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Most players got their first touch into online poker through freerolls or play money games. If you did well playing some of those, you will likely try your hand also in real money poker games. First you should choose the best site to play though, which can sometimes be quite challenging as there are so many options available.
Once you know what things to look out for, choosing your go-to poker site becomes very simple. That’s why we have broken down how you can find a safe online poker room that runs good games and offers juicy bonuses – basically everything a poker player could hope for!
This post gives you all the important criteria for choosing where to play real money poker, as well as lays out the differences between real money vs play money games and the most common game formats. Additionally, we’ll dive into the details of different legislations around poker sites in different countries. With our guide you’ll be able to pick up the most suitable poker site for you, which can mean winning more money in the long run.
How to find a suitable poker site for you
Choosing a suitable poker site is one of the most important steps that will affect how well you do in online poker. You don’t want to be one of those players who just randomly pick one! Instead, do as our Beasts of Poker Team Pros have done to make their millions – which is making the decision according to these factors:
- How soft the games are
- Game formats and player traffic
- Software & User experience
- Payment methods, cash outs and customer service
- Rakeback & deposit bonus
- Licensing of the online poker site
- Poker site complaints & red flags
If you only choose your site based on how soft the games are or how the software feels, you might enjoy the games but there can be other problems along the way. Nevertheless, the softness of the games is the number one criteria on our list. Nothing else matters much if the games are too tough to beat.
With these suggestions it will be an informed decision which poker site you end up choosing. Let’s dig deeper on how to take into account each of these criteria when comparing poker rooms:
How soft the games are
The number one criteria you should have when choosing where to play is the softness of the games. Even if you are a very skilled poker player, you will be making much less money on sites where the so-called fun players don’t like to play.
Tough opponents = little profits
Bad opponents = lots of profits
The ratio of tough players vs bad players must have a healthy balance for anyone to make consistent profits at the games. Yet, even many professional players tend to ignore this fact by playing mostly on sites they’re familiar with. Our recommendation is to always explore new waters.
You don’t actually even need to deposit or play on all the poker sites to check out how good the games are. Instead, just open a few tables on any sites at your preferred time for playing and observe the action. Look for any of the following stuff while watching the tables:
- Limping instead of raising preflop
- Not 3-betting much
- Revealing medium or bottom pairs in showdown after calling multiple streets
- Showing trashy hands at showdown such as 83s, Q2o, J6o, 74o
These are the best signs of a good game. If you can spot a lot of this type of play at any poker site, you should probably try it out.
The skill of game selection
Game selection is one of the easiest tactics to win in poker. Quite paradoxically, it’s still probably the most underrated skills among poker players, similarly to bankroll management. By game selection we are referring to the tables and stakes you choose to play within a chosen poker format.
Here’s a typical situation that comes up in game selection. Let’s say you fire up the poker client and see there are multiple tough tables with mostly winning regulars running at some specific stakes like NL $1/2. Suddenly at the same stakes you can see one table that is truly amazing: Three players are limping pretty much every hand, and two weak-tight players are trying to take their money by flopping the nuts. This is a dream table, and you should immediately grab the seat before someone else does! Most players will miss this table though, since they just click a few tables open and don’t bother to keep an eye on the lobby. Don’t be that lazy player!
A great way to find the best tables as quickly as possible is to mark all players you encounter with a tag. A simple system of three colors can do well, with one for good, players, one for weak regulars and one for the clueless fun players.
Game formats and player traffic
A poker room without good traffic is like a near-empty nightclub where the atmosphere is cold and just a few people are out on the dance floor. The traffic a poker site has is a key factor when it comes to choosing where to play, not to mention all different gamer formats offered.
If you’re like most poker players, having the following game formats available is a must:
- Cash games
- No Limit Hold’em
- Limit Hold’em
- Pot Limit Omaha
- Sit and Gos
- Spin and Gos
- Omaha 8 or Better
Besides the usual game formats, exotic game formats can be quite profitable once you’ve become somewhat good in the most popular games like NLHE and PLO. If you like some exotic game formats, you might also look for the following:
- Triple Draw Poker
- Open-face Chinese Poker
- Mixed Games
- Drawmaha aka Sviten Special
- Scandinavian Stud aka Sökö
One thing to keep in mind is that a big player traffic doesn’t guarantee good games. Sometimes you can find a truly amazing exotic game running regularly at a smaller poker site – our Beasts Of Poker Team Pros have crushed games like these for big 5-figures or even 6-figures!
Tournaments & tournament series
Poker sites are famous for attracting new players with huge tournament series. These tourney series can have tens of millions in guaranteed prize pools. No wonder many recreational players like to join major poker sites where you can make a big payday by winning a tournament!
Typically there is a lot of cash game action available during any tournament series. Even if you don’t play tournaments as your main game, it’s still worth checking out the tournament offering of each site before signing up. In case there are no big guaranteed tourneys, it’s likely tournament winners won’t be punting away their winnings at the cash games either.
Software & user experience
If you compare the user experience of poker sites to many PC games, it’s quite clear not all poker sites have their software made with modern standards. With more mobile poker apps being available for players there’s plenty of options to choose though and customer-friendly user interfaces are becoming more and more common these days.
What you want to avoid here is a poker room that has such a poor software that it makes focusing on the game play difficult. Good software and a pleasant user experience are essential for all players, especially for those multitablers who need to click the right buttons in a matter of seconds so that they can keep up with all the action!
You can test out each poker room in this regard before making a deposit. You can just download their software and try out their play money games. You should see quite quickly if there are any issues. On the other hand, if the software works smoothly after playing a while you have found a poker room that passes this criterion.
Payment methods, cash outs and customer service
When you’re playing poker to make money, it’s essential you don’t have to wait for weeks to access your winnings. In addition, if you can’t get proper customer service when encountering a problem, it can really eat your motivation to play. That’s why payments, cash outs and customer service should be included in your key criteria for choosing a poker site.
There are two simple rules when it comes to payments on poker sites:
- The more payment options, the better.
- Finding proof of withdrawals from fellow players is a BIG plus.
In case some poker room only sticks with a few deposit methods, they’re likely missing some player traffic that would join if their preferred deposit method was offered. For many recreational players using a credit card is the preferred way for making a deposit. The most common deposit methods include the following:
- Credit card deposit
- Debit card deposit
- Bank transfers
- Trustly deposit
- Neteller deposit
- Skrill deposit
- PayPal deposit
- Paysafecard deposit
- Bitcoin deposit
- eCheck deposit
- WebMoney Poker
Getting started in online poker doesn’t necessarily require much initial capital or bankroll as poker players like to call it. Minimum deposits and withdrawals in online poker usually start as low as $10. When it comes to safety issues, the question on every player’s mind is: How comfortable am I with keeping money on the site?
To feel 100% comfortable with this, you must have certainty about the money not being stolen and winnings not being forfeited. A great way to verify if this is the case is to ask around. If you can find friends who have got their withdrawals in time with no issues, it gives you a peace of mind for making the first deposit. Still, we recommend to keep most of your bankroll readily available in other places than poker sites – it’s very easy to deposit more money on a site if you bust your balance.
The money should show in your poker account balance in a few moments after you’ve made your first deposit. In case it doesn’t show up, most real money poker sites have a customer support ready to help you 24/7 every day of the year. You should get in touch with them in a live chat if that method is available, or by email.
Rakeback & deposit bonus
There is a fierce competition of acquiring new players between poker sites, and for this reason you can find quite generous deposit bonuses as a new customer. When you’re signing up on a new site, check if they offer a first deposit bonus and some type of cashback program for their players. When you go to the website of any poker room, their first deposit bonus is usually the first thing you see there.
With a big deposit bonus you can build your bankroll pretty fast. Remember to check the conditions for releasing the bonus before signing up. Most bonuses are released in small chunks and need to be cleared in 30 days, which gives you plenty of time to grind it out. If you can’t find this info or it’s unclear, just open the live chat of the poker room to ask about the specifics of the bonus.
The most common online poker bonuses you can find include the following:
- First deposit bonus
- No deposit bonus
- Free tournament tickets for new customers
- Reload bonus
- Rake chase & rake race
Rakeback and cashback programs are designed to keep existing players happy so that they don’t easily switch sites. In our opinion, it’s best to have many poker sites available as it gives you more options for finding a good game to play in. If you play low stakes, a flat rakeback rate is usually better than a VIP program. A VIP rakeback program where you have different levels is more suitable to high-volume players who play mid stakes or high stakes.
Most online poker rooms pay the rakeback each week or each month to your account. Rakeback has a significant impact on your overall poker winnings, and it’s basically variance-free money you get by just playing. Here you can read more about the Importance of rakeback.
Licensing of the online poker site
Besides checking where a poker site is based, you should try to find information on their licensing status. A gambling license is basically a permission issued to a company to operate gambling activities, in this case online poker. Gambling licenses are provided by a regulatory body, for example a gaming commission or a gaming control board. By obtaining a license poker rooms can show their customers that they comply with all the gaming requirements and restrictions to provide online poker services in specific regions.
Not all poker site licenses are equally valuable. Poker sites that have obtained a license from Gibraltar or Malta are required to run their operations in a quite strict manner. You can easily check what kind of license an online poker room holds by visiting their website and scrolling to the bottom section on their front page.
Poker site complaints & red flags
Google and poker forums are your best friend when it comes to finding complaints about poker sites. While there are always beginners who claim some poker site being rigged, there are legitimate threads on poker forums that can help you to steer away from a site that players have had problems with.
The first topic to search for is withdrawals on the specific poker site. Any complaint that seems to be a genuine one where the player has followed the T&C of the site should be a sign to proceed very cautiously. If that kind of case hasn’t been solved in a few weeks or months, by playing at the same site you’re basically risking ending up in that exact situation yourself.
If you find threads about a poker site sharing confidential information about their customers with 3rd parties you probably shouldn’t start playing there. Any information that you share with a poker room is confidential as long as there are strict license regulations in place with that operator. Even when you play rake races or other promotions, your whole name will never be displayed. Instead, they either show your poker alias or just surname and the first letter of your first name.
There are some exceptions to this though. For example on partypoker, there are now massive real-name tournaments where everybody can see who is playing at their table. These real-name tournaments are increasing in popularity.
Responsible gambling principles are applied on all licensed online poker operators. If you ever find yourself playing too much or playing above your means, you can ask for self-exclusion or limiting the stakes that you can access.
Why play on real money poker sites vs play money sites
Real money poker sites offer an excitement that’s not available on play money sites. It comes down to the possibility of winning money through playing cards. Besides the possibility for occasional wins, in the long run you can actually make a side income from poker or even play full-time.
This requires mastering the game of poker through study and lots of hours at the tables. If you’re up for that, trying your hand at the real money tables is the way to go. You’ll start to learn poker strategies that work much faster than you would on play money sites.
Cash games on real money poker sites
The beauty of cash games is you can set your own schedule and play any stakes that suit you. With buy-ins ranging from $2 to $40k, everyone can find stakes that they’re comfortable with. You can also play multiple tables at once, so that you have action going all the time.
While our aim should be to play as well as we can in cash games, it’s good to remember that enjoying poker is also important. What’s the point of poker if you’re not having fun while doing it? Therefore we recommend trying out different game formats until you find a game that you really like. For some it might be the good old Holdem, but for others it might be Pot-Limit Omaha or some other game. You’ll only know after trying the different game formats yourself!
Tournaments on real money poker sites
The fact that anyone can win a tournament even against the best players in the world is what drives many players to play. Tournaments are what essentially make all the big headlines in the media: The multi-million dollar winnings, the trophies and the cinderella stories of small satellite winners making it into a big final table are what people want to read about.
If you’re looking to turn a small sum of money into a big payday, tournaments is the game format you should choose to play. In large-field MTTs you can get +1000x return on your buy-in if you manage to finish at the top positions.
Big prize pools and huge tournament series
Big guaranteed prize pools make excellent promotions for online poker rooms to attract new players. That’s why you can see many sites running their own tournament series from time to time. Here’s a list of some of the biggest tournament series you can find online:
- GGPoker Super Circuit Online Series
- partypoker POWERFEST
- partypoker WPT Online Series
- PokerStars SCOOP
- PokerStars MicroMillions
Since prize pools in all tournaments are very top-heavy, it’s worthwhile to study the best strategies for making deep runs in tournaments.
You can play online poker from most countries in the world. Some countries have their own multi-license system when it comes to poker, such as the United Kingdom and Sweden. There are also countries where legislation allows any licensed operator to offer games. Let’s take a quick look at the specific legislations in different countries:
Real money poker in Asia
Online poker has taken a while to become popular in Asia. Many new players have been introduced to the game due to economic growth in most Asian countries and a growing number of international brands such as GGPoker establishing their market positions.
India has seen a massive growth in online poker in jurisdictions where online poker is legal and poker is widely accepted as a skill-game there. Many Asian countries such as Combodia, Macau and Philippines host live poker tournaments with the most famous being the World Poker Tour, The Asian Poker Tour and Asia Pacific Poker Tour. It’s not unusual to find an online poker player living in Thailand, where they can enjoy the warm weather and also play on their favourite online poker rooms.
Real money poker in the US
In 2011 UIGEA pretty much shut down the online poker industry in the US, and many professional players moved to Canada and other countries to keep playing online. Many US states are expected to legalize online poker again, and currently real money poker is legal in the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Michigan passed its law in December 2019 and many predict that online poker would be launched there in 2021.
Regulated US poker sites
Regulated US Poker Sites are sites that legally operate in states where the legislation allows online gambling. These sites include the following brands:
There’s an interstate compact in legalized US states which allows combining their player pools so that the total number of players online is higher for both cash games and tournaments. States that are part of this currently include Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.
Offshore poker sites accepting US players
Offshore poker sites are available to other US states, and they are legal in jurisdictions where they operate. Offshore sites that accept US players include brands like:
- Bovada Poker
- America’s Cardroom
- BetOnline Poker
- Ignition Poker
Real money poker in the UK
Local regulations require all iGaming services that are available to players in the UK to be licensed in the UK. To obtain a license these sites must pass the tests of the UK Gambling Commission and comply with UK law. For the players UK law is quite favourable, as they don’t have to pay any taxes from their poker winnings even if they play for a living.
Real money poker in Canada
Canadian players have access to the largest poker sites of which many offer games played in CAD. Like in the UK, there is no tax obligation for players for their winnings for the most part in Canada. Some districts have their own laws though, so you should check this based on your location.
The most reliable sites available to Canadians such as partypoker and Pokerstars are globally renowned. While most of the big online poker rooms available to Canadians have their license elsewhere, a few are regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.
Play money games are suitable for picking up the basics of poker, such as how the betting rounds and controls of the game work online. The real action and all the profitable opportunities are in real money games though. You can get started at comfortable stakes on all the best poker sites, whether you like to play micro, low, mid or high stakes games.
Once you have started playing real money poker, it’s good to refine your skills from time to time. Improving your game is essential for those who want to become winning poker players. Take your first step towards that today by reading our guide on how to crush 6-max poker!