One of the biggest misconceptions about online poker is that you need to invest a decent amount of "real" money - aka your own, hard-earned dollars - to play. That couldn't be further from the truth. If you want to get started in real money poker games online there are a number of different poker sites and apps to choose from.
Another important thing to know about real money poker online? Over 95% of all real money poker games online run under $5 so you don't really need to invest much money - if any - to fully enjoy the game of poker online.
And not only can you play online poker for free in play-money games before you ever deposit any real money of your own, every poker site also offers free tournaments called "freerolls" where you can actually win real money with no risk.
Add in a poker site "sign-up" bonus (see our toplist above) and you can turn a minimal deposit at a real money poker website (or real money poker app) into a substantial amount of cash that can last a very, very long time.
First things first: To get started in real money poker games online we should distinguish what exactly we're talking about when you refer to "real money" poker.
To start with we're not talking about "free" or "play money" poker apps or sites like Zynga Poker or even real money video poker sites. We're specifically referring to the "real money" games offered by the big online poker providers such as 888poker, PokerStars, partypoker and the like.
These are all officially licensed and regulated poker sites that offer a range of real money poker games anywhere from just pennies up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Real money poker can be played in the form of cash games or tournaments of varying stakes and buy-ins and to play it you will need to have some "real money" in an online poker account that you create and register with a poker site.
If you read our review pages above and download the software from one of our links, you'll be walked through the process step-by-step and be eligible to receive our exclusive poker bonus offers (more on that below).
Real money poker games ARE available to poker players in the USA but are restricted to players who live in (or are visiting) the states where it is currently licensed and regulated.
The 3 current states with legalized real money poker for US players are Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. All three states share a player pool and offer real-money poker cash games and tournaments at a variety of takes.
Read more about real money poker in the USA and see which poker sites you can register at here:
OK; now that we've clarified just what type of real money poker we're talking about, we'll throw another quick twist into the mix. At all of the real money poker sites you can find online there is also the option to play "play money" games before you actually dive into the real money poker action.
"Play money" games are just what they sound like. Real looking poker games but with "play money" chips that don't actually have any real value. These are open to anyone who creates an account at a real money poker site and are a great introduction to the speed of play and layout of an online poker table.
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. There are also a certain type of play money game or tournament called a "freeroll" which you can play where you can actually earn real money to play poker with.
After you get comfortable with the speed of play and the general flow of the game play, there's not much to learn from play-money games. When you play free poker no one at the table is actually 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's just not the best place to sharpen your poker strategy.
A much better option if you're looking to build a small bankroll and begin to play real money poker is to look for what are called "freeroll" tournaments.
These are literally "free" in that they don'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.
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.
If you do, you'll be rewarded with real money (or tournament tickets) you'll actually be able to use to enter real money poker games on the website.
All online poker sites offer new-depositor freerolls, ranging from $50 up to $10,000 in value, for all players who open an account and make a deposit. At times special freerolls with prize pools in the $100,000+ range are offered. PokerStars even offered four $1m freerolls in one calendar year!
Poker sites like 888poker will also usually offer a no-deposit bonus with some free cash or tournament tickets provided without even making a deposit. Read more about poker freerolls here:
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. Read more about poker bonuses here:
A bit of a misnomer about real money 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 as little as $20 all real-money poker sites run games at what are called the "micro" limits. You'll find dozens of 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.
When people talk about "real money poker apps" or real money poker you can play on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone, they mean real money poker games provided by one of these online poker sites via a downloadable poker app.
Again, these are NOT the many play money apps you can find in the Google Play or App Store (eg. Zynga Poker, Governor of Poker etc).
These are the same real money games you access on your laptop or desktop computer via the poker sites listed in the toplist above.
All of the best poker sites - PokerStars, 888poker, William Hill Poker, etc - have poker apps you can use on your phone or tablet to play real money games. You access your poker account the exact same way and can make deposits and withdrawals as usual.
Once you have the app installed you can navigate the mobile lobby just like you would the regular lobby and find all of the games and tournaments you usually play. The only small differences between the mobile app and the full poker software:
Otherwise games run as normal and as long as you have a strong wifi or data connection play can carry on unabated. Some people even prefer the lighter, more portable mobile app so they can play real money poker wherever they are on even on the go from place to place.
The new wave of "Fast-Fold" poker games like Zoom Poker (PokerStars) or Speed Poker (888poker) are perfect for playing real money poker on mobile as as soon as you fold your hand you're instantly moved to a new table and dealt a new hand.