Beginners’ Guide to Online Poker
Online poker is going through another boom right now, and it's never been a better time to play on the web for real money
Sites have come and gone, the scandals have largely gone away, and some sites are pulling out of unregulated jurisdictions around the world.
On this page, we list a few of the key things you'll need to do to get you up and running, from setting up an account and choosing the right games to depositing and brushing up on your strategy.
Hopefully, with this easy-to-follow beginners' guide you'll be able to register for your first online account and get playing in no time
1 Getting Started: Choosing a Site
More important than bankroll, skill or what username you choose is which site you end up playing at.
Choose a site carefully and make sure the online room works for you. Every player is different, but some sites are better suited to beginners than others.
These may have a lot of easy cash games, plenty of freerolls which offer free daily cash, and perhaps a lot of casual players filling up the tables. You don't want to play at a site where you're going to struggle for a game or get eaten up by sharks.
Pick a reputable site with a good track record of paying out fast to players and one that has reliable security. You can find the best sites listed right here on OnlinePoker.com.
2 Downloading and Setting Up An Account
Poker rooms are divided between download and no-download sites. Download clients save onto your desktop and will work with PCs (some work on Macs too). No-download, "instant play" rooms are accessed via your web browser. These can be good options if you're playing on a Mac or you want to log-in to a poker account from a variety of mobile devices and other machines.
Whichever format you choose, you'll have to pick a username and password when registering for an account.
There's more information on our 'Opening an Account' page but there are some simple tips to choosing a log-in: make sure the username and password are hard to guess (warding off any hackers), and pick an on-screen Alias (different to your username) that stands out. Some sites also let you upload an image to accompany your username at the tables.
3 Making a Deposit
Unless you've won a bunch of cash via freerolls (see below), real-money players will have to make an initial deposit.
Banking options vary from site to site, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on where you live, but choose a method that works for you. If you want to find out more about deposit options, visit one of our dedicated pages on this site.
Making a quick deposit is as easy as selecting the banking method from the Cashier, entering your card number or e-Wallet log-in, and clicking the deposit button.
First-time depositors may have to go through a verification process first in order for the funds to be processed, but this is normally quick and just requires sending scans of your ID documents to the poker site.
4 Picking The Right Games For You
It's easy to be dazzled by the bright lights and big-stakes games in the lobby. They're so accessible there's often no fear in just clicking on a high-stakes game and sitting down. You would never do it in a land-based casino, so why do it online?
Poker is all about mastering the level you're on at that moment. So start off low, understand and regularly crush the micro-stakes levels, and find sites with the most fish.
If you're a tournament player, the low buy-in Hold'em tourneys will have lots of casual players just dying to give their money away.
Top Tip: Try Out Freerolls
Every top site (check our dedicated page on finding the best freerolls) will run daily and weekly freerolls offering free cash or player points. There's no fee to enter (some may require player points as a 'buy-in') and they can be a good way to learn the mechanics of an online poker table or to get used to a new poker site.
Don't see freeroll tournaments as a way of making long-term profits or improving your game; most freerolls are packed with players either from countries where real-money poker is outlawed or bored players with a couple of hours free.
That means you're more likely to see lots of loose, crazy play during tournaments: players may open bets with terrible hands, go all-in with garbage and bluff crazily with marginal holdings.
But if you employ a sensible, solid ABC game, there's no reason why freerolls can't prepare you for the more serious real-money action later on.
5 Learn Your Way Around The Screen
OK, so you've set up an account, you've chosen an alias, and you've picked a friendly $0.05/$0.10 cash game to sit down at. Now you need to get your bearings at the table.
There can be so much going on at an online game you can sometimes lose your way when all you want to do is play.
Most sites have different software to one another but essentially the layout is the same: a chatbox in the bottom corner to follow the action and talk to other players, links to the Cashier and Hand History at the top, and a betting adjuster in the bottom-right corner.
Have a play with where everything is before you've even started a hand (you can always select the 'Sit Out' option to remove yourself from the game temporarily) and make sure you're familiar with all the jargon.
The Hand History tab can be helpful if you want to review past hands or see a hand an opponent mucked at showdown. If you hover the cursor over your opponents' screen names you will also find information on where the player is from and their stack size.
6 Learn the Basic Rules: Texas Hold'em
Although you don't need to become a World Series of Poker-conquering legend to succeed in poker, it's good to learn a few moves like bluffs, continuation bets and decent hand selection.
Check out our in-depth guides on OnlinePoker.com for solid Texas Hold'em tips to get you started. However, to get you started, here are a few decent beginners' tips for Hold'em players.
Texas Hold'em is the most popular form of poker in the world. And it's easy to see why: the game is fun, fast and easy to pick up. But even new starters can do with a few pointers.
Hold'em is a poker variant played with 2-10 players on a table. Each player receives two cards 'in the hole' which are hidden to everyone else.
The players must make the best five-card hand formed of ANY 5 of their two hole cards and five 'community cards' dealt face up in the middle of the table - the 'board'. Betting rounds take place before the first three cards are dealt (pre-flop), after the flop (post-flop), after the fourth card (the turn) and a final round after the fifth card has been dealt (the river).
If there are two or more players left in a hand at the end, a showdown takes place and the best hand takes the pot.
Bets run clockwise from the Dealer (Seat 1) and start with two forced bets - the Small Blind and Big Blind. The Seat 3 player (Under the Gun) is next and bets proceed on from there. The blinds will increase during a tournament to keep the action progressing to a conclusion, but always stay the same in a cash game.
Hand Selection & Betting Size
Next, learn to gauge your bets. You'll see a bar at the bottom of the screen where you can size your bets. Some sites let you programme these in automatically (quarter-pot, third-pot, half-pot, 3x BB etc) to make your decisions easier. This is particularly helpful if you're playing multiple tables.
With basic Hold'em, especially in cash games, it's good to stick to betting amounts. This makes both your decision-making easier and your opponents' ability to gauge your play harder.
A raise of 3x the big blind when holding strong hands is a good play as it's not too high you'll be forced to make a decision for all your chips, and not too low so as to attract lots of players.
A 3x raise usually forces out the majority of players in a hand; then you can concentrate on taking on one or two players after the flop.
Perhaps one of the most important tips a beginner player can learn is knowing when to fold. There's never any harm in tossing your hand into the muck if you think you're beat; many players have kept their money by knowing when it's a good time to fold.
You will see many more hands in a game of online poker than you will in a live game; there's always another hand around the corner. Learn a patient approach and stick to it.
Hand selection is key for all poker players, but most important when you're starting out. A strict range of hands will keep you disciplined in cash games and tournaments, and ensure you don't go broke.
A tight, solid strategy is good for beginners. In a game of Texas Hold'em, you need to be raising with strong pocket pairs like 10-10, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, and A-A, plus suited connectors like Q-J, K-Q and A-K.
While hand selection and ranges can alter depending on the opponents, the general aggressiveness of the table, and the chip-stacks, maintaining a basic, strong hand selection is a good strategy for beginners.
7 Learn to Multi-Table
After you've become adept at the basics, consider multi-tabling. The beauty of online poker is that, unlike live poker, you aren't restricted to playing just one table at a time.
All online sites let you play multiple tables at once. If you can handle it, load up two cash games, Sit 'n' Gos or tournaments, and play them simultaneously. Once you've got those mastered without losing concentration, add another. And once you can comfortably crack three, add a fourth.
Making long-term profits in online poker is all about volume: the more hands you fit in per hour, the more money you can make, and the more hands you can play, the more you can handle the variance (long-term swings in luck).
Remember, all players (even the pros) go through periods when the cards just aren't with them. It's important to play enough poker to ride out the bad times. And if you're having a bad time of it, take a break from all poker for a week to recharge the batteries.
8 Hit the Tables and Earn Bonus Points
Start low: load up a micro-stakes cash game like .02/.04 and choose a game like No Limit Hold'em that most casual players will know.
Now it's time to start getting used to the site, the software and the opponents and work up those levels.
Eventually, you'll be in a position to start taking advantage of a deposit bonus. These can be earned just for accruing frequent player points and exchanged for cash.
Rakeback and sponsor deals also exist for solid online poker players who are able to rack up a lot of time at the tables. These deals provide you with a bankroll and coaching to help improve your play
Open Several Poker Accounts
If you think online poker is about picking out just one site and opening an account, think again.
No two poker rooms are alike: some have a wide range of micro-stakes cash games but the tournaments suck, while another room might have good online qualifiers to live tournaments but the cash games have no traffic.
It's easy to set up more than one account, so do it. Download about 4 or 5 clients to your desktop, or open a couple of no-download accounts, and shop around to find a good weekly schedule
Then, fill your diary with the best guaranteed midweek tournaments, a top-quality Sunday Major offering millions in prize money, and a room with lots of fishy cash players.
Online poker rooms are fighting for your money, so make them work for you.