Online poker was born in the 1990’s, and has enjoyed massive popularity ever since. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. The game of poker has always attracted those who like the idea of winning cash by pitting their skill and wits against other players. Unfortunately, it used to involve traveling to a land-based poker room, which limited its reach. Online poker, on the other hand, makes the game accessible (local laws permitting) to anyone with an internet connection.
In this guide to online poker we’ll give you all the information you need to have a good understanding of the game. You’ll learn which states allow you to play online poker and which don’t. We’ll also identify the very best online poker rooms in the states that do allow it.
After taking you through the various games that are available, we’ll define the most common online tournament formats. You’ll then learn how to sign up and start playing. And how to collect a decent bonus or two along the way!
Quite simply, it's the traditional game of poker that is played online instead of at a land-based poker room. When you visit an offline poker room, you will register for a game, take your seat and begin playing. The same applies when you visit an online poker room via your computer, tablet or smartphone.
Every online poker room has a lobby area which shows you which games are available. You can sign up for any game and you’ll then be taken to a virtual table. The rules of the game are exactly the same as when playing offline. The main difference is that the cards and chips are presented graphically.
There are a few minor differences too, which give the online game advantages over land-based games.
When you play online poker, you can bet with ‘fun money’ as you learn the ropes. You can also play for real money at a wide range of staking levels. If you’re just getting started, you can play for pennies and keep your risk low. In contrast, high rollers can play for tens, hundreds or thousands of dollars per hand.
Whether you’re a fan of Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Razz or any other popular variation of the game, you’ll find plenty of action online. Even better, games are running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you can play whenever you want. And you’ll never have to worry about a dress code!
Whilst online poker has flourished in recent times, it isn’t something that can be enjoyed in all states. In fact, right now there are only six states that have legalized online poker. Those are Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The state of Delaware legalized online gambling way back in 2013. Anyone in Delaware who is of legal age can enjoy as much online sports betting, casino gaming and poker playing as they want. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the greatest amount of choice.
There are just three land-based casinos in Delaware. All of them offer online poker through a platform run by 888 Holdings. It is also possible for online poker players here to participate in games which share pools with players in New Jersey and Nevada.
Online poker became legal in Michigan at the end of 2019. Unfortunately, the state wasn’t particularly quick to take advantage of that fact. Players had to wait until January 2021 for its first online poker room to open. That poker room was PokerStars. It is hoped that other operators will go live in the state of Michigan in the coming months and years.
Poker fans in Nevada have been able to play their favorite game online since 2013. Given the state’s reputation for being one of the most progressive as far as gambling is concerned, it doesn’t have many operators to choose from. In fact, it has just one, which is WSOP.
Fortunately, players in Nevada can also participate in games with players from New Jersey and Delaware via the 888 platform. Still, it would be nice to see more online poker sites actually operating in this state.
This is another state which has allowed online poker since 2013. New Jersey has plenty of operators to choose from. That isn’t surprising. The state has been at the forefront of the gambling revolution that is sweeping across the US.
There are currently more than half a dozen online poker sites operating here, including BetMGM, 888poker, PartyPoker and PokerStars. Players in New Jersey can also play against opponents in Delaware and Nevada via the shared 888 platform.
Pennsylvania gambling proponents had wanted online poker to be legal long before it finally happened. Fortunately, the legislation was well worth waiting for. Poker players in this state have been enjoying the game ever since PokerStars opened its virtual doors in 2019. Other operators are also expected to follow suit in the not-too-distant future, including 888poker and PartyPoker.
The state of West Virginia legalized online poker in 2019. Unfortunately, there are no online poker rooms yet operating here. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the state’s progress in the area of online gambling. Right now, online casinos are taking priority over the nation’s favorite card game. On a brighter note, the legislation has been passed and online poker rooms will be keen to open here as soon as possible.
It might be taking some time, online poker is gradually being introduced in an increasing number of states. When a state without online poker sees how much tax revenue is being generated by its poker-friendly neighbor, it also tends to see the benefits of changing its laws. Many industry commentators predict that this will lead to more states welcoming online gambling legislation in the next few years. Watch this space and we’ll add new states that allow online poker as and when they come along.
As we have just explained, online poker isn’t available in many states. Even in the states where it is allowed, the number of poker rooms operating can be limited. If you live in a state with limited options then you will have to make use of what’s available. However, if you are lucky enough to have a choice of online poker rooms, there are a few that are particularly worth checking out. Here are three of the best…
The MGM name was hugely influential in the movie industry. It is also just as familiar in the Las Vegas casino scene. Now it is also enjoying the limelight as a big player in the online poker industry. BetMGM Poker has everything you could want, including a fantastic bonus just for signing up and trying it out.
Borgata Poker has been available to online players since 2013. It has since established itself one of the most popular online poker destinations around. As well as offering bonuses for signing up and making a first deposit, Borgata Poker also offers an attractive iRewards loyalty program.
888poker is the online poker offering from the same company that runs 888sport and 888casino. This is one of the biggest online gambling operators in the world, and it shows. Expect an impressively wide range of games, some great promotions and a packed schedule of big money tournaments.
The requirements for playing online poker are minimal. You won’t need a table, poker chips or even a standard deck of playing cards. In fact, you almost certainly have all you need right now - a device connected to the internet.
It used to be essential to have a desktop or laptop computer if you wanted to play online poker. Those devices are still the most popular because of their substantial display sizes and processing power. However, technology has come a long way over the last two decades. Today you can play just as easily on a tablet device or even a smartphone. Given that you’re reading these words on a screen of some kind, you’ve probably got all the physical equipment you need to at least get started.
The most important thing you need is a constant and reliable internet connection. One that won’t cut out in the middle of a game. This is also important when sports betting or playing casino games online. However, in online poker it is even more so. That’s because everything can change in an instant. How you play every move could mean the difference between winning the hand, game or tournament or losing it. A dropped connection can therefore affect much more than the current betting round.
Fortunately, internet connectivity is seldom a problem these days. If your current connection is solid enough to stream Netflix or similar, it should be fine for online poker.
Those of you who think that poker is a single game that is always played in exactly the same way are in for a big surprise. There are in fact multiple different types of poker games that can be played. Some are more popular than others, but several are popular enough to be found at most online poker rooms.
This is the game that most people think of when the topic of poker crops up in conversation. It’s the one that many got to know through televised World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournaments. And it’s a game that every poker player should know and understand.
Each player receives two ‘hole cards’ and up to five community cards are dealt in the middle of the table. The aim is for players to make the best five-card poker hand with any of their hole cards and community cards. Visit our Texas Hold’em page for more information on how to play it.
The game of Omaha is similar to Texas Hold’em. However, instead of each player receiving two ‘hole cards’, they receive four. Players must then make the best five-card hand possible using two of their hole cards and three of the community cards on the table.
Several different types of this core Omaha game can be played, including Omaha Hi-Lo. Take a look at our Omaha page to start with and go from there.
Seven Card Stud used to be one of the most popular poker games around. But then Texas Hold’em started getting all of the attention from the mainstream. Players begin with two hold cards dealt face-down and another card which is dealt face-up. The visibility of this face-up card (and others that appear later in the game) makes playing this variation quite different to Texas Hold’em.
Other forms of Stud poker that can be played include Seven-Card Stud High-Low, Razz and Five-Card Stud, to name just three.
It is worth noting that many poker games can be played in both Pot Limit and No Limit variations. In Pot Limit games, players can’t bet more than is allowed by the current value of the pot. In No Limit games, there is no limit on how much players can bet. That's why it is possible for them to go ‘all in’ and bet their entire remaining chip stack on a single hand.
You will soon notice that there are plenty of ‘cash games’ or ‘cash tables’ to play at online. You might assume that these are simply real-money online poker games. But that isn’t really what the ‘cash game’ term means.
A Cash Game is one which players can join and leave as they please. You turn up with whatever cash you have in your account and you play for as few or as many hands as you like. Other players at the table can do the same. If you sit down at a cash game for a while, you will see that some players leave, new ones arrive and some players will return after taking a break.
The advantages of cash games are numerous. One is that they are great for any schedule. That's because you can play for as short or long a period as you please. Another is that they allow you to leave if you find that the other players are too slow to make decisions, too ‘trappy’, too ‘fishy’ or simply too good for your current skill level. Yet a third advantage is that you can call it quits if you win a big pot.
However, it isn’t always good news. One of the main disadvantages of cash games is that your opponents can also leave the table if they win big. This means it is possible for you to lose a big pot and see your opponent leave before you have a chance to win your losses back. It is therefore a very good idea to bet with the smallest possible amounts when you first start playing at the cash tables so that you can learn any hard lessons at a price you can afford to pay.
Another type of game that you will come across is the Heads-Up cash game. This is a game of poker that involves just two players - you and your opponent. All the normal rules of a cash game apply, so the poker is the same and either one of you can leave at any point.
Heads-Up games are popular with certain types of players for a number of reasons. The first is that they proceed at a rapid pace. Whereas a single hand of poker can take a couple of minutes at a table with six or nine players, the same hand can be played in a fraction of the time where there are just two of you. That makes this type of game perfect for those who don’t enjoy sitting around waiting for others to make their decisions.
Another reason why Heads-Up games are popular is because they allow you to play many more hands per hour. We have already mentioned the time advantage, but here we’re talking about skill development and potential profitability. If every 1,000 hands you play can be said to increase your skill level, it will be quicker to do this playing Heads-Up than at any other table. And if you manage to make a certain profit per number of hands played, Heads-Up games can also be more profitable for you.
Of course, the skills that you can develop playing Heads-Up poker may not be quite as helpful in regular games and tournaments as you might think. That’s because you won’t learn much about the importance of position, or the betting patterns of multiple opponents, and so on.
We mentioned tournaments a moment ago, and when you visit online poker rooms you’ll find that there are plenty of them available. There are many different types of tournaments, so here we will simply introduce you to the main formats so that you have some idea of what they involve.
A Multi-Table tournament, or MTT, is any tournament which has more players than can be accommodated at a single table. A regular online poker table has up to six or nine players, but having multiple tables means that many more players can participate in a single tournament to find out who is best of all.
These tournaments work by reseating players and reducing the number of tables in use as participants get knocked out. For example, if a tournament has 45 players, it might use five tables of nine players each. When nine players have been eliminated, remaining contenders will be reseated on four tables, and the empty table will be removed.
Multi-Table tournaments can involve hundreds or thousands of players. Every player pays for entry and much of that entry fee will contribute to an overall prize pool. That prize pool will usually be shared by the players who fare best in the tournament. Getting to the final table will normally give you a very worthwhile prize, and winning the whole tournament will give you the biggest prize of all.
Multi Table tournaments tend to be scheduled well in advance of them being held. Some are scheduled many months in advance. They have a fixed start time and fixed breaks, but their duration depends on the number of people taking part. Some MTTs, such as the WSOP Main Event, are played over several days.
Players who don’t want to wait for a Multi-Table tournament to get started may be better off looking at Sit and Go (SnG) tournaments instead. As the name suggests, these are designed so that players can simply pay for an entry and take a seat. Each SnG tournament has a stated number of participants, and gets underway just as soon as that many players are seated.
In order to give players the shortest possible waiting times, Sit and Go tournaments tend to have far fewer participants than MTTs. Most SnGs are for two, three, six or nine players, in which case they can also be referred to as Single Table tournaments. However, you will also find SnGs that use multiple tables to allow more players. Just bear in mind that you may need to wait a while for these to reach the required number of seated players.
Because SnGs are designed for a fixed number of players, they also tend to have a fixed payout structure. In a six-seat tournament, prizes are usually paid to the players finishing in 1st or 2nd position. In a nine-seat tournament, the player in 3rd place may also win a prize.
These are tournaments for fans of the Heads-Up poker format. They can be described as SnG tournaments, in which case two players will battle it out until just one of them has all the chips. They can also involve multiple tables so that many more players can compete to find out which one is best on the day, although it has to be said that these are rather less common.
Anyone who wants to have a go at a Multi-Table tournament without risking any of their hard-earned bankroll should take a look at Freeroll tournaments. These don’t cost anything to enter, and can give you plenty of useful experience. However, also note that the prizes in these tournaments tend to be very modest. Additionally, because participants have nothing to lose except their time when playing freerolls, you may find that your opponents play rather less seriously than in a regular tournament.
In a regular MTT, when you lose all of your chips, you’re out. A Rebuy Tournament is a little different, because it gives you a limited number of chances to rebuy chips. This allows you to buy more chips to rejoin a tournament that you’ve already crashed out of. It also allows those who remain in the tournament to boost their chip stacks. Because these tournaments can give you a second chance of winning, they are sometimes also referred to as Second Chance tournaments.
Some of the biggest tournaments offering the largest prize pools can be quite expensive to enter. We’re talking about entry fees of $1,000 and more. Whilst the top prizes in these tournaments can be very attractive, the cost of entry is prohibitive for many. For that reason, almost all online poker rooms run Satellite tournaments which give you a chance of winning yourself a place in the big game.
Satellite tournaments run like any other MTT, but offer entry into the expensive tournaments just mentioned instead of cash prizes. Some online poker rooms offer a sequence of satellites that enable you to invest a very small amount to begin with in order to win a seat in a more expensive satellite. Do well in that and you can progress to an even more expensive satellite, and so on, until you eventually win a seat in the main tournament proper.
You obviously need quite a bit of luck as well as skill to win your way to a major online poker tournament, but it can be done. And if you make it to the main tournament, you’ll have had plenty of tournament practice to warm you up for the big game itself!
Most online poker tournaments award prizes according to the amount of money available in their prize pools. The size of those prize pools is usually determined by the cost of entry and the number of players who participate. However, there are also Guaranteed tournaments which guarantee a minimum prize pool value no matter what. If there aren’t sufficient players to create that prize pool in the normal way, the poker room will make up the difference to meet the guarantee.
The final type of tournament that we will highlight here is the All-In tournament. This is a rather novel format which doesn’t appeal to most serious online poker players because it forces every player to go ‘all in’ on every hand dealt. Winning or losing is therefore a matter of luck, rather than skill. If you get lucky on most hands, you may well win the tournament. But it’s far more common to crash out quite early, and possibly even on the very first hand, than to make it all the way to the money.
There are often several online poker operators available in states that allow the game. For that reason, each operator is keen to attract as many players as possible. Giving bonuses and promotions to players is a great way for them to achieve that goal, and there are several different forms to look out for.
Online poker bonuses are offered as a way of encouraging prospective players to sign up and start playing. The most common bonuses are as follows:
These are so-called because they don’t require players to make a deposit to claim them. All you have to do is sign up for an account and you’ll receive the bonus. This will often be quite modest, such as free entries into a handful of games or tournaments. However, they do give you a chance to explore an online poker room without risking any of your own cash.
These are bonuses that reward you when you make your first deposit and sometimes also subsequent deposits. Since you need to use your own cash to make any deposit, these bonuses tend to be far more valuable than their no-deposit cousins. You might, for example, be offered a 100% bonus on your first deposit, up to a stated maximum. This would give you twice as much cash to play with than you’d have without the bonus.
Any deposit bonus which is offered for a deposit subsequent to your first deposit can also be described as a reload bonus. That’s because you’re effectively reloading your account. As you’re already a client of the site, the reload bonus offers aren’t usually as big as those offered for your first deposit.
Promotions are very similar to bonuses, but are usually aimed at existing rather than new players. Their purpose is to give current players even more reason to remain loyal to the operator rather than going elsewhere. Some of the most common promotions offered are detailed below.
Some online poker rooms offer their players cashback bonuses. These return a portion of the money spent on rake at the tables to players at the end of a given period. The more games played, the greater the value of the cashback will be.
Many online poker rooms offer free and discounted tournament entries to their existing clients. Some operators even run ‘members only’ tournaments which are only available to those who have been playing at the room for a while. All of these entries give players a chance to win valuable prizes with little or no risk.
Seasonal promotions are ones that are given to celebrate a particular time of year. They are most common in summer and winter, with special tournaments being run to celebrate vacation season and Christmas, but they can also take place at other times. Some poker rooms even like to celebrate how many years they have been operating by running a special tournament or event.
In addition to bonuses and promotions, some online poker rooms also run loyalty programs. These usually award points to players as they enjoy poker at the tables, and those points can then be collected and exchanged for rewards. The exact nature of the rewards varies from operator to operator, but typical rewards include free tournament entries, bigger cashback bonuses and special reload bonuses.
Now that you’ve seen what online poker has to offer, you’re probably keen to get started. This isn’t at all difficult, and involves little more than choosing a poker room, signing up for an account, downloading any software that may be needed and making your first deposit. Let’s explore each step in that order…
Those of you who live in a state where there is only one online poker room operating can skip this section. If you are lucky enough to have two or more in your state then you will need to choose between them.
When choosing an online poker room, you should first check that any site you are thinking of playing at is completely legal. That done, make sure that a site offers the type of games and tournaments that you want to play at stakes that suit your budget. If you still have trouble deciding which room to join, give preference to the one with the most attractive bonuses.
This is just one approach to choosing an online poker room, but it is well-reasoned. Also be sure to take a good look at our poker reviews so that you can see what’s on offer without having to do too much research for yourself.
Signing up with an online poker room takes just a few minutes. Head to the New Account of Registration area of the poker site and provide the information requested. This will normally include your name, email address and other essential pieces of information. You may be asked to submit proof of ID so that your details can be verified.
Some online poker rooms may require you to download software to your computer or an app to your mobile device. Where this applies, full instructions will be provided. Downloading and installing online poker software to your PC is just as easy as downloading and installing any other software application. Similarly, you will be able to download an app to your mobile device by following the poker room instructions or by obtaining the app via whatever mobile app store you normally use.
When you have signed up for your account and installed any software or app that is required, you can make your first deposit. Each operator will have their preferred methods of deposit, but credit cards and e-wallets are commonly accepted. Provide the information required, as well as the amount you want to deposit, and the process should be quick and easy. Just remember that you may need to provide a bonus code when making your deposit to qualify for a particular bonus that is on offer. Check the bonus terms and conditions to find out if this is the case.
Playing online poker can be hugely entertaining, engaging and enjoyable, no matter how you fare. However, it’s even better when you also win! At some point you will probably want to withdraw your winnings so that you can enjoy them in the real world.
It is just as easy to withdraw money from an online poker account as it is to make a deposit. Start by heading to the banking area of your account. Select the method you want to use and state the amount you want to withdraw. Submit the withdrawal request and it will normally be processed. This processing includes strict security checks to make sure that your money only goes to you. For this reason, you may need to allow a few days for your cash to reach your bank account.
Get all the latest sports news, expert tips and reviews.