This article focuses on some of the most common questions asked by many beginners when one is getting started with online poker.
1. What is online poker?
Online poker is not at all like casino poker (such as video poker). You are not playing against a computer in online poker, although it might seem that way. You are actually connected to a game server over the internet. An actual game will consist of at least two people and sometimes up to 10 people playing at a table. Keep in mind, you are not playing against the poker site. They are just serving as the medium to allow you to play against other people. The poker site makes money by taking a small portion of the final pot in each hand.
2. How do you play online poker?
After accessing the poker site, you will need to download the poker software client from the site. This serves as the interface where you can see a lobby full of players and the ability to choose a table to play at. The client will connect you to a server where all the data is securely stored. The poker server is a central computer that hosts all of the games. The server plays the different games based on established rules and also allows players to communicate with each other via instant messages. Players actually run their own client, which is connected to the poker server via the internet.
3. What is play money vs. real money?
“Play money” refers to free chips that have no real monetary value. If you are a beginner, it is recommended that you just learn to play the game using play money first. After you sharpen your game, you might want to move to “real money”. This refers to exactly what it says. In “real money” games, the games will have stakes ranging from a few cents to hundreds of dollars.
4. Where should you play online poker?
It is best to stick with reputable sites that have been around for years. These have established themselves as secure sites with the ability to pay their players for any winnings.
5. What is the information required when I sign-up?
Besides providing some basic details (such as name, phone number, email address, etc), you will need to provide a “screen name”. Most people try to think of something clever, but this is up to you. Most online poker sites would not dare share your email address with third-parties, so this is typically not something you should worry about. After all, they want to keep you as a customer. The poker site might periodically send promotions to the email address that you provide as well.
6. What are ring games and tournaments?
Online poker games are offered in the form of ring games and tournaments. “Ring game” refers to simply a non-tournament, single-table game. Players can sit down at any ring-game table at any time, provided there is an empty seat. They can also leave at any time, taking any winnings with them. If a player wants to play at a full table, then they can join a waiting list. A tournament is different because players cannot cash out at any time in a tournament. Tournaments can also be offered in single-table or multi-table versions. You can easily see the difference between a ring game and tournament when in the lobby of the software client.
7. What are the different tournaments offered?
Single-Table Tournament vs. Multi-Table Tournament
Poker tournaments can either be a single-table or multi-table tournament. A single-table tournament will typically only consist of 8-10 players. If a player loses all of their chips, they are out of the game. The last person standing wins. The top 2 or 3 people will typically get shares of the payout. A multi-table tournament can have hundreds or thousands of players spread out over many tables. As the numbers decrease (by players losing all of their tournament chips), the server reduces the number of tables by shuffling players around. Eventually there will be one table and one winner. The total prize will be distributed to the top 10% or so of players.
Freeroll vs. Real Money
The “buy-in” (entry fee) refers to what each player has to pay to enter the tournament. There is a “freeroll” tournament, which is free to enter but pays a prize pool to some of the winners. Either a “freeroll” tournament is completely free or it can be entered through player points earned through a poker site’s loyalty program. A “real money” tournament requires an actual real money deposit and can vary quite a bit.
Satellite vs. Normal Tournament
Most tournaments are just the standard version where buy-ins is contributed towards a prize pool and then the prize pool is awarded to the top winners. You might have heard the term, “satellite” tournament. This type of tournament awards a winner with an entry into a larger tournament. Rather than paying a high buyin amount to a large tournament, you can pay a much smaller amount to a satellite event. If you win, the satellite event basically is paying the difference between the high buyin amount to the large tournament and the amount that you paid to enter the satellite tournament. The only catch is that you need to do well in the satellite tournament in order to play in the next-level tournament. This is how some people have qualified to play in previous WSOP events. Some people, like Chris Moneymaker, turned a $40 buy-in into a WSOP title. He ended up winning the main event and took home millions of dollars.
Rebuy vs. Freezeout
A tournament can either be a rebuy/addon event or a freezeout event. The rebuy/addon event will allow you to buy more chips. After a certain period of time, you can no longer buy any more chips. Otherwise, the tournament would never end. Most poker tournaments are freezeout events where you buy-in at the beginning and then you can no longer buy any more chips.
8. What about depositing and withdrawing?
There are typically numerous cashier options for funding and removing funds from your player account. Before making a deposit, make sure that you are allowed to play. After determining this, read the allowed deposit methods allowed by the online poker room.
9. Do online poker rooms offer any incentives?
Most poker sites offer a sign-up bonus the first time that you make a deposit. This is a great way to bring in new players. At the same time, it is a great way for players to earn a huge bonus. The online poker rooms offer this bonus because they believe that you will stay and play at their poker room in the future. Each poker room has different requirements that they have before you can earn and withdraw the bonus so be sure to read their rules first.
Online poker sites occasionally offer “reload bonuses” to existing accounts, provided players make a deposit meeting their requirements. This is another promotional method to encourage more play from their current client-base. If you are going to play anyways, then it is basically free money.
10. What are some of the features of the poker software?
- Hands per hour – You can see how many hands are played per hour. In general, the higher limit games play faster due to quicker folds.
- Percentage of players seeing flop – This indicates to you how tight or loose that a particular game is. The lower the percentage, the tighter the game is (and more folds before the flop). A higher percentage of players seeing the flop typically indicates a weaker field of players.
- Average pot size – This refers to an average over the last dozen or so hands. This will tell you if the players are conservative or aggressive in terms of raising.
- Player notes – Many sites are now offering the ability for you to keep notes on players. This is a great advantage for you to use in the event that you face the same player at a later date. If they have one style of player, you will be able to write such things as “folds frequently”.
11. Can I play at more than one table at a time?
You are usually allowed to play at multiple tables at any particular time (multi-tabling). This is generally only recommended to advanced players because occasionally you will have to make two big decisions in a short amount of time. If you are not skilled enough to do this, you might be rushed into a bad decision. The other issue is that you might have the tables overlapping which might prevent you from seeing the entire table.
12. How do poker sites make money?
Poker sites make money primarily through rake and tournament fees. Online poker rooms do not bet against players so there is no fear that the poker room is doing something illegal for their own benefit. They do charge players a small fee to use the poker server. Such fees include rake collected from the pot after each ring game hand. Also, they collect a small portion of a tournament entry fee. The rake distribution is different from one poker site to the next. Each poker room has its own rake schedule to determine how much rake is removed from the pot. Some sites will not collect a rake if everyone folds before the flop takes place. Also, most sites reduce the rake when games are short-handed (i.e. 2 players playing head-to-head). Tournament entry fees typically cap at 10%.
13. What happens if my internet connection fails?
It is possible that your internet will get disconnected during a hand. This might be temporary and the poker client will attempt to reconnect. This might also be caused due to a software crash on the computer. In either case, the server will try to give you extra time to reconnect to finish a hand. If that time is exceeded, the server will use an extra amount of disconnection protection that all players receive. If the server uses this protection, they will view you as all-in by allowing you to finish the rest of the hand with all of the chips that were in the pot prior to the disconnection. During this time, you will actually be offline, but if you happen to win the hand, your balance will be adjusted. For example, if you bet $20 and have $80 remaining at the table, then upon disconnection protection occurring, they will pretend like you bet $20 going all-in and pretending like $80 is not at the table. That way, you still have a chance to win off your $20 bet. If any players bet after your $20 pot was matched, this will be viewed as a side pot that you have no chance of winning. This is a very fair method. Also, there is not unlimited disconnection protection, so people cannot take advantage of this protection repeatedly. If you don’t have any remaining protection, the server will fold your hand.
14. How are the cards dealt?
The cards are dealt using a random number generator. The poker server uses a computer algorithm and most poker sites take measures to provide certain information to its players. Many poker sites provide the computer algorithm code to ensure the effectiveness. There is also independent auditing for third parties to inspect the code. Beyond that, many poker sites receive a license from a gaming regulatory body. They perform monthly audits of participating poker sites to check for compliance. Most big poker rooms pass all three tests. It is probably a good idea to stick with established poker rooms for this reason.
15. Do poker sites have good security?
Reputable poker rooms go through many measures to protect the site from hacker attacks. The larger poker sites have many resources to prevent hackers from getting into their system. It is usually a good idea to stick to these sites for that reason.
16. Is online poker rigged?
It can be. Instead of repeating what we already have on the site, we would suggest that you read our article cheating at poker where some of the common methods of rigging games are discussed. When playing poker online, players can work together “colluding” to have an advantage against the other people in the game. In online poker, obviously the companies involved can design their sites or have “shill” players in the games to sap up your money. While you should still watch closely for collusion, if you’re playing at a reputable online poker room, they will have measures in place to protect players, and it will be a safe environment to play in. The poker site has no interest in cheating to assist a player. These sites make plenty of money through the rakes, and above and beyond that – they are strictly regulated entities that cannot afford to be shut down due to illegal gaming practices.
17. Why did Party Poker close down, yet some sites stayed open to the US players?
Most of the sites that closed down when the bill was signed were the publicly traded companies. They closed down to US players to protect themselves from getting sued by their shareholders. Poker site like PokerStars, which continued to operate in the US until Black Friday are privately held and they have addressed the law differently, which is why they stayed open. They believe poker is a skill game. They also believe their sites aren’t classified as “Unlawful” because mainly sports betting was addressed in the 1961 Wire Act defining “Unlawful gambling” and US courts have ruled in the past that not all online gambling is illegal. Every site has different interpretations of the law.
18. Am I going to jail if I play online poker in the United States?
Apart from a few states in the US, it appears to be perfectly legal for USA citizens to player to play poker online. The UIGEA bill that was passed in 2006 is attacking the root of the online poker industry, the deposit mechanisms. No laws have changed for online poker players. It was always a grey area before this law and remains the same. Some states have had laws against online gaming for years. If you need further reassurance, read this article by I. Nelson Rose, who is a leading authority on gambling law.