When it comes to casinos, both online and offline, there’s no questioning that poker is king. With players facing off against one another, fortunes are won and lost in the blink of an eye, inspiring thousands of people to try and make a life-changing amount of money at the table.
Online poker is no different, and has been growing constantly and becoming more and more popular. That growth has produced changes, with the game online being drastically different to even just a few years ago. This guide will help you understand all the facets of playing poker online, and how you can make sure you end up winning.
Online vs offline poker
The advantages of online poker as opposed to offline poker are pretty obvious. There’s no need to travel to a casino, fumble around with physical chips, try and keep track of your money or have to carry a fortune home after a big win. Simplicity and ease of use help to make online poker hugely popular, especially for beginners who won’t have to worry about breaking any of the often complicated etiquette rules surrounding the game.
Yet playing online can also make a huge difference to strategy. Bluffing becomes totally different – there’s no looking at eyes or facial expressions like in the movies here, and no need for sunglasses. That makes bluffing both harder to pull off, but also much harder to detect – leading to a totally different dynamic between the players at the table.
Types of bonuses
Many poker sites, such as those featured in our affiliate links, will offer you bonuses for signing up. Unlike online casinos, these are almost always deposit bonuses, although sometimes no-deposit bonuses are posted too, so keep checking back frequently to get the latest offers and free poker sites.
- Deposit bonuses
A deposit bonus will grant you a bonus when you sign up to a site and deposit money. This can be many things – it can simply be cash, it can be a percentage of your deposit, or it could be free entry to poker tournaments. All of them can help boost your bankroll for minimum risk, however, so make sure you get the best ones. Even if it’s not completely without risk like free no deposit poker, the extra bonus still adds up.
- No-deposit bonuses
Free poker games are harder to come by, but they do exist. A no-deposit bonus will simply give you a bonus just for signing up without putting any of your own money in. This is usually in the form of tournament tokens which will give you free entry into competitions, but some sites will occasionally offer you a small amount of money to play free poker with your bonus.
Types of poker
There are many kinds of poker available to play online, with different variants having different rules. Knowing how to play them can be very important for turning a profit and building your bankroll. Here are just a few you should be aware of, even if you only stick to one kind.
- Limit v no-limit
Some games will have a limit to how much can be bet on each hand, which usually keeps raises to a modest level and pot sizes smaller, unless many players go in on the same hand. This can result in a huge difference in strategy – in no-limit games, the potential exists for a player to make a huge raise, for example, with the intention of making the rest of the table believe he has a winning hand, a strategy unavailable in limit games. Knowing how to play limit and no-limit games is essential to being a successful player at either.
- Cash games
This is a table where players simply play for cash on each hand, usually with a minimum and maximum imposed for how much each player can bring to the table at any one time.
In a poker tournament, players pay a flat fee to buy into the tournament, everybody is dealt the same number of chips, and players play until there is one remaining. This can be useful for some players who want to put an absolute limit on their losses, since the most any player can lose is the entry fee. Most tournaments will offer prizes to those who finish in the top places, as well as the jackpot for finishing first.
- Sit-down tournaments
These are tournaments not scheduled to start at a specific time but simply begin when enough players are at the table. One of the most common ways to play online.
- Texas Hold ‘Em
By far the most common variant of poker played online, this game features five community cards and two cards dealt to each player. When people talk about ‘poker’, they’re usually referring to this form of the game, unless otherwise stated.
Omaha is a community card variant of poker very similar to Texas Hold ‘Em, but each player is instead dealt four hole cards as well as five community cards. A crucial difference is that each player must use exactly three of the community cards and exactly two of his hold cards to make his hand.
A family of poker variants where there are no community cards, and each person is dealt some cards face-down and some cards face-up that all other players can see.
- Play money
Play money sites allow you to simply play free online poker games for chips that have no material value, giving you a free poker game for fun, rather than profit. This can be very useful in helping you play the game, although be warned – players are usually a lot looser and more willing to give up their chips when they’re free.
Poker terminology is so broad that it can almost look like its own language. There are too many terms to list here, but here are a few of the most common:
- Hole cards
In some styles, such as Texas Hold ‘Em, the cards are dealt face down to each player and hidden from the rest of the participants.
- Community cards
In games such as Omaha and Texas Hold ‘Em, the cards dealt face-up in the middle of the table that can be used by all players.
- Flop, turn, river
In Texas Hold ‘Em, the next phase of each hand – the flop is when the first three community cards are dealt, the fourth is known as the turn and the fifth and last is the river.
A weak player who others will see as their best bet to earn money from. As the old saying goes, if you can’t identify the fish at the table – it’s you.
The best possible hand on any draw. When you know you have the nuts, your game simply becomes about getting as much money into the pot as possible.
- Pocket pair
A player being dealt a pair of any two cards for his hole cards.
Cards that are the same suit, necessary for completing a flush.
Cards that are close together and could form a straight, e.g. a 7 and an 8, or a 4 and a 6 with the possibility of a 5 being dealt.
- On a draw
A player that has a low-value hand that could potentially become a very high-value hand if the turn or river works out. E.g. A player who has 5 and 6 for hole cards, with 8, A, 7 on the flop. An ace high could become a straight if a 9 or 4 turn up on the board.
There are four broad strategies in poker, which can be defined as a combination of two playing styles. Either a player will be tight or loose, and also passive or aggressive. These represent extremes – usually players will lie between styles, and good players will adapt and change their style based on other players and circumstance. But it’s a handy way to get a rough idea of how people are playing, and the names crop up very frequently in poker terminology.
- Tight v loose
Simply put, a tight player will play fewer hands than a loose player. Tight means that only very good hands or hands with big potential on the flop will be played rather than mucked. A loose player, by contrast, wants to play a lot of hands and will rarely back down. The latter is often a beginner mistake – most players starting out want to actually play poker – but it can be adopted as part of wider strategy, too.
- Passive v aggressive
This determines how hands are actually pursued once a player has decided they’re in the game. A passive player will check and call his way through the hand, simply staying in the game to give himself a chance of winning the pot at the end and let other players take the lead. An aggressive player, by contrast, will seek to play the game on his own terms, making raises to either raise the pot or try and scare other players off.
- Tight-aggressive (TAG)
The style most commonly taught by books offering poker strategy for beginners, this strategy now dominates most online casinos and is therefore not as profitable as it used to be, with other tactics designed to counter it becoming popular. Nonetheless, it’s based on sound principles that are followed by all effective poker players – players are tight, meaning they only choose to play their best and most promising hands, and are aggressive, so go in hard when they do decide to bet. Followed too strictly, it can become predictable, but the system is effective and popular for a reason.
- Loose-aggressive (LAG)
The most reckless style of play is adopted in moderation by some better players, but is usually the sign of a poor player who everybody will want to take money from. Aggression means that hands will frequently be pursued until the bitter end, but this is paired with a loose style where big money is often used to chase hands that have little chance of success. This strategy relies on playing weak players who lack the ability to stand up and make calls, but can be effective when used sparingly and in the right situations.
- Tight-passive (TP)
A common tactic used by players who are risk-averse and hate giving money away, tight-passive players will rarely play hands unless they are onto a near-certain winner, and will pursue them modestly. While this can seem like an effective strategy to maximise the number of winning hands, it can also greatly reduce the pot size when the player actually wins, making them less profitable in the long run and also seeing them too easily bullied by looser or more aggressive players. Despite that, this type of player can be very hard to play against for beginners.
- Loose-passive (LP)
A loose-passive player is usually the type of opposition every poker player wants to come up against. Without the aggression of a LAG, the risk of losing a huge hand is gone, so while the player won’t lose too many huge pots, they’ll often end up bleeding money throughout the game. Having the discipline and self-control to back out from a hand that hasn’t turned out well is a good thing to have in poker, but if it’s happening too often, as it will to a LP, it’s a sign that the hands probably shouldn’t have been played in the first place.
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