Online poker takes that notion and cranks it up a notch. You can play entirely free or for the smallest stakes imaginable (literally pennies). You can play for satellite entries into the most amazing live poker tournaments around the world. Or you can even play for the highest stakes you can find anywhere.
All of which you can do from a desktop computer, laptop, phone or tablet. And whether you're playing your first hand or your millionth, regardless of your experience level, everyone can find the right seat at a poker table.
There are now well over 100 million poker players worldwide and the game continues to grow in countries near and far. If you want to learn how to play poker online, you’ve come to the right place.
Below we'll explain everything you need to know to begin playing poker online. Once you've read things through, check out our list of the best sites to play online poker and get started in seconds!
1. Intro to Online Poker
- What is Online Poker?
- Online vs. Live Poker
- A Brief History of Online Poker
- Why is Online Poker So Popular?
2. Getting Started with Online Poker
- What You Need to Start Playing Online Poker
- How Much Money Do I Need?
- How to Play Online Poker
- What Types of Poker Games Can I Play?
3. Finding the Best Sites to Play Online Poker On
- How to Get the Biggest Online Poker Bonus
- Why Can't I Play on PokerStars/PartyPoker in My Country?
- How Do I Deposit and Withdraw Cash from a Poker Site?
4. Beginner Poker Tools
5. Secrets of Online Poker
- How to Cash in Your Poker Bonus
- Navigating the Lobby
- Beginner Tables
- Tracking Your Results
- Qualifying for Live Tournaments
- Frequent Player Reward Programs
1. Intro 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 online poker games!).
Online Poker vs. Live Poker?
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.
For more detail on some of the key differences between live and online poker, check our tips here:
A Brief History of Online Poker
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 home $2.5 million for winning the tournament and he 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.
For more on the history of online poker and which poker sites have established themselves as the best online, check our page here:
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 long as you like, for any stakes you’d like from the comfort of your own home.
Can I Win Real Money Playing Online?
Absolutely. Winning real money playing online 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 page right now.
Online poker isn’t particularly taxing on your computer's memory and if you have a laptop or desktop from the early 2000s or later you have more than enough processing power.
These days there are lot of real money poker apps for smart phones and tablets so you can play on the go. That includes Android devices, iPhones and iPads.
Many of the game variations are also set up to be particularly conducive to playing on a mobile device. Read more here:
How Much Money Do I Need to Start Playing Poker Online?
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 make your online poker bankroll last, too.
One of the most important ways to get your online poker bankroll off to a good start is to get a healthy poker welcome bonus. More info here:
How to Play Online Poker
If you're playing from your home computer or laptop, the first step is to download the online poker software from the site of your choice. The overall demand on your memory is quite small and it shouldn’t take very long to download on even the most archaic Internet connections.
If you'd prefer not to download anything you can also try the no download poker games at any poker site, although they don't provide quite the same features and playability as the full download version.
If you've gone the download route, 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 past them 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 or any of the most popular online eWallets including Neteller, Skrill and PayPal.
For a full list of online poker deposit options available to you in your country, check our page here:
What Types of Poker Games Can I Play Online?
Texas Hold'em is king.
There are numerous poker variations you can play online but not all sites will offer all variations.
Universally, the most popular poker game across all poker sites is No-Limit Texas Hold’em, which famed poker legend Doyle Brunson has called “The Cadillac of Poker.” Thousands of no-limit hold'em games run online 24/7 at all sorts of stake levels.
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.
For more on the rules of Texas Hold'em, check our page here:
Texas Hold'em is available in all kinds of formats, too, from standard cash games and tournaments to turbo and jackpot Sit-and-Gos to speed poker and more.
Other well known poker variations you can play online include:
Online Poker Tournaments
Poker tournaments are wildly popular both live and online thanks to tours like the TV exposure of the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour.
In tournament poker you pay your buy-in and get a stack of chips. The moment you have no more chips, you're out of the tournament. The eventual winner is the player who collects all the chips.
Online poker tournaments are the cheapest way to potentially win big money. There are several $10 buy-in online tournaments, for example, that have awarded over $200,000 for first place. With bigger buy-ins the prize escalate even higher.
It’s easy to find big online poker tournaments on the weekends. These days the biggest online tournaments draw even more players than the biggest live tournaments thanks to the 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 $109. Low buy-in satellites also run every day that allow you to scale up to playing bigger buy-in events. Learn more about the best poker tournaments and satellites here:
Sit & Gos
Sit & Gos are 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 & Go's, make sure you check out our Essential Sit & Go strategy series for some great strategy tips.
Also now very popular among online poker players are Jackpot Sit & Gos (aka Spin & Gos or BLAST Poker), which are hyper-turbo, 3- or 4-handed tournaments that multiply the prize pools before the battle begins. Read more about them here:
Online poker cash games, or ring games as they're sometimes called, are a classic form of poker where each player buys in with a certain amount of cash and receives chips that have real money value.
Each cash game table will have a minimum and maximum amount a player can have on the table. The amount is related to the size of the blinds at that table.
For example a 1c/2c blinds table online will have a minimum buy-in of $2.00 and a maximum of $20.00. Online cash games are played as "table stakes" games meaning the maximum any player can bet in any one hand is the amount of chips on the table. Players can top up their chips up to the maximum during play or leave when their stacks get low.
As you can cash out at any time 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 longer amount of time to make it into the money.
3. How to Find the Best Online Poker Sites
Which Poker Site is Right for You?
Online poker is hardly a monopoly and there are dozens of poker sites to play on.
What’s the best one for? 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 poker sites have (much) worse players and much bigger sign-up bonuses and player perks (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 just Hold’em and Omaha.
For more detailed information on what each poker site can offer, check our expert poker site reviews.
How to Get the Biggest Online Poker Bonus
Almost all poker sites offer a sign-up or "welcome" bonus to entice new players. Usually poker sites match whatever you deposit at 100% up to a maximum amount. So for instance you put $100 on a poker site, the site will match that $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 (harder to unlock). Always shop around a little to find the best bonus because sometimes third-party sites like PokerListings can offer bigger bonuses or special perks like free tournament tickets.
Check out our in-depth look at the best poker bonuses you can find online in 2019 here:
Why Can’t I Play on PokerStars/PartyPoker/Titan Poker ETC?
Online poker is becoming more and more of a region-specific game. Major poker sites 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. If you're looking to play online poker in the USA, check our detailed page here:
How to Deposit and Withdraw 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 credit cards, debit cards, pre-paid cards, bank transfers, e-checks or third-party eWallets.
You can withdraw your winnings easily as well using many of the same methods along with wire transfers or a good old-fashioned cheque in the mail.
4. Beginner Poker Strategy
Where Do I Find Good Poker Strategy Tips?
The better you get at the game, the more fun poker is. Fortunately there are tons of free resources available to online poker players these days.
Here at PokerListings.com we have hundreds of strategy articles that can help you no matter what level of player you are.
You'll want to start with simple information such as the ABC’s of poker or something like our 10-Minute No-Limit Hold’em Crash Course but the depth of strategy advice you can find online is fairly bottomless. Check out our poker strategy sections here:
Poker Hand Rankings
Of course before you get into any advanced poker strategy you need to get a good handle on how poker hands are ranked. Hand rankings can change slightly depending on which poker variant you playing eg. Lowball) but if you're playing Hold'em or Omaha they are consistent.
Head to our Poker Hand Rankings page to see the official list of hand ranking and to find a downloadable PDF you can keep handy while you play.
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 our Which Hand Wins Calculator, which explains exactly what final hand each player holds and what the winning hand is.
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 cards are 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 Poker Odds Calculator will tell you just what percentage chance your hand has to win on each street.
Just plug the cards into 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.
Here are a few more suggestions for some of the best poker books you can find:
There are tons poker training sites but they can get quite expensive if you get a subscription to the elite sites. Once again you’re probably better off sticking to the free poker 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 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 Poker Online
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 Online Poker Lobby
Online poker lobbies are where you find which poker games an online poker site offers.
Most online poker sites offer a quick start option, which is useful for new players. You just type in the game you want to play, the stakes you want to play, how many players you want to play against 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 & Go's and whatever special format games the site runs.
There will also be an "Instant Play" or "Free Play" tab where you can find the free play-money games.
The Tournaments tab is generally loaded with events so you’ll want to filter it so you can actually see what’s going on.
Beginners Only Poker Tables
Most online poker sites have "beginner" tables of some sort and these are highly recommended for new players as you'll only be seated with others players who classify themselves as beginners.
This dramatically levels the playing field for new players still getting used to the speed and features of online poker.
If you’re on a beginner table you’ll be limited to playing at just one table, which is actually ideal if you're still learning the game. The relatively slow pace of beginner tables keeps the sharks away, as does a cap on the number of hands you have played on the sites.
Once you've crossed a certain threshold of hands you can't access the beginner tables anymore.
Track Your Results!
Even if you're just a casual poker player it can really help to track your poker results. This gives you a good idea of where you're really winning and losing your money and of what works and what doesn’t.
Fortunately, 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 ways to do it. Here are some of our tips:
How to Qualify Online for Live Poker Tournaments
Write your own poker history.
For many players the ultimate poker dream is pulling a Chris Moneymaker - ie. qualifying for a major tournament like the World Series of Poker and then going on to win millions.
It's a nice dream. And, surprisingly, more possible than ever.
Almost every poker site offers a series of low buy-in satellites or steps tournaments that start at $1 and work their way up to winning seats for the $10k WSOP Main Event and many more.
The way steps tournaments work is that if you win a $1 Sit & Go you get access to the next level - say a $5 Sit & Go. That continues until you work your way up to a final Sit & Go where if you win (or place near the top) you’ll earn an all-inclusive package including buy-in, travel and hotel for a major live tournament.
Check our in-depth guide to playing satellites online here:
How to Play More Than One Table in Online Poker
One of the key differences between online poker and live poker is the ability to play more than one table at a time.
While multi-tabling 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.
For more on some of the best tips and tricks for multi-tabling effectively, check our page here:
Online Poker Player Reward Programs
Many players don’t know this but basically every time you play real-money poker online 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!
Learn more about the player rewards programs at PokerStars here:
You can also check our individual poker site reviews to see exactly what each site offers for its frequent players!
We hope you've found our beginner's guide to getting started in online poker helpful! If you have any specific questions, drop a note in the comments below and we'll answer the best we can!
Best of luck at the tables! We hope you find your journey into online poker as rewarding as we have.