Poker has long been one of the most widely enjoyed games around the world. And it’s clear that the emergence of mainstream online poker in the last 25 years or so has only made this even more true. Some estimates now peg the number of online poker players alone at 100 million or more around the world –– quite an impressive number, when you really think about it.
For those who aren’t already part of this global online poker community though, diving in can be somewhat intimidating. So in this piece, we’re going to provide a guide for what you can do to make your beginner foray into online poker fun and successful.
- Get the right equipment
While a high-end gaming laptop such as we’ve explored in the past isn’t strictly necessary for online poker, it can still be preferable. Simply put, the better your laptop specs are, the more likely you’ll be able to play live online poker without disruptions. Considerations like having a lot of memory (both RAM and hard drive), fast processing power, and a powerful graphics card are going to improve any gaming experience. Accordingly, if you have given online poker a chance only to experience visual lagging, your computer may be lacking in one of these areas. And though it’s true that the average online poker game isn’t as demanding as, say, the adventure, MMO, and shooter games gaming laptops are built for, it is worth noting that more and more of these games and sites (from PokerStars to Poker Club) are building in high-quality visuals.
- Play money or real money?
When you play online, one decision you’ll have to make is whether you’re going to play for free, with “play money,” or at a true online poker platform facilitating real bets. There are numerous websites and apps available in both categories, and each has distinct advantages. For instance, you can enjoy a realistic play-money setup through HD Poker: Texas Hold’em (available through Steam), and enjoy free chips when you sign up plus a free bonus every two hours (meaning you’ll seldom run out of chips). On the real-money side of things, you might look to a popular option like the PokerStars app, where you get $30 worth of free play as soon as you deposit $20 to start with.
Just remember if you opt to pursue the real-money route that you’ll need to check the laws where you live, too. As one overview of online gambling laws in the U.S. puts it, different forms of gambling are legal in different states, and some only allow casino gaming in-person on Native American tribal lands. As of this writing, only five states explicitly allow online poker with real stakes –– but with several more working toward that end, it’s important to do your research if and when you start playing.
- Find the right platforms for real-money poker
If you do decide you want to play for real money (and you’re able to where you live), you’ll still need to choose between numerous available platforms –– each with different setups and perks. Generally speaking, some of the best sites you can explore for playing real-money online poker are WSOP.com, the aforementioned PokerStars, and if you’re outside the U.S., GGpoker and 888poker. And for each of them, the process of signing up and getting started consists of similar steps:
- Download the app / visit the site
- Create an account
- Make a deposit
- Begin playing
This standard setup process makes it easy to start playing online poker for real money if you want to do so. However, you should also bear in mind that beyond the setup, these sites operate differently. For instance, PokerStars tends to be busier than WSOP.com, which serious players like, but which may make it intense for you as a beginner. Your best bet is to look at a few platforms before choosing one; see which setup, interface, and play options appeal to you most, and then set up an account on that platform.
- Master the hand rankings
Understanding hand rankings is a fairly basic element of online poker. But it’s important to remember that the online game moves quickly –– much more so than a game around your kitchen table with friends, or even one in a real casino. So you don’t just need to know hand rankings –– you need to master them, so that you know in a split second how to value your cards.
In most varieties of poker (including the most popular, Texas Hold’em), the highest- to lowest-ranking poker hands are as follows: royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair, high card. Commit that to memory, and you’ll have established a foundation of basic poker knowledge to build on as a beginner in the online space.
- Develop a poker player’s mindset
A poker player’s mindset is crucial because this is a game that requires self-control and self-discipline. Poker players can’t get too excited if they have a winning hand, and they can’t get too upset if they lose a high-stakes battle; those emotional reactions can hinder play and affect judgement.
At the same time as they need to be emotionally steady though, poker players also need to be able to react and adapt amidst the psychological battle that takes place against opponents. One look at the psychology of poker from poker pro Maria Konnikova’s book even referred to this process as a “back-and-forth interpretive dance,” noting that game theory creator John von Neumann had even compared it to military strategy. Yes, the best hand usually wins, but only if the person wielding it has the proper mindset and psychological capabilities to outwit opponents.
Poker is a classic game, and ultimately the online variety isn’t much different from what people have enjoyed playing for centuries. There are some specific considerations involve for beginners though. From finding the right equipment and platform, to mastering some of the basics of the game, the steps above will help you to get off to a good (and fun!) start in online poker.