Online Poker FAQ - Poker Site Questions & Answers

Online Poker 101: An Introduction to Playing Poker Online

Online Poker Q & AOnline poker is massively popular across the globe, but despite the millions of those who have given the game a try, millions more have yet to play their first hand of real money poker via the Internet.  For those who are still completely new to what could be rightly called the fastest-growing game in the world, we offer this concise and comprehensive guide to getting started at online poker. Use our quick links for easy access to the answers you need.

What Sets Online Poker Apart from Live Poker?

While online poker may be unfamiliar to many, the game of poker itself is near-universal in terms of familiarity and popularity.  For those with a basic grasp of live poker - whether played at a casino, a club or simply on a kitchen table - online poker will ultimately seem quite similar to the game they know, with a few important exceptions:

  1. Speed: Online poker moves at a pace that makes live poker seem downright glacial.  In a typical casino setting, players could expect an average dealer to get in about 30 hands per hour.  Online, the average table sees well over 70 hands an hour, and players can participate in multiple tables at the same time, further multiplying the already accelerated pace of play.
  2. Player pools: -A casino is generally limited somewhat by geography, while online poker rooms can draw in players from around the world at any given time of day.  A large live poker room might have hundreds of players at peak times; large online poker rooms boast thousands, if not tens of thousands, of simultaneous players.
  3. Data:  Players who play live poker must rely on their memory and a bit of record-keeping to review particular hands or sessions, while online poker players can generally access a text-based record of every single hand they've ever played.
  4. Regulation:  Casinos and clubs offering live poker are generally - although not always - subject to more stringent and thorough regulatory oversight than online poker rooms.

With a  basic understanding of how online poker differs from the live version of the game known to so many, let's transition to another question new players often have about playing poker online: What's in it for the rooms?

How Do Online Poker Rooms Make Money?

Unlike a casino, which makes money by betting against customers, poker rooms make money by charging players to play poker.  This charge is commonly called the rake, and it comes in two forms:

  1. Cash Game Rake:  In real money online poker cash games, the house will take a small percentage of the total amount of most pots.  The percentage is generally under 5% and is usually capped at some amount.  The rake is removed automatically from the pot - in fact, many players might not even be aware that they're paying rake, since you really only "pay" when you win a pot.
  2. Tournament Fees:  Like live poker rooms, online poker rooms generally charge players a small fee to participate in a poker tournament.  Not generally referred to as "the rake" even though it accomplishes the same purpose, this fee is usually referred to generically as a "tournament fee."  Tournament entry fees tend to be about 10% of the amount of the buy in or less.  When you see the buy-in of a tournament online, there will generally be two numbers formatted as such: $25+2.  The $25 is the amount that goes to the prize pool, while the $2 is the tournament fee that the room keeps for itself.

Some online poker rooms also derive revenue from licensing their software to others who want to operate an online poker room, or by allowing other rooms to share their network of players.  However, the rake is the primary driver of revenue and profit for most online poker rooms.

Many players have a different sort of question regarding how an online poker room makes money - namely, whether or not that money is being made legally.  That's the topic of our next section - the legality of online poker.

Is Online Poker Legal?

An important question with a difficult answer: It depends.  Online poker is increasingly evolving into a very fragmented industry, with individual regions and governments issuing their own unique regulations and establishing their own (sometimes ring-fenced) online poker markets.

Because of this, it's difficult to provide a comprehensive listing of the legal status of online poker in every region.  In general, most European countries allow some form of online poker, although many restrict players to sites that have been licensed by the state.  South American countries have a similar approach, while the regulatory picture in Asia is far more complex and constantly evolving.

The United States, considered by many to be the single largest online poker market in the world, is an even more confusing case.  When people ask if online poker is legal in the USA, they're really asking a series of related, but distinct, questions. For starters, US law is divided into federal and state law, and the two levels aren't always cohesive - even internally.

On the state level in the US: Many states have laws on the books that make operating an unlicensed gambling operation a crime.  Only one state - Washington - has a law that explicitly makes playing poker online a crime, but several other states have existing laws that could be interpreted as prohibiting residents from playing online poker. Other states allow intrastate online poker. This means players in legal online poker in Nevada and New Jersey is available.   The critical bottom line for American online poker players: To date, there have been no prosecutions of online poker players under US state law that we know of.

On the Federal level in the United States: There is actually no law specifically addressing online poker at the federal level.  Many people think of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA, as a law that outlaws online poker, but in actuality the UIGEA is a law designed to assign penalties to those who process payments for "unlawful gambling activities" - and requires a state law to be violated in order for said penalties to apply.  The law does not explicitly mention online poker nor is it designed to ensnare poker players - only individuals involved in processing the financial transactions that occur when a player deposits at or withdraws.from an online poker room.

In short, the legal picture for online poker is murky in several jurisdictions.  The murkier your region happens to be, the more caution you should exercise when playing online poker for real money, as countries with ambiguous legal attitudes toward online gambling often have weak or no regulation as a result.

If regulation isn't a concern for you, your questions regarding online poker are likely to be a bit less technical and far more specific, so let's start diving into the actual process of playing poker online.

How Do I Get Started Playing Online Poker?

With the most common questions behind us, we can start to move along to actually playing some poker online.  While online poker may be a complex topic on some levels, the steps needed to play online poker are relatively simple.

The first step is to do a little research on potential rooms.  You don't need to prepare a report on each one or anything that extensive, but there are four key things you should be looking at in your process:

  1. Friendly to your region:  As mentioned above, regulatory issues prevent all rooms from accepting players from all regions.  Finding lists of rooms that accept players from your country is the first step in narrowing your options.  Friends, poker communities or a quick Google search should do the trick here.
  2. Reputation:  This one is a bit tougher to research, but you can start with the regulatory body that issues the room's license and do a few quick searches to gain a sense of whether or not there are known issues with a given room.
  3. Opening / first deposit / welcome bonuses:  We'll delve more into opening bonuses later in the article, but you won't need to do more than some quick reading and a spot of math to ascertain the information you need on this score.
  4. Traffic:  A site like can help to give you a sense of how active a given room is.  Another great - and simple - step is to simply download the software and have a look for yourself at the type and amount of games that are running at any given time.

That leads us right into our next step: Download the software and try the play money version of the poker room.  Most - if not all - rooms offer a play money version of their games.  While you can't learn everything from the play money version of a room, you can learn if you like the graphics, game play, controls and other aspects of the interface.  Best of all, you can often sample the play money room without providing any information besides your name and your email.

Once you've finished your research and given your potential rooms a spin, you should have a pretty good idea of where you'd like to play online poker.  That means you're ready for the final step in getting started in online poker: Making a deposit.

How Do I Deposit at an Online Poker Room

For some players it can seem intimidating and somewhat anxiety-inducing to deposit real money at an online poker room.  After all, sending money to a company over the Internet - especially a gambling-based company - seems like something we might counsel our friends not to do if they proposed it.  However, online poker is by and large a legitimate business and you should have few qualms about depositing money at an online poker room.

With that said, there are simple steps all players can take to help protect themselves when making a deposit at an online poker room:

  1. It's best to stick with reputable ewallets like PayPal, Neteller and Moneybookers to make your deposits and withdrawals.  These wallets offer you protection, peace of mind and allow you to keep your personal banking details secret and secure.
  2. Using a separate bank account is a good way to protect yourself.  In the unlikely event that your information is compromised, your primary funds won't be impacted.  An additional bonus: Keeping a separate account for poker will make it much easier to keep track of your bankroll.
  3. Do not deposit money you might need for other purposes, especially if online poker exists in a legal limbo in your region.  While your money is safe at most online poker rooms, there is an outside chance that a poker room - just like any business - could close up shop or otherwise delay or obstruct ready access to your funds.  As a result, you should not consider poker funds to be completely liquid nor treat them as such.

Once you get comfortable with the ins-and-outs of making a deposit at an online poker room, the next question you probably have concerns the bonus rooms offer to players when they make their first deposit.  Let's move the discussion in that direction with the next section of this article.

How Do Online Poker Deposit Bonuses Work?

Opening bonuses go by a few names: First deposit bonuses, welcome bonuses, match bonuses and so on.  Whatever the name, the basics remain the same: When you make your first deposit at a poker room, the room gives you a variable bonus based on the amount of your deposit.

A quick example of a deposit bonus will help to illustrate how they work.  PokerStars offers a 100% deposit bonus up to $600.  That means that PokerStars will match your deposit amount (up to $600) with a bonus of 100%.  Deposit $150 and you'll get a bonus of $150.

The word "bonus" means something slightly different in the world of online poker than it might in other contexts.  When a room gives you a deposit bonus, they don't just give you the amount and allow you to do whatever you like with it.  Instead, standard operating procedure is for rooms to put the bonus in a restricted part of your account balance, meaning you can't play with or cash out the money.

So what good is the bonus if you can't use the money?  As you play poker at the room and pay rake, the room releases parts of the bonus from the restricted part of your account to your main balance - meaning you can now do whatever you like with the money.  Any credible poker room will make the terms of their deposit bonuses readily available so players can easily review how a bonus at a given room works.

When you're reviewing those terms, there are a few key things to look out for.  Interestingly enough, the biggest online poker bonus isn't always the best.  Learning more about the following aspects of deposit bonuses won't take much of time and will help you to determine which bonus actually offers a superior value to others:

Size:  While size isn't everything, it still matters.  All things being equal, you're going to prefer the biggest bonus in terms of total dollar amount.

Multiplier:  Multiplier refers to the match percentage of the bonus.  Higher multipliers are especially valuable for players who are limited in the amount they can deposit, as it can help them get the most bang for their buck.

Time frame:  Rooms will often place restrictions on how long you have to earn a bonus before it expires.  A large bonus does you little good if you won't be able to earn it in the time provided, so be sure to confirm the time limits attached to the opening bonus.

Release Increments:  Some rooms release your bonus one dollar or euro at a time, while others use larger increments such as five or ten.  A few rooms release in even larger increments.  Increments matter because the smaller the increment, the lower the chance you'll leave part of the bonus on the table due to time constraints or if you decide to try another room.

Clearance rate:  As mentioned above, a deposit bonus is basically a way that rooms rebate part of the rake you pay while playing at the room.  The clearance rate simply refers to the ratio of the rake you pay to earn the bonus and the amount of money the bonus returns.  If a bonus of $150 requires you to pay $300 in total rake to earn the entire bonus, the clearance rate would be $150 / $300, or 50%.  While perhaps a bit overwhelming at first, determining the clearance rate of a bonus requires no more than a small amount of reading and a few seconds with a calculator

Once you go through the process of investigating a couple of deposit bonuses, you'll find that completing the checklist above will take you five minutes or less - and taking that time could mean hundreds of dollars in additional value.

Now you've learned the mechanics of the online poker industry, chosen a room, signed up, made a deposit and gotten your bonus for doing so there's only one question left: How do you make sure you're one of the few winners and not one the far more prevalent donators?

Can You Make Money Playing Online Poker?

Yes, but you have to be willing to commit to a number of things.  The following is far from a complete list, but it should give you at least a basic idea of what the ingredients are for constructing a successful online poker career:

  1. Work hard.  It's tempting to think that there's a magic piece of strategy, advice or or software that will catapult them into the ranks of elite players.  The truth is that most elite players just work harder than everyone else.
  2. Be willing to shop around for lower rake and better games.  As the old saying goes, it does you no good to be the tenth best poker player in the world if you're sitting at a table with the best nine.  Not all poker rooms are created equally, and it may take quite a bit of work to ultimately find the best combination for your situation.
  3. Fully exploit bonuses and promotions.  Doing comparisons of deposit bonus may seem less exciting than bluffing your arch-nemesis with five-high, but money is money, and your bank account doesn't care where it comes from.  Plus, you're probably bluffing too much anyhow.
  4. Make smart use of tools like training sites and software.  It's easy to blow all your winnings on the latest training site or software package, especially if you're playing mostly low-stakes poker.  Resist the urge and reserve your spending only for tools that you feel with confidence will result in a positive return on investment.
  5. Immediate success does not guarantee long-term success.  It's easy to run well in poker for a period of time, and when you do you'll feel as if you can do no wrong.  If your immediate experience happens to be very positive, take it in, enjoy it and do not expect it to continue forever.  You'll likely be disappointed, and your bankroll could suffer as a result.

There's one "secret" to profiting from poker that is so important for new players that it bears more space than a bullet point: Bankroll management.  Bankroll management is a response to a simple fact of life for almost all poker players: The amount of money you have to play poker with is finite. 

Sad, but true.  And, as a fact of life, unavoidable.  If the bankroll is finite, then players need rules to account for that fact, rules that will help them to preserve their bankroll and allow them to continue to play poker.  After all, there's no point in being great at poker if you don't have any money to buy into a game. 

Bankroll Management for New Online Poker Players

The topic warrants a much longer article than this one - you could make an argument for a full book on the matter - but new United States poker players will find their experience dramatically improved if they rigidly  follow a few simple guidelines and principles until they become very comfortable with playing poker online:

  1. Set limits and stick to them.  Stop-loss and stop-win targets (stopping a session after you lose or win a certain amount of money) is a great way for new players to limit the swings - or volatility - that naturally come along with poker.
  2. For cash games, you should have between 20-30 times the amount of the maximum buy in for a limit to feel comfortable playing that limit.  For example, the max buy in at 1-2 blind no limit is generally $200, meaning you would want a minimum bankroll of $4000 to play the game regularly.  For shorthanded or heads up play, you should prefer a larger bankroll.
  3. For tournaments and sit and gos, things are a little more complicated and vary based on the specifics of your play, but having 50x the tournament buy in is a good starting point.  As you move into tournaments with larger fields or into higher-volatility formats like hyper-turbos, you'll want a larger multiple to feel comfortable.

If you're unclear on the above or it doesn't apply to your situation, employ the following general rules of thumb for bankroll management:

  1. The greater the volatility, the larger the bankroll required
  2. The more you rely on earnings from poker, the more conservative you should be with your bankroll management
  3. The more temperamental you are, the stronger your bankroll rules need to be to guard against poor decision-making when you're under duress.

New or experienced, all poker players should be familiar with software like Tilt Breaker that allows you to essentially lock yourself out of poker rooms for a predetermined amount of time if certain conditions (such as a certain amount lost) are met.


And there you have it - a complete guide to getting started with online poker.  While there may be a bit of time cost upfront, following the processes described in this article can pay significant dividends across the entire span of your poker career - dividends that will help to somewhat soften the blow of the inevitable bad beats you're about to experience.