Online Poker – How to play and top sites
Online poker is a highly popular skill-based game. It offers plenty of variations (e.g. Texas hold’em) and different formats (e.g. tournaments).
Thanks to its strategic play and multiple games, poker is one of the most entertaining forms of gambling. However, it’s also one of the most difficult casino games to master.
If you’ve decided you’re up to the challenge, you can learn more about poker here. This guide covers the top poker sites, variations, strategies, bonuses, and more.
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Our criteria for choosing the top poker sites
We review multiple factors before recommending an online poker room. The following criteria is especially important regarding our recommendations.
The online poker industry has steadily improved its reputation, thanks to tougher licensing requirements. Many shady operators have been weeded out of the industry over time.
Unfortunately, rogue poker sites still exist. With this in mind, the need to know a poker room’s history before making a deposit cannot be overstated.
Top online poker rooms process withdrawals in a timely manner. They don’t, for example, take one month to approve a cashout request.
Insolvent operators, on the other hand, struggle in this department. Depositing at the wrong site increases the risk of losing your funds.
Ideally, you’ll choose an internet poker room that offers both a welcome bonus and ongoing promotions.
A welcome bonus refers to the initial deal for which you qualify when placing your first deposit. Welcome offers are typically the most lucrative deals at poker sites.
Promotions give you an opportunity to keep earning bonus cash beyond the welcome offer. Common promos include deposit bonuses, freerolls, holiday-themed events, and leaderboard races.
A freeroll is a poker tournament that doesn’t require an entry fee. It provides you with the chance to compete for a real-money prize pool without risking anything.
Open-entry freerolls permit you to play for as long as you’re a registered member. Other freerolls may require you achieve a certain VIP status to enter.
We recommend looking for sites with lots of freerolls as a way to help you build a bankroll as cheaply as possible.
Poker boasts plenty of variations, such as Texas hold’em, Omaha, seven-card stud, Badugi, Razz, and more. Certain poker sites offer players the opportunity to experiment with a generous assortment of games.
Traffic & large tournaments
High player traffic translates into more active cash games and bigger poker tournaments.
Cash-game liquidity is important because it helps you find the exact game and stakes you desire. Large tournaments present an opportunity to play for big payouts.
Skill level of player base
You stand to win more money by competing against weaker players. A site that boasts a higher percentage of fish helps boost your win rate.
You should start your search at prominent online casinos and sportsbooks that treat poker as an afterthought. These operators often recruit casino gamblers and sports bettors who only play poker recreationally.
Popular poker variations
Texas hold’em has remained the most popular poker game for nearly two decades. However, poker offers several other popular variations that are also worth considering.
Hold’em rose to prominence in the early 2000s, when it became the focal point of televised tournaments. This game has yet to relinquish its dominance over the poker world.
Texas hold’em features a simple format as far as poker games go. You receive two hole cards and use them in combination with five community cards to form a five-card hand.
Hold’em features multiple streets (betting phases), including preflop, flop, turn, river, and showdown. You can fold on any street if you don’t like your cards.
Omaha & Omaha Hi-Lo
Omaha is similar to Texas hold’em, because it features the same streets and five community cards. However, it sees you receive four hole cards instead of two.
You use two—and only two—hole cards, along with three of the five community cards, to form a five-card hand.
Omaha Hi-Lo is a popular spinoff of Omaha. It requires you to form both a low and a high five-card hand.
You scoop half the pot if you hold the best high or low hand. You win the entire pot if you hold both top hands.
Prior to the rise of Texas hold’em, seven-card stud was the most popular poker variation. It still draws a fair amount of players, despite being surpassed by hold’em and Omaha.
Players receive seven cards in this game, including two face down, four face up, and another face down. Your goal is to create the best seven-card hand possible from this combination.
This game is a combination of popular poker variants. H.O.R.S.E. includes Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Seven-card stud, and seven-card stud Eights or better.
H.O.R.S.E. cycles through each variation sequentially. Therefore, you should learn each variant involved before playing this game.
Razz is similar to seven-card stud. Here, you try to form the best five-card hand possible using the seven you’re dealt.
However, your objective in Razz is to form the lowest hand. In this way, it is similar to forming the top low hand in Omaha Hi-Lo.
Poker employs some of the most extensive strategies in gambling. Optimal strategy differs based on the stakes, opponents, format, and variation.
You cannot become a poker pro within a day. However, the following tips may guide you in the right direction.
Use available strategy resources
Poker strategy is more accessible than at any point in history. You can find a wealth of articles, training sites, and Twitch streams with a quick Google search.
Twitch streams are particularly popular as a strategy resource. They let you watch skilled pros play online poker and discuss their strategy.
Training sites offer hundreds, sometimes thousands, of strategy videos. However, you must pay a monthly subscription fee to gain access to a training site’s library.
Dedicate time to improving
Most people are far more interested in playing poker than learning about it. Nevertheless, you should set aside time to study strategy on a regular basis.
If you’re really dedicated, you should set aside one hour per day to review strategy materials. If you don’t have time for this, though, you should at least set aside 1-2 hours per week for strategy purposes.
Manage your bankroll
Bankroll management is crucial in any form of gambling. However, it gains special significance in poker.
You can use your bankroll size to choose appropriate stakes. With enough cash-game or tournament buy-ins, you can survive cold streaks without losing your bankroll.
Generally speaking, your bankroll should contain 30 cash-game buy-ins or 100 tournament buy-ins at your chosen stakes.
Here’s an example:
- Your poker bankroll is worth $1,100.
- You want to play tournaments.
- $1,100 / 100 = 11
- You should stick to $10 + $1 (rake) tournaments.
Pay attention to the game
The temptation to multitask when playing online poker is strong. For example, you might want to watch YouTube videos on your phone in between hands.
Multi-tasking is a huge mistake, though, because it takes your attention away from the game. You should be studying the behavior of your opponents even more than examining your own cards during a poker session.
Understand table position
Poker table position refers to where you’re seated in relation to the button (a.k.a. dealer). Here’s an example of position based on a 9-player table, starting from the player sitting directly to the left of the dealer and moving clockwise:
Early positions – Small blind, big blind, and “under the gun” (UTG).
Middle positions – Three seats to the left of UTG.
Late positions – Last three seats, including the button.
You want to stick with premium hands in early position. After all, you don’t have as much information on which to base your bets, since you’re one of the first seats in a hand.
You can open up your playable range of hands in late position. These three seats let you see more betting action before it’s your turn.
Record your results
You should document your results to see how you’re performing over time. Depending upon your performance, you might consider moving up or down in stakes.
Information that you should consider tracking includes:
- Wins/losses for each session.
- Date & time of each session.
- Poker site
Use tracking software
Poker tracking software, or Heads-Up Displays (HUDs), compile statistics on your opponents. You can use these statistics to consider your strategy when dealing with any opponent in a given situation.
You may experience a learning curve when using a HUD. However, you should eventually find the process is worth the effort.
Multi-table when successful
Assuming you consistently win at your given choice of stakes, you might consider multi-tabling. This refers to playing multiple tables simultaneously.
Multi-tabling increases poker’s difficulty factor by forcing you to make quicker decisions. However, it can also boost your hourly win rate when done correctly.
Poker is available in three general formats:
- Cash game
- Sit and go (SNG)
- Multi-table tournament (MTT)
A cash game (a.k.a. ring game) provides you with the ability to bet money on each hand. Furthermore, you can leave and re-enter cash tables as long as there’s an open seat.
SNGs are single-table tournaments. You pay a buy-in and compete against a single table of opponents.
MTTs combine multiple tables into one tournament field. Some MTTs, like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, offer multimillion-dollar top prizes.
How do you get online poker bonuses?
You can take the following steps to obtain a poker bonus:
- Register for an account at a poker site.
- Enter a bonus code (if required).
- Deposit using one of the available banking methods.
- Earn loyalty points (points unlock the bonus).
These steps cover the typical process of earning a poker bonus. However, you should always consider a bonus’ terms and conditions before making any assumptions or taking any actions.
To be fair, online poker has suffered cheating scandals in the past. However, most of these scandals occurred when the game was widely unregulated.
Today, more poker sites hold licensing in reputable jurisdictions than ever before. Today’s operators must adhere to lofty standards and operate according to relevant laws to ensure retention of their licensing.
You can beat poker with enough dedication. After all, you’re competing against human opponents rather than a house edge.
You must put in considerable work, though, with regard to practicing and learning strategy. Work is what separates the winning from losing players.
Your stakes also play a role in your ability to win. You’ll normally face tougher competition as you rise up the stakes.
Online poker’s legality can change from one state/country to the next. You should check your state, province, and/or nation’s gambling laws before playing for real money.
Every poker site features play-money tables. You may consider sharpening your skills in these free games.
Unfortunately, free poker makes for poor practice. Most participants don’t take these games seriously and are too loose with their chips.
If you’re serious about becoming a good player, you would benefit from starting with micro stakes ($0.01/$0.02 to $0.25/$0.50) before working your way up to more significant wagers.
A poker satellite is a tournament that offers a seat to another tourney. It gives you the chance to win your way into a bigger event.
Here’s an example:
1. You buy into a $10 + $1 satellite.
2. Prizes include $100 + $10 seats into a $50,000 guaranteed event.
3. 10% of the field wins a $50k seat.
Poker freerolls let you compete for a real-money prize pool without paying a buy-in. Freerolls include two general classes:
1. Open entry
Any member of a poker site can compete in open-entry freerolls. These tourneys usually feature small prize pools and crowded fields.
Invitation freerolls are typically offered to specific VIP tiers. For example, a poker room may only let Gold VIP members participate.
Invitation tourneys are more lucrative because they offer a large prize pool in relation to the field size.