider.
Looking for something specific? Here are a few quick navigation links for more poker info:
- Best Online Poker Bonuses
- Loyalty Rewards and VIP Programs
- Poker Sites for Specific Game Variations
- Tournament Poker Sites
- Cash Games Poker Sites
Important Things to Consider in Poker Websites
There are many things to look for when choosing where to play. Beginners are more interested in the amount of traffic at the low stakes while experienced players consider multi-tabling higher stakes games more important.
The following factors are all important when choosing a poker site. With many sites to choose from, we encourage choosing only those that meet your specific preferences and compete with valuable offers for your business.
- Licensing : A gaming license from a reputable authority is essential in establishing trust. A lack of proper licensing isn’t always a sure sign that you’re looking at a scam site, but it definitely means you need to proceed with extreme caution. Most of the biggest (and safest) poker sites hold licenses in multiple jurisdictions. Any site that makes the effort to get licensed in different parts of the world has long-term prospects in mind.
- Number of Active Players: The number of active players at a poker site is also a strong consideration. Sites with greater traffic numbers make it easier to find games in the formats and stakes you want. Secondly, high traffic indicates popularity, word spreads and some sites develop reputations as the go-to places for tournaments and cash games.
- Reputation and Trust : The internet poker community is pretty tight-knit with forums like TwoPlusTwo.com boasting several hundred thousand members. When a poker site does something questionable, the information tends to get out there. Poker forums are great places to look for information about cashout speeds, recent experiences, and the community’s overall opinion of any brand.
- Real Money Safety and Security: Strong security measures must be implemented at any site before I even consider playing there. Proper security measures ensure your personal details and banking information are kept safe from hackers, fraud, and unauthorized activity. In addition, any reputable provider will have an active team monitoring and detecting potential cheating and collusion amongst players.
- Range of Betting Stakes and Limits: The biggest and best sites spread poker games at stakes that range from pennies all the way up to games that will let you buy in for $100,000.Generally most places offer limits with blinds as low as .01/.02 and range up from there to as much as $3000/$6000. This is a sharp comparison to brick-and-mortar rooms where you’re lucky to find games as low as $1/2 NL or $3/6 fixed-limit. Low stakes games are great for those of us with limited bankrolls and they encourage new players to join.
- Choice of Game Formats and Variations: Formats and variations beyond Texas Hold’em are becoming more popular. Poker sites with Omaha, Stud and other variations in no limit, fixed limit, and pot limit structures in both cash games and tournaments are becoming standard. Tournament types such as bounties/knockout (get paid if you knock out a certain player), double-ups, and satellites to bigger tournaments are common on the schedule.
- Accessibility and Reliability of Customer Support: Customer service is paramount for any reputable operator – around the clock support for when you have a question or need to talk to support for help with an issue is required. A strong customer support team indicates a genuine appreciation of its customers.
- Depositing and Withdrawal Options: Funding real money accounts and withdrawing your winnings should be easy. The best poker sites offer plenty of fast, safe and reliable banking methods. Look for those that accept e-wallets, electronic banking, and high rates of credit card acceptance. Reputable poker sites accept deposits and process payouts quickly, with minimal fees. Note: Don’t be surprised if a site ever asks for a photo copy or scan of your ID. This is a basic security protocol that ensures safety for all of us.
- Software: Quality software is a must-have. If you have ever played at a poker site with poor software, you already know how frustrating it can be dealing with eye-straining graphics, missed button clicks and random disconnections. Crisp software makes it easier to concentrate on your game. Many betting sites use “network” software that is shared across many brands, pooling players together for bigger games.
These are the main things we look at when choosing which sites to recommend. I believe you’ll have a positive experience at any site you have on this page. You’ll find a variety of games, be treated well and get paid when you win.
Why I Love to Play Poker Online
Real money online poker is just as “real” as playing at a casino. Even though you cannot look your opponents in the eye, you can still learn much about them. Observing how people play certain hands in various situations reveals information about how that person is likely to play in future situations. This is information that you can methodically use to play a very exploitive game.
One thing that online poker sites offer that you’ll never find at the casino is low stakes action (and even play-money action). Online poker sites have a very low overhead compared to brick-and-mortar establishments. They aren’t limited by space, they don’t have to hire dealers, maintain buildings, or buy extra tables. Thus, they can afford to host low stakes games and practice tables.
Just imagine walking into your nearest casino and asking for a game of $0.01/$0.02 no-limit. You’d be laughed out of the building. Online poker sites, by comparison, can host hundreds of these tables. This is great for new players or those with a small bankroll. You can get started without investing in an expensive education.
Multi-tabling is another big advantage to internet poker. The ability to load multiple tables and play at all simultaneously is unique to the internet. Once you’re able to win playing at one table at a time, you can easily add another table to the lineup and increase your win rate. Plus, it’s more fun to play at multiple tables because you get to see more starting hands and be involved in more pots.
The availability of the games is another major advantage to playing online. Poker websites don’t have “hours of operation.” They are open 24 hours a day and accept players from around the world. Log in to any poker site and you’ll find players from the US, Europe, Asia and other parts of the world. You’ll find bigger tournaments and more cash game tables online than you would find at even the largest brick-and-mortar poker rooms.
Bonuses and promotions are also unique to online poker. There’s just so much more competition online and players can switch from one site to another in minutes. This isn’t true in the brick-and-mortar industry. You’ll see more promotions, deposit bonuses and other perks in a week of online poker than you would see in a year at any local poker room.
Given the number of online poker sites out there, the competition to get new customers is intense. This is good news for players as it provides opportunities to take advantage of marketing offers such as large deposit bonuses.
Most new player bonuses take the form of a first deposit match. For example, if you fund your account with $300, the site will award you $300 in extra cash. You’ll then be asked to “clear” the bonus by playing in real money games. The pending bonus cash is then released into your account in increments.
Make sure you always take a look at the terms and conditions associated with every deposit bonus before you sign up. The terms tell you how to clear the bonus and explain any strings that may be attached to the offer.
Online Poker Loyalty Schemes and VIP Programs
Poker sites work hard to retain their customers amidst the competition that I alluded to above. Loyalty rewards attempt to retain you as a player by offering incentives to play. VIP schemes and cash promotions come in many forms but essentially they all work on the principle that the more you play, the more you are rewarded. To learn more have a look at our rewards guide.
A lucrative rewards program is an excellent way to get extra value out and keep your bankroll topped up. Just play poker like you normally would and you’ll receive perks and other benefits as a part of the program. It’s good to know about these programs so you can make sure you take full advantage.
Most poker reward programs revolve around VIP points of some sort. The general idea is that as you play in real money games and tournaments, you also earn VIP points. As you earn these points, you move up through the various levels in the VIP program.
At the lower levels, you can trade your points for small bonuses, free entry to tournaments and gifts from the VIP Store (or whatever they call it). As you move up in levels, you get access to bigger bonuses, bigger tournaments and better gifts from the store.
Real Money Poker Games, Variations, and Betting Rules
Before considering winning strategy, it’s mandatory to have a full understanding of the rules of any game you may consider. Some game variations and rules can have profound effects on the proper approach to the game.
Texas Holdem is the best place to start as it is the most common variation in the world. The rules of the game are pretty simple once you get a few rounds of practice under your belt. However, there are many other forms of poker out there that are worth a look. The quality of players in non-Holdem games tends to be substantially lower and that makes it easier to earn a profit.
A solid understanding of the rules is the basic jump-off point. We’ve got a whole section dedicated to specific game variations as well as pages dedicated to tournaments and cash games.
- Tournaments: sit and go’s (SNGs) and multi-table tournaments.
- Cash Games: Shorthanded, heads up and full ring cash ring games.
Strategies Winning Players Use
Even basic poker strategy is a large and complex topic. There are many facets to the game and different styles that can be used. For anyone just getting started, start with the basics and build a foundation that you can build upon later. Be an active learner, read all the classic poker strategy books and participate in strategy discussion forums. Nobody will do the work for you; this is where you take charge of your own education.
There are three key concepts in poker strategy that apply to every poker variation. First, it is choosing the right starting hands. New players often come in with this mentality of “any two can win.” It is true that any hand can win, but weak hands cost money over the long run. If you are brand new to poker, start your journey learning about starting hands.
Be selective when choosing which hands you play. It may only cost a little to see the flop, but all those antes add up over time. A habit of playing any two cards is expensive and will put you in a lot of difficult situations.
The second fundamental is position. Every hand in poker begins with one player and then the action moves around the table, giving the other players time to act. When you act first, you are at a disadvantage because you must act without knowing what the other players will do. Conversely, late position gives you the advantage of seeing what the other players do before you must make your own move.
The concept of position plays into starting hand strategy. When in early position, you should be extra “tight” because you are forced to play the entire hand at a disadvantage. You need stronger-than-normal starting hands to offset the disadvantage of acting first during each round of betting.
Late position gives you more room to breathe. You get to see how many other people are in the hand, you get to see how the pot is shaping up and you get to act after seeing how the other people in the hand have chosen to act. This all gives you an information advantage and makes it easier to win with a greater range of hands.
And third, it is a must that you understand when to chase and when to fold. One of the most common mistakes new players make is to chase draws against all odds. Yes, those draws hit sometimes, but you give up a lot of money when you call wager after wager hoping to hit every draw.
Learn “pot odds” and “drawing odds” as a part of your early education. A basic understanding of pot odds will help you make decisions that are mathematically correct.
There is so much more to learn about poker, but these three fundamentals will at least get you started in the right direction. Visit poker strategy websites, read books, watch videos and participate in poker discussion forums to learn more.
Bankroll Management Tips
Bankroll management is important to your success. If you play in games that are too high for your bankroll, you will go broke. It doesn’t matter how good you are; there will be times when the cards don’t fall in your favor. Adhering to strict bankroll management guidelines is an essential part of any serious players strategy.
There are many theories regarding bankroll management, but here are a few basic recommendations:
- Bankroll for no-limit cash games: Play in games for which you have at least 20 buyins at that level. This means that if you have a $1,000 bankroll, the highest no-limit games you should play in are those at the $0.25/$0.50 ($50 buyin) level or lower.
- Bankroll for fixed-limit cash games: Play in games for which you have at least 600 big bets. This means that if you want to play in a $0.250/$0.50 limit game, you must have a bankroll of at least $300.
- Bankroll for multi-table tournaments: Play in tournaments for which you have at least 100 buyins. This means that if you have a $500 bankroll, stick with tournaments that cost $5 or less. This may sound extreme, but tournaments are very swingy. It is quite common to go 10 or more tournaments without winning a penny.
- Bankroll for single-table tournaments: Play in tournaments for which you have at least 50 buyins. So if you have a $500 bankroll, stick with tournaments that cost $10 or less. Some people prefer to go even further and make it 100 buyins.
Bankroll management isn’t particularly complicated, but the trouble comes in actually implementing it. It becomes especially difficult when you hit the occasional downswing and know that you have to move down to stay within your bankroll limits.
Remember: be willing to move down as your bankroll dictates. A lot of people get in trouble when they hit a losing streak, refuse to move down and continue losing at their current level. This is a deceptively easy way to go broke.