If you are new to the world of online poker it can seem like quite a daunting thing to get to grips with. There is a whole new vocabulary of poker terms and slang to learn before you will be able to begin understanding what people are talking about, but fear not, it will eventually all make sense! Picking the right site to start playing on can make a big difference to how quickly and easily you become familiar with it all. This guide should give you an idea of the types of things we were looking at as we reviewed the sites in our online poker category. We hope it will help you make an informed choice on your first online poker site and set you in good stead for the future.
Let us put your mind at ease to start with and say that it would be very difficult indeed to choose a truly terrible online poker site. Unlike many products we look at we can almost say without exception that no matter which site you choose from our list of online poker sites you should be pleasantly surprised with the level of service you receive. Online poker is a very competitive marketplace so the standard of service is very high because sites are desperate to attract and retain new players. This is coupled with the fact that it is a very carefully regulated business so you are very unlikely to find a dodgy site or one that is lax about security or fair play.
Having said this it always pays to be careful with any sites you are providing your credit card details to. If something seems even the slightest bit dodgy give it wide berth and choose a different site from the huge choice available. Also, one of the biggest dangers in online poker can be yourself so if you know you're the type of person that just wants to put 'one more coin' in the fruit machine as you leave a bar make sure to keep a tight limit on the amount you gamble with. You could also consider choosing a site that provides a 'lock out' feature that will lock your account for a set amount of time and not let you back in however much you beg!
There is little to choose from in terms of the services and game types on offer at most online poker sites. Pretty much every site we have looked at offers Texas Hold'em as standard and usually a mixed bag of other game types too. Some aren't as popular as others though so if you have a penchant for a particular type of poker, check the tables and make sure there are enough people playing it so that you get a game.
Since there is so little difference in the types of services on offer, one of the most important aspects that will affect your enjoyment of the game is the quality of the client. Clients range from straightforward 2D with basic graphics right through to all singing all dancing 3D virtual worlds and it depends on how you eventually see yourself playing as to what you might choose. Occasional players might like the novelty of a full on 3D environment, but if you plan on hitting your bonus targets and winning big you might want to opt for a faster 2D client that allows you to play at multiple tables at once.
The one other thing to look out for is whether or not the client is compatible with your computer. Almost every site we looked at offers a downloadable client for Windows, but Mac or Linux offerings were rare. If you run something other than Windows your best bet is to look out for a site offering a browser-based client so that you don't have to download or install anything. This also has the added benefit of allowing you to play on any computer you happen to be using without having to install any software. Perfect for those dull days at work!
Whatever you are thinking about, most sites will let you download the client and sign up for free to try it out. It definitely pays to check it out by having a few games at one of the play money tables before you think about making a deposit and betting for real.
Tournaments and Stakes
As you first start out playing online poker you might not be thinking about taking part in tournaments and assume it's only the professionals that bother with that sort of thing. However, soon enough most people build up a some confidence in their game and decide to have a go. If you think this might be you it's a good idea to check what kind of tournament buy-in fees a site offers and furthermore what types of tournament are on offer.
Most sites offer small prize tournaments for very low buy-in fees that are great for building up experience before going for bigger prizes. Some even let you set up your own tournament and invite whoever you would like to play. As you progress though, your eyes will no doubt be set on one of the big cash prizes given away in big tournaments daily or weekly. Some sites offer a much better value buy-in cost to tournament prize total ratio than others so make sure and have a look if you think you might eventually want to take part in some big tournaments.
If you aren't immediately thinking about tournaments you should also check the kinds of stakes you can play for at sit 'n' go games. Most sites start pretty low at the one or two cent mark, which is probably where you want to be starting if you have never played poker before! The main difference is as you go higher up the stake levels as some sites attract real high rollers by offering games with stakes in the thousands of dollars.
Rewards and Promotions
If you are thinking about playing online poker you are probably thinking about winning big prizes and rolling around in pots of cash as you slap down another royal flush. However, we should start by putting our sensible parent hat on and warning that it is very easy to lose a lot of money very, very quickly if you don't play sensibly (Trust us – our pockets are bare after reviewing all these!). With that in mind it's a good idea to go for a site that offers a decent reward scheme so that you are rewarded even if you lose every hand you play!
Reward schemes all work in pretty much the same way. You build up loyalty points based on the amount of rake taken from each hand you participate in. The rake is the small percentage that the poker site takes to cover the costs of providing the service and, of course, to make a small profit. The amount taken varies per site, but is usually around the 5% mark. As you build up loyalty points you will be awarded different bonuses such as entry into freeroll tournaments or cash back. Most sites explain their reward scheme quite clearly because serious players realise it's a great way of mazimizing your winnings from the site.
Most sites also run promotions of different sorts at various times too. These could be special tournaments, big prizes or a range of challenges. Some sites are more active in this respect than others so it's worth checking out if it's currently offering anything interesting to give an idea of what to expect.
The Bottom Line
As we mentioned to start with, we think it would be quite difficult to pick a really bad online poker site if you stick to the ones we have reviewed. Hopefully now though, you should have some understanding of the things to look out for and what might matter to you in choosing a site. Pretty much every site you care to mention will let you try it out for free, and if it doesn't there's probably something dodgy going on.
Whether you are a beginner or more advanced player looking for the big wins we would highly recommend our top ten list as a starting place for your search. We've taken lots of factors into account so there is something for everyone there. The only thing we can't do is guarantee your luck on winning that million dollar jackpot!