Online poker is poker played over the Internet. Originally, it was played on traditional more or less stationary computers, but during recent years smart phones and tablets have also become important tools for playing online poker. Still, many dedicated poker players prefer to play on big screens since that makes it easier to display several tables simultaneously.
The legality of playing online poker varies, so it is important that you check applicable laws in your particular jurisdiction. A lot of online poker rooms and poker networks block players from the United States, but there are exceptions, such as Bodog, Chico, Winning, Merge, Revolution, and Equity.
The online poker boom
The online poker boom took place in the 2000s, a decade when internet connections got faster than ever before and consumers started getting more comfortable with paying real money for goods and services online, using credit cards, internet bank transfers or any of the new e-wallets.
At the same time, the poker craze was fueled by the advent of the hole card camera, commonly known as the hole cam. The hole cam displays a player’s private cards, the ones he is holding in his hand and is keeping secret from the other players. The hole came made it much more interesting for viewers to watch poker tv-shows, with Late Night Poker on British Channel 4 being the trailblazer, followed by Poker Million and the ESPN broadcast of the 2002 World Series of Poker.
In 2003, an accountant named Chris Moneymaker won the prestigious World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, after gaining free entry to the $10,000 buy-in tournament through a $39 satellite tournament in the PokerStars online poker room. The aptly named Mr Moneymaker leveraging his initial $39 investment into a $2.5 million first prize firmly galvanized the ties between offline poker and online poker. In 2004, four of the players at the WSOP Main Event final table had won entry to the WSOP Main Event by playing online poker.
According to a study carried out by Christiansen Capital Advisors, online poker revenues grew from right under $83 million in 2001 to $2.4 billion in 2005.
How to start playing poker online
To play poker online for real money, you need an internet connection and some way of transferring money into your poker account, .e.g. internet bank transfer, VISA, MasterCard, Paysafecard, Neteller or Skrill. There are poker rooms that accepts PayPal, but it’s quite rare.
You register with the poker room of your choice, confirm your email address and make your first deposit. In some poker rooms, you will get a small (typically $25 or less) welcome bonus even before you make your first deposit.
Most poker rooms will give you a 100% bonus on your first deposit, and some rooms will also give you a welcome bonus on your 2nd and 3rd deposit. The conditions vary, and it is important to always check the terms and conditions before you accept any bonus.
It is good to have a valid photo ID, because poker rooms can require proof of identity for various reasons, e.g. to make sure you are 18 years or older and to comply with laws against money laundering and fraud.
Downloadable poker clients
Today, most poker rooms will offer poker play directly in your browser, but you can also elect to download a poker client and install on your computer. Installing a poker client have several advantages, including using less bandwidth for play since less information needs to be sent back and forth between your computer and the poker server. In most poker rooms, installing the downloadable poker client will also give you access to special features that aren’t available for browser play.
Some of the poker rooms only have a downloadable poker client for Windows, but the situation for Mac users has improved greatly during recent years and several of the major poker rooms are now offering a downloadable poker client for Mac as well.
Playing cash game poker online
Cash game (ring game) is the traditional form of poker, as apposed to scheduled tournaments and sit ‘n go’s which are more recent inventions.
A standard cash game table online will have room for ten players, but smaller tables are available as well in most poker rooms, e.g. 6-max and heads-up.
The poker room makes money from the cash game tables by charging rake. The rake is usually calculated as a percentage of the pot based on a sliding scale and capped at a certain maximum fee. If you have played poker offline, you will recognize the system. Online poker rooms will usually charge a smaller rake than offline poker rooms, partly because they don’t have to pay a poker dealer.
Online poker tournaments
There are two basic types of poker tournaments available online: scheduled tournaments and sit ‘n go’s.
- A scheduled tournament will start at a certain pre-specified time, e.g. 2015-02-10 22:15 CET.
- A sit ‘n go is a type of tournament that will start as soon as enough people have paid entry to the tournament. The most common type of sit ‘n go is a single table with room for nine or ten players.
To participate in a tournament (scheduled or sit & go) you need to pay an entrance fee. This is called tournament buy-in. Part of the buy in goes to the poker room while the rest is put into the tournament prize pot.
Example: The buy-in for a tournament is $10 + $1. This means that you pay $11 to participate. $10 goes into the prize pot and $1 goes to the poker room.
This system means that the prize pot for a tournament will grow bigger the more buy-ins that are made.
It is quite common for poker rooms to have so called guaranteed tournaments in their tournament schedule. This is tournaments where the poker room or poker network guarantee that a certain amount of money will be in the prize pot.
Example: PokerStars is advertising a $10 + $1 No Limit Texas Hold’em $50,000 GTD. This means that PokerStars is promising that the prize pot will contain at least $50,000. If at least 5,000 buy-ins are made, this money will come from the players. If less than 5,000 buy-ins are made, PokerStars will have to put some of their own money into the prize pot to cover the discrepancy.
Example: 3,478 buy-ins are made, building a prize pot of $34,780. This is less than $50,000 so PokerStars needs to add $15220 to bring the prize pot up to $50,000.
Most poker rooms and poker networks will offer their biggest guaranteed prize pots on Sundays, but Fridays and Saturdays are also popular days for this type of tournament.