Play Online Poker - Complete How-To Guide to Online Poker
To play poker online, you simply need to download the poker software from the poker site of your choice, register an account and start playing.
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If you're looking to play real-money poker right away, there is usually very little delay in getting money transferred to your account via credit card (particularly if you're in Europe) and you can be up and running on real tables in less than 15 minutes.
If you're trying to deposit money at one of the US poker sites on the net it may take a little longer, but customer support staff are available in real-time at most sites and to help guide you through the process.
And, of course, if you're just looking to play free online poker you can sign up for any online poker site and access their play-money games or you can play free online poker games or freerolls and win real money!
Read our online poker reviews here to get started.
How To Play Online Poker in 3 Easy Steps
The quick version of getting started in online poker for those who are impatient:
- Choose a poker site
Download and install the software by looking at our list of best poker sites
- Create a poker nickname
This will be your name at the tables.
- Start playing
Start at the play-money tables until you’re comfortable with the ins and outs then switch to real money when you got the hang of it
1. Where to Play Poker Online
Your first move is to choose a place to play at.
All of the online poker sites that we recommend here in our toplists are very safe, secure and licensed businesses. They run on reliable software and manage their online payment systems very securely.
Among the large number of available poker sites, the choice for most poker players usually comes down to a number of practical details:
- The game variety
What games can you play?
- The poker bonus offered
How much do you get for opening an account?
- The poker traffic
How many players are there?
Never sign up at an online poker site without securing the best online poker bonus. Playing with a bonus is always better than without a bonus. A poker bonus is a sum of cash that the poker site transfers to your account to reward you for your registration with the site.
Sometimes a bonus is paid straight out to your account, no questions asked. These are usually small amounts, typically between $5 and $10, that are part of a special sign-up promotion.
888 Poker is offering players $8 free to sign-up right now, for example.
For most bonuses though, there are usually some playing requirements involved. That is, you must play a certain number of hands at the site before the bonus is paid out. If you check out our top poker bonus list, you can see the poker sites currently offering the best bonuses.
Most people who play poker play Texas Holdem, and this is the one game that all online poker sites offer. If that's your game and you want to play Texas Holdem poker exclusively, you’re pretty much set at every poker site in the world.
On the other hand, it you’re looking for less popular poker variations, like Crazy Pineapple or Badugi, things may get a little more complicated.
Some poker sites are extremely big, with traffic and action 24 hours a day (see Poker Stars) and some are much, much smaller. So the question really comes down to you: Do you want to play poker in a crowded environment where you never see the same player two days in a row, or do you prefer a cozier place where you get familiar with your opponents?
Both can be great, but each has its strengths and weaknesses. A small, cozy atmosphere sounds great most of the time, but keep in mind low traffic is the number one reason your preferred games may not always be available.
At the truly small sites, there simply may not not anyone else who wants to play your game at your preferred stakes. This is rarely a problem for Texas Holdem, but it may be for more exotic games like 5 Card Draw or Pineapple.
Your geographical location plays a role, too. Some sites have mostly American players, and the traffic booms during American evening hours. Other sites have a mostly European player base and the traffic peaks may be eight hours earlier every day.
If you’re really ambitious you may even move your game from the first category of sites to the other and then back again to match the variations in traffic over the day.
2. Create a Poker Nickname
To play poker online, you must have a nickname. Before you rush away and make up some random name, though, realize that you may have to live with this name at that poker site forever.
Most online poker sites are fairly restrictive about allowing players to change their nicknames, although more and more sites are letting players change up their nicknames when they choose.
Also realize that your nickname may actually give away some information to your opponents. Make sure that whatever your nickname gives away is either not important or not true.
Omen Est Nomen (“names have meaning”)
It’s very common to see nicknames online that are supposed to radiate self confidence, aggression or fearlessness. Names like IAlwaysWin, UFoldNow or NumberOneAce, etc.
If you’re thinking of choosing a more humble name, like MrNiceGuy or SplitThePot, realize that a soft name just might invite increased aggression from those kinds of opponents.
If they think that maybe, just maybe, your nickname actually says something about your game style, they may very well put in one or two extra bets and raises against you. It's probably not a good idea to draw that upon yourself - unless of course you're simply setting a trap
Famous Poker Nicknames
Among the famous poker pros who play poker online, nickname types and strategies vary. Many use their own name, like the most well known live pros Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen and Patrik Antonius. Self-assured nicknames that signal aggression, skill or just a lot of luck are also quite common:
- #1_Lucky_One – Phil Hellmuth
- Urindanger - Di Dang
- NoMercy - Isabelle Mercier
- I_Tilt_You - Ilari Sahamies
- Quiet Lion - Richard Brodie
- LuckBox - John Juanda
- TexasLimitKing - Alexandros Dalaklis
- Who is next - Noah Boeken
Some of the more famous poker nicknames however don't always have a message to convey:
- Durrrr - Tom Dwan
- Ziigmund - Ilari Sahamies
- OMGClayAiken – Phil Galfond
- ElkY - Bertrand Grospellier
Either way, when you create your account at the poker site you’ll probably notice that a lot of names are already taken. In this case you can either try another name, or if you’re attached to the one you tried, add some combination of numbers and other symbols to it, like # $ _ - and +.
Some famous online poker players have immortalized this kind of poker nicks:
- Erik123 - Erik Sagstrom
- Annette_15 – Annette Obrestad
- Mazak14 - Mats Rahmn
In the case of Annette Obrestad the figure signifies her age when she created the poker account – four years before winning the Main Event of the World Series of Poker Europe.
Choosing a Poker Variation
In today’s world of poker, Texas Holdem is very dominant. Virtually everybody plays Texas Holdem and every online poker site has it. It’s the game you see on TV, and the game that decides most of the biggest poker competitions world wide.
Of course that makes Texas Holdem the most natural choice for a beginning poker player. If not for any other reason, it’s probably the only poker game that you can play with your friends at home who don't know poker very well.
So, Texas Holdem is a natural and easy choice. But before you make up your mind, consider a few reasons for choosing another game as well.
Omaha is a game on the rise in popularity. More and more players are discovering this exciting game, and the typical opponent you'll find at the lower stakes is much less proficient than at the holdem tables. If you learn Omaha, you’ll probably have a greater edge than in Holdem.
Seven Card Stud
Seven Card Stud is another very popular poker variation, and maybe the most classic one in the US. It’s being played less and less these days, but it stimulates a different set of skills than holdem and if for example you have a really good memory, you could find yourself with a substantial edge here.
Even if you stick with holdem as your first game, remember that you can always try other games at most poker sites. Playing different games is a good way to improve your holdem game actually, as it can make you discover some new angles. It’s a lot of fun too.
Besides, mixed games have become a very popular new breed of poker these days and and there are lots of mixed events at the World Series of Poker, not the least of which is the $50k Poker Player's Championship.
The most well-known of the mixed games is probably HORSE. It contains five games – Holdem, Omaha High/Low, Razz, Stud and Stud High/Low.
3. How to Play Poker Online - The actual game
Once you’re up and running and feel comfortable in the game, where do you go? How do you go from pure newbie to pro? Getting better is part of the fun in poker, and there’s no end to how much a player can improve.
Some players ask if books are any good. “Isn’t it better to play and learn from experience?” This question could be answered by another question:
“If you’re going to war, what do you bring: a machine gun or a tooth brush?” The correct answer, of course, is: both. Playing a lot of poker AND reading good books is definitely more effective than either method in isolation.
Learn about strategy, rules and watch others play poker
Of course, all poker education doesn’t come from books. A lot of good advice is shared by members of poker forums, and many pros have gone the “forum way” to reach their greatness.
The good thing about a forum is that the communication isn’t one-way. You can ask questions and engage in discussions on poker theory and strategy concepts, or even discuss actual hands that you have played.
More and more sites also offer instructional poker videos. Typically you’ll be observing successful online pros play online, and hear them comment on their game in real-time.
This can be very interesting and useful, but it’s mostly something that you have to pay for.
Analyzing Poker Hands You’ve Played
When you play poker online, a very important tool for improving your game is the “post game analysis”, that is, when you sit down and review the hands that you have played.
When you look at the hands a second time, you may see them in a quite different light. Now there’s no adrenaline pumping in your veins, and no timer counting down to zero.
Chances are good you’ll discover flaws in your game. Situations where you should have played differently. Sometimes you can’t even understand what you were thinking.
Each time this happens, you'll learn something. You'll pick up some small idea or insight and embed it in your overall game plan the next time you hit the tables.
Poker Stats - Tracking Your Results
Besides replaying hands you have played, you should also use the power of statistics to your benefit. With statistics you may discover patterns in your game that aren’t clear when looking at isolated hands one at a time.
Things like what percentage of dealt hands you actually play, how often you raise it up pre-flop, how many showdowns you lose, etc. are important statistics in poker. There are a few very useful statistic programs available for poker players like Poker Tracker and Poker Office.
The best way to gather statistics for your game is by downloading hand histories from the poker site to your computer. Most poker sites allow you to do this automatically, which allows you to make sure that you have all the data and don’t miss out on any important pieces.
When you play live poker, or if you just want to keep track of your online poker games on a session level, you can also use a free Bankroll Tracker tool, like the one here at Poker Junkie.
If you’ve read this far and still feel excited about poker, chances are you have a bright future in the game. Good luck, or shall we say, good skill!