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They say it’s a game that takes minutes to learn and a lifetime to master and the enduring appeal of online poker is clear. Usually a separate vertical to table games and sportsbooks, many online casinos provide online poker as an extra offering to keep their player base entertained.

Online poker variants

Before playing poker online for real money, you can try and play as many games as you like for free. 

Free poker options are available on the best online poker sites. You can also play poker for free on Facebook and multiple mobile apps, this will help you get acquainted with the poker rules and pace. When you decide to play real-money online poker, make sure you choose the best online poker bonus on offer. There are several operators out there, take advantage of the competition between them and choose the best current poker bonuses. Any poker website will also allow you to play most of the following variants of the game:

  1. Texas Holdem
  2. Omaha and 5 Card Omaha
  3. Seven Stud, Five Card Stud and Razz
  4. Deuce to Seven Lowball
  5. Hi/Lo Poker
  6. Chinese poker
  7. Crazy pineapple

Texas Holdem

It is rather easy to find an online Texas Holdem game, it is, by far, the most popular form of the  game and it is played at every stakes, even the smallest ones. It is especially true for no-limit holdem. Each player is dealt two hole cards at the first betting round. Hole cards can only be seen by the player holding them. Then, three of the five community cards – called the flop – are dealt face up on the table once the first betting round ends. Then a fourth community card – called the turn – is dealt after the second round of betting, if any, then comes the fifth community card – called the river – after the third betting round if more than one player is left then. Community cards can be seen by every player around the table as they all need them to make their best 5-card combination and win the pot. A pot can be won “on showdown”, which means that players compare the strength of their poker hands to decide who wins the pot after the last betting round, or it can be won if every player but one folded at one stage in the hand. The best poker hand in Texas hold’em is any combination of five cards, it means that the best hand can be the 5 community cards, or 4 community cards and one hole card too. In 5 card draw poker, once the most popular variant, every player holds five hole cards and there are no community cards.

Omaha

Omaha is the second-most popular poker variant, especially due to its similarities with Texas Holdem. Instead of being dealt two hole cards however, every player is dealt four hole cards. It is important to note, that, unlike Texas Holdem, you have to compose your best 5-card poker hand with two and only two hole cards – not one, nor three, nor four. It is way more probable to make strong poker hands in Omaha than it is in Texas Holdem in spite of this restriction. Omaha is mostly played in pot-limit, meaning that the amount every player can bet at every turn cannot exceed the amount of the money already bet on the table during the current poker hand. 

Other poker variants

A lot of other online poker variants exist, among the most famous, Seven Card Stud could be listed as well as all the online hi/lo poker versions of already mentioned games. In hi/lo – or 8-or-better – poker, the amount of the pot is split between the best hi hand and the best lo hand. A hi hand uses the usual hand ranking from high card to Royal Flush. In a lo hand, the five cards of the lo poker hand should not make a pair and be lower or equal to 8 to be qualified as such. The strongest lo hand is A, 2, 3, 4, 5. The weakest is 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. [A, 2, 2, 3, 4], [3, 4, 4, 4, 5], [3, 5, 5, 5, 5] or [A, 2, 5, 8, 9] are not qualified as lo hands. Hi/lo poker is particularly played in Omaha, 5-card Omaha or Seven Stud. Razz however is a seven-card Stud game exclusively played lo, the pot is only split in case of a tie. Deuce to Seven Lowball is also a lo game where Aces are always high and straight and flushes do count towards a high hand as opposed to 8-or-better games. If hi-lo or lo-only poker is not your thing, you can still try some more exotic variants like Chinese poker or (Crazy) Pineapple.

Types of game

You can either play online poker tournaments or cash games in most of the variants listed above.

Online poker tournaments

When you register for a tournament, you pay the tournament entry-fee – or buy-in – which gives you a predetermined number of chips. A player is eliminated from the tournament when he has no chips left. Here yet again, several forms of online poker tournaments such as turbo, rebuy, knockout or satellite tournaments exist. A player wins money if he ranks well enough in the poker tournament – or does not “bust before the bubble”. The bubble is the number of players receiving a prize in a tournament. The most classic poker tournament prize pool structure pays 30% of the initial player pool, but a lot of different structures exist, like the “winner-takes-all”, for instance.

Online poker cash games

A cash game is different from tournament poker. When you sit at a cash game table, you play hard cash. You do not need to finish in the paid places to win money, you can win a hand and go – although considered a bad “hit and run” practice in brick-and-mortar casinos. You can also play indefinitely provided there is at least a player to play with you… and you have money left. Indeed, online cash game poker is considered riskier than online tournament poker, as the only limit is the depth of your pockets. It requires discipline to avoid losing more than you are ready to.

Full-ring, short-handed or heads-up poker tables

Playing poker is also different if you play on a full-ring, a short-handed or on a heads-up table. A full-ring poker table has nine players, a table is considered short-handed from six to three players. If there are only two players on the poker table, it is a heads-up table. Poker hands probabilities vary a lot according to the number of players at the table. Therefore, you should adapt your playing style accordingly also taking the online poker table type you are playing on into consideration. 

Online poker

Is online poker legal in the US?

The real interest for online poker started at the beginning of the 2000s and the sector was completely unregulated. Success stories, like Chris Moneymaker’s in 2003, gave dreams to millions of players around the globe. Everyone could play poker with their friends no matter where they were on the globe. But on April 15, 2011, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against the most successful poker sites including PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker as playing poker online became illegal in the US. The day became known as Black Friday in the online poker industry. From then on, online poker started a transition to a more regulated and safe sector in various countries, particularly in Europe where countries issued their own gambling licenses. In the US, since Black Friday, Nevada was the first state in the United States to legalize real money online poker for its residents in 2013. Delaware followed the same year, as well as New Jersey. More recently in late 2019, Pennsylvania entered the club too and West Virginia is expected to come along later in 2020.

US online poker websites

Looking for online poker sites in the US? Well, it depends where you live. Not all states allow online poker and not all sites offer online poker. We also have a brilliant guide on poker strategies.

  • WSOP/888
  • PokerStars (NJ and PA only)
  • Party Poker (NJ only)
  • PalaPoker (NJ only)

These poker websites are the most famous in the US at the time of writing but other names like Ignition Casino, Bovada, Intertops, BetOnline and America’s Cardroom share a lesser part of the US poker player traffic.

Advice for beginners

  1. Start by playing online poker for free: the best poker sites offer free play options or play poker on social media, then play online poker freerolls.
  2. Understand the table position, card’s and stack’s odds, various poker format etc.
  3. Start playing small-stakes tables online: one of the great things about online poker is that you can play for as small as a dollar per poker game (even less).
  4. Play online poker tournaments and understand bluffing mechanics.
  5. Build a bankroll and learn to manage it.
  6. Review your own poker hand history.
  7. Read poker books.
  8. Get better.
  9. Have fun.

Play poker online for free if it is your first time playing online. A few free poker hands with play money chips won’t hurt, just the time for you to get acquainted with pace, rules, formats and poker variants offered to you. Once you decide to play some Texas Hold’em or to rather deal with Omaha’s abundance of straights and flushes, it is important to read about the game you decided to play. Understand the poker table positioning and its implications on the order of play for the rest of the hand. The first player to speak in the first round of betting is considered “under-the-gun” and that is for a reason. At the beginning, try not to venture into online cash game poker unless at very low stakes, which can prove less fun than an online poker tournament in this case. Before taking further steps, get enough knowledge to assess your chances of winning every hand and to manage your bankroll properly. This will allow you to always enjoy your real money online poker experience.

Online poker vs live poker

If you are playing poker live in brick-and-mortar casinos or local poker clubs, playing online poker will be easy for you. However, it is important to note a few differences:

  • You do not see your opponent. Reading options are reduced to hand histories, frequency of play, past online poker performances, etc.
  • The poker gameplay is way faster. Expect to play as many as a hundred online poker hands an hour as opposed to twenty at best if the dealer at your live poker table is seasoned enough.
  • You can take advantage of online poker bonuses: most if not all poker websites offer a bonus to every new player on registration or deposit.
  • With  innovative game formats and the evolution of the mobile technology, playing poker on mobile devices is increasing in popularity and really fun if your mobile internet connection is stable.
  • You can play several poker tables at the same time, thus increasing the number of hands you see per hour. Do not jump too fast to online poker multi-tabling as it is important to learn a few concepts and apply them to one table first.

This implies several factors to take into account when playing online poker:

  • More players are disinhibited behind their computer screen or play several poker tables at the same time. They will make plays you are less likely to see in a brick-and-mortar poker room. That is a double-edged sword.
  • You are more likely to see unlikely poker hands and “bad beats” as you get more exposure to an accrued number of hands too. Don’t get fooled however, the best poker sites have a developed and certified random number generator program making most online poker games truly random. Your brain will always remember the time your pair of Aces got cracked by a pair of eights in a preflop all-in situation but won’t remember the five times they held versus other hands before that. Even worse so, the times YOUR pair of eights scooped the whole pot can be completely forgotten.
  • Although smaller stakes are available online, multiplying small poker games can be expensive. Since registering to another online poker tournament is two clicks away, it is easy to lose track of your losses.

How do poker sites make money?

Websites, very much like live casinos, take a small percentage of the poker games played on their platform – the rake – which in turn allows them to maintain the website, pay for staff, security, research and development etc. For tournaments, the rake is typically displayed with the buy-in amount with a plus sign. $10+$1 means $10 goes into the online poker tournament prize pool and $1 goes to the poker website. For online poker cash games, this is a bit different. A percentage of every pot played is taken by the poker website after the hand ends.

The last word

Playing poker can be daunting at first and it is important to always keep it fun. If you start playing hands online, some bad days can be unpleasant to say the least. So, always think of taking a break and keep your head cool. Getting an online poker mindset can be difficult but remember to always put your money when your cards or your bluffs are more likely to win, manage your time, your bankroll and you should be ready to discover the fantastic depth offered by poker.

About Kris

Kris Hunt is a content editor with over 7 years experience. Kris is an expert on all matters iGaming & sports in the USA. Kris is an Arsenal & Green Bay Packers fan. You can follow Kris on Twitter or on LinkedIn.