Playing Texas Holdem is extremely popular in 2012. New players may feel confused in light of the overwhelming number of poker brands to pick from. We’ve narrowed it down for you using geo-targeting (country detection) in our table below. As such you can rest assured that the operator will accept players from your demographic. Additionally, the sites have been further narrowed down and screened by our editors to provide the best gaming experience. Update July 2012: The best American-facing holdem brand is currently BetOnline; which has a considerable player base and is quickly climbing through the ranks on PokerScout.com.
A friend who I know on Facebook recently asked me “I see you play online poker for real money. I play a lot on Zynga and do pretty well. What advice would you give if I were to deposit some money and play on a real site?” Although I don’t know him that well, I’ve been around the online poker scene for a few years and I wanted to give him some good advice. As I started to prepare my answer, I realized my time spent on the advice could be of value to others as well and that is the genesis of this article.
I’ve always been a fan of playing Texas Holdem for real money for a number of reasons:
- Play whenever you want as poker room action is always running with players from around the world.
- Play wherever you have Internet access whether it’s at home, work or traveling.
- Play whatever level you can afford. So you aren’t forced to play above what you are willing to risk with limits as little as .01-.02 (micro limits all the way up to high stakes available)
- You have a wide variety of poker games to choose from like NLHE, LHE, Stud, PLO, Razz, HORSE etc.
- Within each particular poker game, you can play many different formats like Tournaments, SNG’s and Cash or Heads-up, at a 6 max or full ring table.
- You can use disciplined table and seat selection to ensure as much advantage as possible.
- Playing for real money imposes a proper measuring stick for your performance against players who want to take the game more seriously.
- Play money poker will always attract a mix of lesser experienced players who rely more on the luck than skill elements of the game. If you are going to invest your time in a game, why not see a payoff for your time and hoped for skill advantage.
Additionally, there are so many advantages of online poker over playing live poker. You can play more hands per hour, multi-tabling to your comfort level. You don’t have to worry about travel time and expense or dealing with smoky casinos and annoying people. You don’t have to worry about tipping dealers and your overall rake paid to play is less. Online poker rooms have advanced loyalty and rakeback programs in place for those that play a certain volume.
Having made the decision to play real money Texas Holdem, the next important decision becomes where to play?
Texas Holdem Safety and Security
Naturally, any poker site where you are depositing money you want to be honest and trustworthy. Doing a bit of research and comparison is a good thing before you deposit your money. You want to make sure the site is licensed by a reputable gaming authority (Malta, Isle of Man, or Kahnawake Gaming Commission in Canada) and that their history is a good one. You can often find that information on reputable online poker room review sites, searching “XXXpokerroom complaints” on Google or visiting respected poker forums where players continually share feedback on their playing experience. Although any poker site is capable of making occasional mistakes and errors in judgment, you are looking to avoid poker rooms that show a repeated pattern of player abuse, complaints and poor customer service. Sites that have a long history of reliability, absence of fraud and corruption, prioritize fighting fraud and player collusion are to be preferred. As a general rule, safe online gaming sites will always be your best bet.
With dozens and dozens of poker rooms to choose from, there is never a reason to settle for a poker room with a dodgy history. As you research, you may find players who complain about the RNG (random number generator), but it has been my experience that many players will wrongly use a small sample of hands to demonstrate their theories of being cheated. It is the natural human desire to find some explanation for our losses that allows us to fall into a pattern of seeing conspiracy theories everywhere we look. The integrity of every poker room is based on a fair RNG giving equal opportunities for players to have the chance to win.
Once you are comfortable with the reputation and integrity of an online poker room, it is time to evaluate the personal factors that distinguish one poker room from another. Many of the largest poker rooms advertise heavily on TV, in magazines, and even direct mail, but don’t be swayed by their slick promotions and advertisements. Instead, focus on those factors that make a difference in your comfort, potential profit and enjoyment. Some of the biggest factors are sign up bonus, rakeback, traffic, competition, software, customer support and funds movement. Each poker player will prioritize each of these areas differently.
Texas Hold’em Sign Up Bonus
Every poker room offers some incentive for depositing money on their site and playing in their room. Due to all the competition, many of the offers sound similar and enticing. Figuring out the amount of time and play it will take to clear the bonus is often more important than the amount itself.
Rakeback from Playing Texas Holdem
Rakeback is a promotional and reward tool offered through poker affiliates and some poker rooms directly that effectively pays you back a portion of the rake that you pay in while playing. Not all poker rooms offer rakeback, instead offering loyalty or rewards programs, but if they do you are foolish not to get rakeback. Most online poker rooms that offer rakeback range from 25% to 40% rakeback. It usually requires that you sign up via a rakeback affiliate, but signing up directly for an account from the poker room means you can miss out on significant discount to the rake you pay.
VIP Loyalty Rewards
The poker rooms that don’t offer rakeback, offer some type of VIP or frequent player rewards instead. Checking out what type of rewards are available, the schedule for points accumulation and how and what they are redeemed for is important to understand. Poker forums are once again a good source for comparison of various reward schemes.
One of the most important factors you want to consider is the traffic the room gets. High traffic indicates that there are lots of players playing on their site. More players is a sign of popularity and trust with a site. It also means there are more tournaments, Sit n’ Go’s and cash games for you to choose from when you want to play.
Real Money Poker Software
There are multiple aspects to a poker room’s software that affect your playing. The poker room’s graphics create a different atmosphere and feeling. The organization of the lobby and how you find your games is important. The speed of playing action is also an important determiner when trying to maximize your hands per hours. Some poker rooms have issues with the reliability of their servers affect your experience. Customization, note taking, four color decks, resizing and multi-tabling display can greatly affect your playing experience. Many of these software elements are a matter of personal preference, and not something that can be dictated to you so take some time to compare them.
Poker rooms have a variety of players on them, but some poker rooms have reputations for having more tough players at certain levels. Sometimes it’s better for your game to select a smaller site, or lesser well known site in order to find an easier environment to play and profit in. For instance, poker rooms that have casino and sports betting services attached are known to have lots of loose and gambling players.
The customer support service of a particular poker room can often make or break your experience at a poker room. Unfortunately, they are not usually areas of service that you notice until you run into problems later on. You are seeing quick responsive customer support to handle your various player issues and not some series of automated form letters that don’t address your issue. It is a bit more difficult to get a fair assessment of a site’s customer service levels because there are so many different individual experiences.
While every site wants to make it easy for you to deposit, every poker room has different methods available. Check out what methods they offer and their requirements and limitations. Even more important is to evaluate what withdrawal methods, timetable and restrictions are important. Online poker rooms with slow and tardy withdrawal records are often a sign of lesser reliable site.
Real Money Texas Hold’em Game Variety
While every poker room offers No Limit Texas Hold’em, the selection of other games offered varies. If you’d like to play less common games such as Five Card Draw or Razz, it’s important to find out if the poker site you’re looking at offers those games.
Friends and Pros
Where your friends play is always a big factor in deciding on a poker room to play. It is nice to occasionally play with or at the very least go rail and cheer on your friends. In addition, many players like to watch the highest stakes games that feature some of the most famous players. Certain sites promote their pro affiliated players heavily.
Each poker player will value different factors more than others, but regardless of your preferences I highly recommend you take the time investigate and seek feedback when selecting a trusted poker room to deposit your hard earned money on and play. Just like making educated math based decisions at the tables is important, doing your due diligence before you deposit is important. You will thank me later.
In part two of this article, I will discuss how to approach your real money playing to make it a profitable experience.
f we accept that your goal is to make money playing poker and avoid redepositing regularly, there is a structure that you can impose on your game to give you a better chance.
The first structure to impose on your game has little to do with the strategy and more to do with managing your money. Handling the money you deposit online is commonly known as bankroll management. If you ever want to move beyond being a casual and likely losing poker player, it is important to learn how to manage the money you keep online to play poker. Determine a reasonable amount that you can deposit initially and then your goal is a simple one; to never go broke! There are many different methods and approaches, but here are 10 recommended guidelines to avoid having to ever redeposit again:
- Whatever you initially deposit, you should never have more than 5% of your bankroll, or worst case scenario 10%, at the various poker tables you are playing at any one time.
- Look at this money as a long term investment, not as a quick money source. Allow your online poker bankroll to grow, without regular withdraws so you can move up levels eventually.
- Pick a level of play where the buy-in isn’t more than 1/25th of your bankroll. Many professionals will carry 40-100 buy-ins for the level they play. This eases the stress of the swings you will inevitably encounter and assures that you can play multiple tables as well.
- Win at least 25 buy-ins as your currently playing level before you move up to next higher level. This ensures that you have proper experience at your present level before tackling a new level, and ensure that you will be properly bankrolled for the next level similarly to how you were for your present level.
- Establish a stop loss (e.g. 3 buy-ins) whereby you stop playing for that session/day if you lose that certain amount. More bankrolls have been busted from a violation or absence of a stop loss than any other factor. This discipline prevents you from ever losing too much of your bankroll if you get unlucky or play badly. Poker will always be there another day when you are fresh and not frustrated from losing.
- If you want to play more than one poker table at a time, increase your bankroll requirements. For every extra table you regularly play, I would have 8-10 extra buy-ins to your bankroll. So if regularly 4 table your level, have nearly 50 buy-ins in your bankroll for that level.
- There is often a temptation to try a new higher level, called “taking a shot.” You aren’t necessarily moving up permanently, but sort of testing it out or chasing after a bad player who is playing there. Set a limit for your shot taking (e.g. 5 buy-ins). If it goes well, you can keep playing, but if you lose that money, you stop playing and return to your former level.
- Texas Holdem is a mathematical game that has a certain amount of variance built into it. That means even if you are playing good poker, it is possible to hit downswings of 15-20 buy-ins, sometimes more. This is the main reason to maintain such a large bankroll, so that you can keep playing through a downswing, assuming you are playing well during this period.
- Once you get to a stage where you are winning regularly, there is value in rewarding yourself and those around you who support your poker passion. Withdrawing small amounts occasionally when you are doing well gives a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that something positive is coming from your play. Manage your withdrawals so that you remain adequately rolled, though. In fact, some players who have learned to beat a certain level with regularity, choose to keep playing that level and withdrawing their winnings regularly rather than moving up.
- If you desire to become a professional player eventually, you will need to accommodate the regular withdrawals to cover your living expenses as part of your bankroll management. This can often put added pressure and stress to a poker player’s bankroll so you find that many professional poker players maintain a bankroll of 100 buy-ins or more so that they can withdraw monthly, manage the swings, without worry of going broke.
To play Texas Holdem for money successfully, you need to be disciplined in multiple areas of your game. By instilling firm guidelines of how you manage your online bankroll, you are also able to gain a handle on one of the most pernicious aspects of poker; managing your emotions and avoiding tilt.
Texas Holdem Strategy Advice
With the less glamorous but important areas of poker room selection and bankroll management covered, it is time to focus on the area of poker success that most players like to focus most – strategy. There is a tremendous amount of free and paid for poker strategy advice available. Most players who take the game seriously find some combination of reading poker strategy books, viewing videos, studying hand histories and poker odds, and joining poker training sites to accumulate their poker knowledge. That collective information would fill innumerable volumes that would easily overwhelm the player just starting out in real money poker.
I have tried to simplify the concepts to manage early if you want to master real money holdem.
- Become a rock – A rock is the term applied to the poker player who plays solid winning poker. They understand the proper percentages of starting hands, when to raise and when to rid themselves of hands that have improper odds to continue in a hand.
- Starting hands – It is a simple but winning strategy to play hands that will likely be better than your opponents. If you start with a stronger starting hand, you are more likely to finish with a stronger hand at the end than your opponent. Thus having a tighter starting hand range is to you benefit, as long as your play with those hands doesn’t become too predictable.
- Patient play – Poker is a waiting game. You need to pick your spots carefully. You are not trying to win every hand, but rather win more than you lose, so select times where you have and advantage over the other players to play (i.e. better hand, better position, more aggression). Don’t let your ego get involved. There is no shame in folding a number of hands in a row.
- Play hands for value – Newer real money players can get too tricky. It is best to play your hands for value, meaning bet when you likely have the best hand and fold when you don’t. If you bet only your best made hands, semi-bluff occasionally, and bluff almost never you will beat the vast majority of your opponents who lack that same discipline.
- It’s a math game – There are certain odds and probabilities that each player needs to learn to be successful. For instance, when you have a drawing hand that needs improvement to win, you need to understand pot odds to determine if you should call and chase, or just fold. Learning to avoid chasing against the odds is key if you are succeed in poker.
- Position is power – The poker player with position (i.e. others have to play before them) will always have an advantage. With more information and the fear that you get to act after them always gives players an advantage so try to play more hands when you have position on your opponents.
- Calculated Aggression – Betting or raising always gives you two ways to win a hand. Either you have the best hand, or your opponent fears you do and gives up. Therefore it is usually better to come into a hand raising rather than to be calling. You gain initiative and force a decision on your opponents whenever you do that. I mention calculated because if you raise too often and not with strong hands, your opponents will play back at you so pick your opportunities prudently.
- Bet sizing – Many newer player bet big when they have a good hand and small when they don’t. That is too predictable, so either always make similar sized bets or mix up your reasoning so your opponents are kept off guard. You always want to bet in relation to the size of the pot, not your stack.
- No shame in folding – You can’t lose money in a hand you don’t play. Sometimes it’s just best to fold a hand if you are unsure of where you stand and could lose a lot of money if you guess wrong. If you asked seasoned poker pros what some of the best decisions they’ve made in poker have been, you would be surprised to hear that it isn’t massive bluffs and crazy aggressive plays but rather folding certain hands in tough spots. Although there will be times you are wrong and had the best hand, overall that money saved from tough spots will be some of the best decisions you make.
- Unpredictability – Introducing a certain level of unpredictability is important so your opponents don’t always know what you are doing. This is called playing un-exploitable poker. Many players associate this with bluffing, but it can mean varying your starting hands and raising situations beyond what is typical.
- Set reasonable expectations – The best players in the world win 52-60% of the time, don’t set your expectations too high. Losing sessions are the norm, as long as you stay ahead of the rake and come out overall ahead that is all you need to worry about.
Although each of the ten categories deserves chapters of detailed explanation to fully implement into your game, incorporating these solid poker fundamentals will ensure you give yourself the best possible advantage when you play texas holdem for real money. They can be employed along your entire journey in poker, whatever level you play. One last piece of advice I would give would be to never downplay the power of observation. Paying close attention to your opponents as to what kinds of hands they play, how they play them, and how they react to other players is a key edge to develop in the game.
As to my friend from Facebook, he is now making his way in the real money poker world. The advice I shared gave him a foundation to build off. He really appreciated the advice of why to play online poker, how to decide where to play, bankroll management and fundamental poker strategy. He has been voraciously reading, studying and playing. He now realizes his time playing play chip poker on Zynga, while fun, was completely unlike what he faces now when playing for real money. They really are two different worlds and games. I hope your transition from play chip to texas holdem for money goes well too. I wish you much good luck and skill at the virtual tables.