If you’re new to online poker, you might be wondering how it all works. In this article we take a look at the basic principles behind playing poker online for real money.
To make the article easier to follow, we have split in into a number of questions:
- What Poker Games Are Available Online?
- How Does Online Poker Software Work?
- How Are The Cards Dealt?
- Who Can See The Cards?
- How Do I Deposit Money Into/Withdraw Money From A Poker Site?
- How Do Poker Sites Make Their Money?
If there’s something you’re particularly interested in, simply click the relevant link in the list above. Otherwise, grab a cup of tea or crack a beer and start reading.
As online poker gets more and more popular, more games are added. You can now play all of the usual suspects at most poker sites – including Texas Hold’em (the most common form of poker played today), as well as Omaha and 7 Card Stud. Some poker sites also offer less common types of poker, such as Razz Poker or Five Card Draw, and even mixed games such as H.O.R.S.E.
There are also two forms of poker played online – cash games and tournaments.
In a cash game, real money moves from player to player each hand. You can buy in for as much or as little as you like, so long as it’s within the table limits (which are usually between 20x and 100x the big blind), and you can leave whenever you want. Depending on what is available, these can be played at a variety of stakes as Fixed Limit, No Limit or Pot Limit games.
In a tournament, you pay a set buy in (eg: £5, £20 or £100) and everybody plays until one person has all of the chips. The tournament entry costs form a prize pool which is distributed to the top players in the game. The amount of people that receive a portion of the prize fund depends on the amount of people playing. For example, if there are 50 people the top 5 may get paid out, whilst if there are 200 players you might only need to get into the top 20 to get into the money.
Some tournaments are schedule to start at specific times and draw hundreds of players, resulting in huge payouts for the winner – this is known as a Multi table Tournament (MTT). Many of these tournaments will have a set prize fund that is guaranteed by the poker room, or even money added by the site. There are also a variety of different formats that can be played – including Re-Buy tournaments, when you can buy back in if you get knocked out (for a set period of time), and Bounty Hunter tournaments – where you receive money for knocking out other players.
Other tournaments have a set number of seats (eg: 10) and start as soon as 10 players have registered – this is known as a Sit’n’Go (Sit & Go, or SNG).
For both MTT and SNG tournaments, the vast majority of games are played as Texas Holdem.
Poker is a multiplayer game, so by definition you need other players to pit your wits against. When you log in to an online poker site and sit down at a table, you will be connected to the other players via the poker software.
During the hand, the software sends your computer information about the game – including your what your cards are, what the communal cards, and any bets or actions that have been made by other players at the table. You then send commands back to the poker site such as ‘check’, ‘raise’ or ‘fold’.
There are a number of different poker sites for you to choose from, each of which will have slightly different features and games. However, they normally fall into one of two categories:
- Networked Poker Sites – Because you can only play a game when other players are wanting to play, some poker sites ‘share’ players. Many different poker sites all belong to the poker network and the same software – in this scenario, you could be on Site A playing against players from Site B. However, whilst the majority of poker are shared between all sites on a network, some may be run privately by specific sites – for example, Site A might run a special promotional tournament for their players that people on Site B cannot access. The primary difference between poker sites on a network are the promotions and bonuses they offer their players.
- Independent Poker Sites – Some poker sites run independently of any networks, and thus their games are only available to players who are playing on that specific site.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the networked poker sites would collectively have the most players, but this isn’t true in all cases. The two poker sites or networks with the highest number of players are PokerStars and PartyPoker – both of which are independent rooms.
When playing online, there are no dealers shuffling decks. Instead, cards are selected from the deck randomly using something called a random number generator, or ‘RNG’. Selecting cards randomly has the same effect as shuffling them, and can be more random than when using a real deck of cards – especially when the deck has been lazily shuffled in a home game.
Their actually was a company that attempted to create a poker site that used machines to shuffle real decks of cards, but it never really got off the ground.
Each player can only see their own cards, and this data is protected by high-tech encryption algorithms – not even staff at the poker room can see your hands until the hand is finished.
Once a hand is over, you will only be able to see players cards who have chosen to show their hand, or have been required to by the game rules (for example, the winning hand in a showdown needs to be seen and will be done automatically). Any players hands which were not shown will remain hidden – so if ‘SirBluffsalot’ makes a big raise and everybody fold, you will never know whether he was actually bluffing, or not.
By definition, when you’re playing for real money, there has to be cash involved. In order to play, you must first deposit money to the poker site, who will hold it for you in a special virtual wallet or account. As players win or lose money to each other, the money will move between the wallets – so as one players balance goes up, another goes down.
Because online poker is regulated in the UK, getting money into a poker site is incredibly easy and you have a number of options:
- Debit/Credit Cards: You could use a debit or credit card – this is one of the easiest and most popular ways of funding a poker account. Just pop in your card details and select the amount you want to deposit. You will be asked for your CVC number, and in many cases will be redirected to the bank to complete the transaction (eg: if your card is registered in the ‘Verified by Visa’ program). Your details will be encrypted and the transaction is 100% secure. You can also withdraw your winnings from the poker site back to your debit or credit card. Deposit are instant, but withdrawals often take a couple of days to show on your statement (although this time frame has been significantly reduced in recent years).
- EWallets: Ewallets are popular with the frequent player. You can think of them as ‘virtual accounts’ which can be used to transfer money to and from poker sites instantly. One of the main benefits of an ewallet is the ability to quickly take money out of one poker site and put it into another, without having to go through your bank which can slow things down. Ewallets can also be used to send or receive money to another player – so if your mate Bob is a bit short this month and wants to play, you could send him £10. Ewallets are free when depositing/withdrawing at an online poker site as the poker site foots the bill. Peer-to-peer transfers will come with a small charge (usually around 3%). You might already be familiar with one of the most popular ewallets – PayPal. And yes, you can use PayPal to deposit at an online poker site – we even have a list of sites that accept PayPal. Other popular ewallets include Neteller and Moneybookers.
- Cash Vouchers: Cash vouchers are ideal for someone who doesn’t want to have over any financial details whatsoever. Whilst doing so is perfectly safe, many people have their reasons why they don’t want to use a card or ewallet. To use this method you need to buy a compatible voucher from a high street vendor – many popular voucher types can be purchased from corner shops, garages and supermarkets in the UK that display the yellow ‘PayPoint’ logo. The vouchers can be purchased for cash, in exchange for which you will receive a unique code. By entering this code in the poker sites cashier you can transfer all or part of the value to the site – kind of like a gift voucher. Deposits make using popular vouchers are instant, however you cannot withdraw using this method – so if you win, you’ll need to find another way of getting your cash out such as by Cheque or even as cash from some big high street names such as Ladbrokes.
Hang on a minute, you might be thinking. If the players are playing against each other, how does the poker site make any money? The answer to this is actually quite simple – they take a small percentage of every pot, known as the ‘Rake’. The rake varies between sites but is usually somewhere around 5%. It is also normally only taken out of hands that reach the flop, and have a maximum ‘cap’.
Most players wont even notice the money being taken out because if you lost the hand, you would have lost the money anyway. And if you win, you’re getting back more than you put in.
The only exception to this is when playing a tournament. Tournaments charge a fee in addition to the entry fee – which is usually around 10% of the buy in. So if you’re playing a £20 tournament, you may be charged a £2 fee – which is commonly written as £20 + 2.
Where To Play Real Money Poker Online
So now you know the basics, the next thing you’ll need to do is pick a play to play real money poker online. There are plenty of sites out there – some are excellent and others leave a little something to be desired. Even sites on the same network will often be significantly different in terms of promotions, customer supports and banking methods despite the fact that they share the same games.
To find a top quality room, you can browse our full list of recommended poker sites or read one of our network reviews – we have them for the Microgaming, Merge, Cake, Boss Media, Ongame and iPoker networks.
Don’t forget – many poker sites use the same poker software and share traffic and games. This means that whichever site you choose on a network, the action you’ll be getting is the same. So if you like the games, but don’t like the customer support, promotions or banking methods – then switch to another site on the same network. And if you don’t like the games or software on one particular site, try a completely different network.
Finally, have fun. And remember – never play poker with money that you can’t afford to lose, no matter how good you think you are!