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Play-Money or Real-Money Poker Sites?
If you're new to poker and don't have the slightest idea what Texas Holdem is, where a betting round starts and think that the flop is a high-jumping technique, then starting out with play-money poker is highly recommended.
Just creating an account at a poker site and hitting the free play-money tables will give you the chance to try the game for free, learn the rules of poker and get comfortable with how an online poker site works.
After you get comfortable with the speed of play, the bet and fold buttons and the general flow of the game play and software, though, there's not much to learn from in play-money games.
When you play free poker, no one at the table is risking any money.
Because of that most people will play, well, erratically. To put it mildly.
They'll be willing to push all-in all the time regardless of what they have.
In other words, the game basically becomes a lottery without prizes and, to be honest, that is just not the best place to sharpen your poker strategy.
Freerolls are a Much Better Option
A much better option, if you're looking to start out without risking any money, is to look for what are called "freeroll" tournaments.
These are also free in that it doesn't cost you any money to enter. But the difference is they actually offer a small real-money prize pool that gets divided among the top finishers.
It could be actual cash money, or it could be a prize of "real-cash value", such as a tournament entry or a merchandise prize package.
Either way, it is worth something.
And because of the possibility of actually winning something of value, players do try to play their best game and don't donk off their chips with any random hand.
In freeroll tournaments, superior poker skills start to matter. And this gives you the chance to actually outplay who you're up against.
All online poker sites, including 888 Poker, Party Poker, Titan Poker, PokerStars and Betfair Poker, also offer new-depositor freerolls for all players who open an account, ranging from $50 up to $10,000.
Bottom line is at all online poker sites, money is actually quite essential to making the game enjoyable.
So if you're looking for the best site to play online poker, real-money games must be available.
Make a Deposit, Play on Someone Else's Money
All poker sites also offer what are called "sign-up bonuses" for new players that register an account and making a deposit.
These are usually a "match" bonus, meaning the poker site will match the money you deposit.
If you sign up to 888 Poker via a Poker Junkie link, for example, you'll get up to $888 at 100% match on your deposit. So if you deposit $50, you can get an extra $50 on top of from 888 just for playing at the tables, making your total account worth $100.
This is available all the way up to $888 total.
At 888, you'll even get a free $8 instantly added to your account.
Match bonuses are typically released in increments of $10 as you play a certain number of hands.
So if you manage to hold your own for the first few weeks of playing online poker, you'll actually be playing and making money on someone else's dime.
Don't Overlook the Micro-Stakes
A bit of a misnomer about online poker is that it requires a decent amount of money to play.
In reality, 95% of all online poker games run under $5, meaning you barely need any money at all to get involved in the action.
If you're prepared to invest, say, $20 on poker, all real-money poker sites run games at what are called the "micro" limits.
At every poker site you can find games where the blinds or tournament buy-ins are only a few cents - meaning you can make that $20 last for a very, very long time.
If you take the game seriously - study poker strategy, watch poker games on TV and online, and really want to become a good player - the best thing is probably to make a small deposit and try to make it grow at the low-limit tables.
You'll meet other "real" poker players, be able to apply what you've learned at the tables and, over time, you'll more than likely start to make a reasonable profit.
Not big money, but more than enough to try a few higher-stakes games or online poker tournaments, or cash out an get yourself something extra.
You'll also be earning real "player points" at whichever site you choose, which you'll be able to cash in for merchandise and tournament tickets.
Just remember Never risk it all on "taking a shot." Don't climb in stakes when you've made a little profit.
Stay where you're comfortable and make a consistent profit, and only allocate a small portion of your bankroll to trying out some bigger stakes.
So back to the original question: Where do you start your poker career?
If you know the rules of poker and some rudimentary strategy, make a small deposit at any of the real money internet poker sites.
Don't waste time playing against people who don't care about the results.
That's not poker, and in that's not what you're looking for long term.
Real Money Poker Sites
One of the biggest misconceptions about online poker is that you need to invest a decent amount of money to play.
That couldn't be further from the truth. Not only can you play for free in play-money games, every poker site also offers free tournaments called "freerolls" where you can win real money with no risk.
Not only that, almost all online poker games run in the $0-$5 range, so you don't need to invest much money - if any - to fully enjoy the game of poker online.
Add in a poker site "sign-up" bonus and you can make a minimal deposit last a very, very long time.