A Guide to Online Poker

Top Tips

What You Need to Know

  1. As with all online gambling, it’s better to go with an established big name site with a good track record of customer satisfaction.
  2. If you don’t want to gamble with your cash, most sites offer ‘play-money’ tables, where you can play using credits rather than real money.
  3. If you prefer one of the less often played variations of online poker, be sure to find a site that offers your favourite form of the game.
  4. It can be worth setting up a separate bank account and email address to use with your online poker account, especially if you use your regular email address for work.
  5. When setting up an account, don’t be taken in by introductory offers at the expense of good service. There’s no point getting lots of bonuses if the site makes it hard for you to withdraw your winnings when you're up.
  6. The best sites come with some handy tools that can be very useful if you take your online poker seriously. These can help you learn from your past mistakes and make notes on your opponent’s tactics.
  7. Remember that all forms of gambling can be addictive. Never risk more than you can afford to lose.

Choosing a Site

In order to play online poker you will first need to set up an account with the site that you wish to play with, even if you only intend to gamble ‘play-money’ (chips you can play with that do not represent real money.)

In some cases signing up to play can involve sharing a fair bit of personal information. This is especially true if you are intending to play for real money. Therefore, it is important to pick a site you feel completely happy to commit to.

As a general rule specialist poker sites tend to be better equipped and provide better service than bookies and casinos who offer poker along with many other forms of gambling.


It is highly advisable that you choose one of the big name sites with a long track record of customer satisfaction. Whilst customer service is very important there are also a wide number of reasons to pick one of the most popular sites.

For one thing, the bigger sites have more members. This means they can host more games, including different versions of poker. Whether you prefer Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw, Omaha Hi or Texas Hold ‘Em it’s important to find a site that hosts your preferred format.

With a larger pool to choose from you are more likely to find players of your own ability to play against. You also have the reassurance that, being a big site, it is unlikely to go under, wiping out any funds in your account with it.


If you are intending to set yourself up in the world of online poker for the long term, it is also worth looking at what loyalty or ‘refresher’ bonuses the site offers. In the short term many sites will offer ‘free bets’ as an incentive for you to join, but it pays to keep the bigger picture in mind.


Another big difference that sets the best sites apart is the software they come with. This will effect your entire experience, from how you play the game, to how fairly the deck is shuffled. The best sites have 3D graphics, allow you to chat with your opponents and sometimes have useful tools to help make playing easier.

These can include; four coloured decks (to help you avoid misreading your cards), features which remember your decisions so you can study your own game later and tools that allow you to make notes on opponents for future reference.

The best sites frequently have the software responsible for dealing the cards checked by independent bodies to ensure it is fair, another reason for you to choose them over smaller, newer sites.


It is vital that you know there are people you can trust behind all this technology. One common complaint is that, despite being very willing to take your money, some of the smaller sites will then give you the run around when you try and withdraw your winnings.

This is often done under the pretext of security. For example, they may delay paying you for weeks on end by repeatedly asking for documents (often quite hard to obtain ones) in order to establish your identity. This is simply a stalling tactic used in the hope that you will get bored chasing your money, keep playing and lose it to another,

less demanding player. If you are persistent you will get paid, but it’s far better to just pick a reputable site.

The best sites will not even bother with the hassle of sending you a cheque, they will simply call you, carry out some security checks and credit your bank account.

It is also vital that you know the company you go with will take your complaints seriously. Small sites may seek to fob you off with an automated response to your queries, reputable sites will listen to you and will, for example, thoroughly investigate any instances of cheating (there is more on cheating in the ‘risks’ section of this article) you may suspect.

Setting up an Account

When setting up an account it is worth bearing in mind that there is a likelihood that you will want to keep your online poker playing separate from other areas of your life. For that reason in can be a good idea to set up a new email address to use when you sign up, especially if you use your regular email address for work or share it with other people.

Similarly, you may want to set up a separate bank account for use with your online poker account. This is a good idea as, sometimes ‘refresher bonuses’, which offer you free chips if you top up your account, only run for a limited time and you need to be able to transfer money quickly.

It is also worth noting that most sites, for the sake of consistency, make it hard to change the nickname you pick to play under once you set up an account, so it’s worth taking the time to pick something you’re happy with!


Most sites offer a variety of games you can play. The two main categories are ‘play money’ and real money. It is worth practising in the ‘play money’ games for a while if you are new to poker or worried about losing money, though you should bear in mind that big sites will have real money tables for very low stakes. There are often tables where you can bet in pence rather than pounds!

There is also a big difference between ‘ring games’ (standard games at tables you can join whenever there’s a space and can take a brief break from or leave when you feel like it) and tournament games. At tournament games, you can’t leave until you are eliminated from the game, or you win.

Poker can be a fairly slow game. One of the big attractions of online poker is that you can make use of the lags in play to engage in multiple games, just be sure not to keep other players waiting in one game because you’re paying attention to another. When playing two games always check that you are raising or folding in the right game. Getting it the wrong way round could be costly!


There are a few risks associated with online poker. One is that your might be giving money to unscrupulous individuals. This can be got round by only using sites with a good reputation.

Another risk is that the data the site holds about you may be hacked. However, this is not known to have happened to any of the major sites, as of yet.

A further concern is losing money to cheats. There are a number of ways it is possible to cheat in online poker. One way is for two players who know each other to collude (work together to get you to raise when one of them has a winning hand.) This is easier to do online than in real life, but easier to detect by the sites security personnel who analyse games for signs of such behaviour.

Another way is to abuse ‘disconnection protection.’ This is a feature many sites have, which will put a player ‘all in’ with ‘emergency chips’ in the case that they lose internet connection mid-game and cannot play their hand. Some players deliberately turn off their internet connection at advantageous moments for this reason. The better sites investigate potential misuse very closely and offer tables for players who don’t want this feature to be playable.


Gambling can be exciting, rewarding and also, unfortunately, addictive. You should always try to keep a sense of perspective and never gamble more than you can afford to lose.

Poker is something of an anomaly when it comes to gambling addiction, as it is a game of great skill as well as luck and, as you get better with practice, it is possible to be a winning addict as well as losing one.


This might sound like it makes poker addiction less serious, however, the opposite is true. It simply means winning can potentially cover up an addiction, which, whilst it might not ruin you financially, can wreck your life in other ways.

Further Reading

  • If you fear you, or someone you know may have a gambling problem, you can get help from the NHS
  • You can pick up a host of tactical tips from Poker Stars.
  • Fascinated by the allure of casinos? With some croupier training you could make your living in one.
  • If you want to try betting on sports instead, read our guides and watch our videos that explain how to bet on all major events.

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