It doesn’t matter whether you’re big, small, man, woman, old, young, loud or quiet. Poker is meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
Online poker takes that notion and cranks it up a notch as you don’t even have to go to casino to get in on the action.
You can play for the smallest stakes imaginable (literally pennies) or even for free. And whether you're playing your first hand or your millionth, everyone is welcome at the table.
These days there are over 100 million poker players worldwide and the game continues to grow.
Want to learn how to play - or even get in a bit of practice online so you can clean up at your local home game? You’ve come to the right place.
PokerListings.com is the world’s biggest online poker guide and this article detailseverything you need to know to begin playing poker online.
1. An Introduction to Online Poker
What is Online Poker?
Online poker is simply the traditional card game of poker played over the Internet. There are a variety of different online poker sites that all offer different variations of poker with a wide range of games and stakes available (including completely free games!).
Online Poker vs. Live Poker?
The rules of poker are identical whether you’re playing a live poker game in person or against a random person on the internet. There are some key differences, however.
Online poker generally tends to be faster, comes with less risk (you can play for smaller amounts) and more accessible (you can find a game anytime, anywhere you are in the world).
On the downside you’ll usually be playing against strangers and won’t be able to look anyone in the face. It takes a little getting used to but there are still many ways to figure out if someone is bluffing.
A Brief History of Online Poker
Chris Moneymaker changed everything.
For years poker existed primarily in the back of smoky bars or casinos but that all changed in the early 2000s when the internet and an accountant from Tennessee elevated poker to primetime.
Prior to 2000 most poker played on the internet was done in chat rooms and, understandably, was just recreational.
That changed when technology advanced and secure online poker sites launched that were able to safely hold players’ cash and let them wager against other.
People started taking online poker sites more seriously in 2003 when an amateur poker player named Chris Moneymaker qualified for the World Series of Poker Main Event through a $40 tournament online.
Moneymaker ended up taking down $2.5 million for winning the tournament and single-handedly revolutionized the game.
It wasn’t long before poker was being showcased on ESPN and hundreds of thousands of players flocked to play online poker.
Why is Online Poker So Popular?
Online poker is popular for many of the same reasons that people love live poker. It’s a fun, easy-to-play, intellectual game that can be thrilling. The game rewards actual skill unlike slots or the lottery.
It’s also something you can do at any time, for as ling as you like, for any stakes you’d like from the comfort of your own home.
Is it Possible to Win Real Money?
Absolutely. Winning real money playing poker is one of the main reasons people are attracted to the game no matter how small the stakes!
2. Getting Started with Online Poker
What You Need to Play Online Poker
The requirements for online poker are very minimal and there’s a good chance you can play on the same device you’re using to browse this website.
Online poker isn’t particularly taxing on computer systems and if you have a laptop or desktop that was built in the early 2000s or later you should have more than enough processing power.
These days there are even apps for smart phones and tablets so you can play on the go. That includes iPhones and iPads in most regions.
How Much Money Do I Need?
Not very much. You can actually start by playing free play-money games on a number of sites. After you’ve had your fun with that most people deposit in the range of $50-$200 and that’s generally enough to keep them going for a very long time.
The key is playing games that don’t exhaust your online account in one go. For instance if you have $50 online then you should probably stick to $1 tournaments until you accumulate a few more bucks.
It’s also possible to play as low as $.01/$.02 when it comes to cash games, which makes $50 a massive bankroll where it would be very hard to go broke. There are plenty of ways to save your online poker bankroll.
How to Play Online Poker
The first step is downloading online poker software, which is quite small and shouldn’t take very long to download on even the most archaic Internet connections.
Once the installer package has been downloaded just double click it to install the software.
At this point you’ll have to create a user account (on some sites it’s done before you download the software).
You must be at least 18 years old or the minimum legal age in your jurisdiction, whichever is higher. There will be age checks so don’t expect to get in if you are under age.
Depositing money on an online poker site usually requires a credit card, or some sort of prepaid card but there are some exceptions. Most sites accept major credit companies such as Visa or MasterCard.
You should also be aware that some online poker sites are only licensed for certain jurisdictions so you may be unable to play on them.
What Types of Poker Games Can I Play?
There are numerous poker games but every version has some element of betting, bluffing and hand values.
The most popular poker game is Texas No-Limit Hold’em, which Doyle Brunson once called “The Cadillac of Poker.”
In No-Limit Hold’em you are only given two cards and you try to combine them with five community cards to make the best possibly hand.
Hold’em is simple to learn but very difficult to master making it a great intro to the world of poker.
Online Poker Tournaments
In tournament poker you pay your buy-in and get a stack of chips. The moment you have no more chips you are out of the tournament while the eventual winner is the player who collects all the chips.
Tournaments are wildly popular thanks to tours like the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour.
Online poker tournaments are the cheapest way to potentially win a big prize. There are several $10 buy-in online tournaments that have awarded over $200,000 for first place.
It’s easy to find big online tournaments over the weekend that bring more players than even the biggest live tournaments thanks to the online site’s ability to host thousands of players with no physical space needed.
The famous PokerStars Sunday Million runs every week and offers a $1 million prize pool for a buy-in of just $215.
Sit & Gos
Sit & Gos are basically just smaller tournaments, sometimes only one table or less, that start up as soon as enough players are seated at the table(s). Sit & Gos start all the time on online poker sites thanks to the massive volume of players. Sit & Gos take much less time than massive multi-table tournaments but the rewards are also smaller. Once you start playing Sit & Goes make sure you check out our Sit & Go Essentials series for some great strategy tips.
Cash games, or ring games as they are sometimes called, are an even older form of poker where you play with chips that have real value. Once you have your chips you can cash out at any time, meaning you can play for 10 minutes or 10 hours. Many poker players enjoy the flexibility of cash games compared to tournaments where you are generally locked in for a decent amount of time.
3. Finding the Best Online Poker Sites
Which Poker Site is Right for You?
Every poker site has unique features.
Online poker is hardly a monopoly and there are plenty of poker sites to play on.
What’s the best one?
Well that depends on a lot of factors. The biggest sites tend to have the most players and have the most games running.
On the other hand some of the smaller sites have worse players and more aggressive sign-up bonus (more on that below).
Some poker sites also offer more variants of poker (such as PLO, Seven-Card Stud, Five-Card Stud, Lowball) while others are limited to Hold’em.
Decide what you want in a poker site and just go for it. Sites like PokerListings list all the various features of each poker site in comprehensive reviews.
Getting the Biggest Online Poker Bonus
Almost all poker sites offer a sign-up bonus to entice new players. Usually sites will match whatever you deposit by a certain percentage, such as 100%.
So for instance you put $100 on a poker site and the site will match $100, provided you play enough qualifying hands.
There are a wide variety of sign-up bonuses available on most sites that range from instant free $10 (easy to unlock) to massive $1,000 bonuses (hard to unlock).
Always shop around a little to find the best bonus because sometimes third-party sites like PokerListings actually offer bigger bonuses or special perks like tournament tickets.
Why Can’t I Play on PokerStars/PartyPoker/Titan Poker ETC?
Online poker is becoming more and more of a region-specific game.
Major players such as PartyPoker and PokerStars are available in some countries but not others.
Be sure to check if the poker site you want to play on is actually available in your home country.
Just because you can’t play on the biggest sites in the world doesn’t mean you don’t have access to great poker action. Some of the smaller regional sites can be incredibly fun too and sometimes the communities are more tight-knit.
The USA is a huge market but right now there are only a few licensed sites in a few select states but they are growing every day.
Depositing and Withdrawing Your Cash from Online Poker Sites
Actually getting money on to poker sites and, even more importantly, off is very easy compared to the old days.
Depending on your region there are usually a wide variety of options to deposit including bank transfers, credit cards, e-checks or Netteller.
You can get money out using many of the same ways as well as PayPal, wire transfer and a good old-fashioned cheque in the mail.
Where Do I Find Good Poker Info?
The better you get the more fun poker is.
Fortunately there are tons of free resources available to online poker players these days.
Sites like PokerListings.com have thousands of strategy articles that can help you no matter what level of player you are.
You will want to start with simple information such as the ABC’s of poker, or a 10-minute No-Limit Hold’em crash course but even advanced information such as 3-Betting light can be found online.
Poker Hand Rankings
Of course before you do anything in poker you need to get a good handle on the hand values in the game.
Before you do anything we urge you to head to this hand values page and memorize the chart or at least keep it open until it makes sense.
The most common stumbling block for new poker players is that a flush beats a straight and three-of-a-kind beats two-pair.
Which Hand Wins Calculator
Pretty much every player that has ever taken up poker has been confused by the outcome of hand at some point.
The best way to clear up confusion is to use a Which Hand Wins Calculator, which gives you the winning hand 100% of the time.
These online tools help new players understand which hand actually wins in numerous situations. You just have to punch in your cards, your opponent’s cards and whatever is on the board.
Make sure you remember the correct cards to enter properly though!
Poker Odds Calculator
There is an element of chance in poker and if you want to get better you need to know when you got lucky or were just the victim of a bad beat.
Our Odds Calculator will tell you just what percentage you had to win a hand before the river.
Just plug in all the cards in our Odds Calculator and it will display information on whether you were actually ahead or behind your opponent.
If you prefer to learn about poker the old fashioned way there are plenty of great poker books that can speed along your education.
Harrington on Hold’em, Theory of Poker and Super/System are a few of the most beloved poker books but if you’re really just looking for the basics you might as well stick to online strategy sites since the information is free.
Once you have a firm understanding of poker fundamentals than it’s a good time to check out the Amazon top 10 list for poker.
There are tons poker training sites but they can get quite expensive if you are getting a subscription to the elite sites.
Once again you’re probably better off sticking to the free resources until you have a firm grasp of poker fundamentals.
As soon as you’re ready to take your game to the next level sites like CardRunners, IveyLeague and RunItOnce have comprehensive databases that include videos from famous poker pros at various stakes levels.
Because poker strategy changes so rapidly, online videos from poker pros are considered one of the best ways to elevate your game.
5. Secrets of Online Poker
Freerolls or Free Tournaments
Who doesn't like free money?
Freerolls are free tournaments that online poker sites run for select customers.
Entry is free so you don’t have to worry about losing any actual cash - although you can actually WIN real cash.
There are tons of freerolls to chose from and even signing up for a poker site through PokerListings can get you access to exclusive free tournaments every week.
There are many ways in, however, including freerolls for certain regions, clubs or groups.
Freerolls are basically a free reward for online poker customers.
If you’re into freerolls be sure to do some research because you can almost always find plenty of free tournaments.
How to Cash In Your Poker Bonus
There is one thing you have to know about online poker bonuses.
Most sign-up bonuses are not just given away instantly, instead you have to prove you’re actually going to play some hands on that poker site.
Generally bonuses are released based on the number of frequent player points you’ve earned.
For this reason it’s really good to
try and get as many hands in as possible in the first few weeks after you’ve signed up for an online poker site.
Once those weeks are up and you’ve at least earned some of your bonus you can relax a bit.
Navigating the lobby
The lobby isn't as confusing as you might think.
Online poker lobbies are where you find games to play and they can sometimes be a little intimidating at first.
Most online poker sites offer a quick start option, which is useful for new players. Basically you plug in the game you want to play, the stakes you want to play, how many players you want to play and then click play.
You’ll instantly be seated at the game of your choice.
If you want to investigate the lobby a little more it’s usually categorized by Cash Games, Tournaments, Sit & Goes and whatever special format games the site runs.
The tournament tab is generally loaded with events so you’ll want to filter it so you can actually see what’s going on.
Most online poker sites have a beginner table of some sort and these are highly recommended for new players. Generally if you’re on a beginner table you’ll be limited to just one table, which is not a problem if you are still learning the game. The relatively slow pace of beginner tables keeps the sharks away.
Tracking Your Results
You should always be tracking your poker results. This gives you a good idea what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately these days most online poker sites offer their own tracking.
Be sure to click on your session stats after you’re finished playing to understand how you did. You’ll want to pay special attention to your win-rate, number of flops seen and times you went to showdown.
If you’re looking for a little more advanced information on your results there are plenty of online tracking sites.
Qualifying Online for Live Poker Tournaments
Write your own poker history.
For many players the ultimate dream is pulling a Chris Moneymaker and qualifying for a major tournament like the World Series of Poker and winning millions.
Fortunately these days it’s easier than ever to qualify for major tournament.
Almost every poker site offers a series of steps tournaments that start at $1 and work their way up to massive events like the $10k WSOP Main Event.
The way steps work is that if you win a $1 Sit & Go you get access to the next level, let’s say a $10 Sit & Go. That continues until you work your way up a Sit & Go where if you win you’ll earn a package to a live tournament.
One of the key differences between online poker and live poker is the ability to play more than one table at a time.
While this may seem intimidating it’s actually quite easy considering how often you’re just waiting for good cards in poker.
For instance you can open two tables, set them up right beside each other, and happily fold your trash until you get a decent hand on one of the tables and then just focus on it. You’re essentially doubling your profit.
Seasoned professionals have been known to open more than eight tables at once and while we don’t recommend that, multi-tabling is one of the best parts of online poker.
Frequent Player Point Programs
Many players don’t know this but basically every time you play real-money poker you earn frequent player points you can redeem for cash and prizes.
Frequent player points are a reward for loyal customers and can be used to receive a variety of perks including free tournament buy-ins, free merchandise and even cold-hard cash.
Don’t discount the value of frequent player points!
Some players just let their points wallow away in their accounts. There are valuable rewards if you generate enough points so be sure to always know how many you have!