Touring an Online Poker
While all online poker rooms have their own unique characteristics, such as games offered, table limits and so forth, their basic a design or “floor plan” incorporates some common features.
Lobby: The lobby is the starting point in an online poker room. It is, in essence, a glorified map of the entire site providing the links to the tables, cashier, news and events, rules—whatever is active on the site.
Tables: There will, of course, always be a section that lists the various games you can play. Some online poker rooms use a drop screen to walk you to your selected room, while others have each link displayed openly in the lobby. No matter which version or style the site uses, each table or game format will be displayed in its own section. Ring games, that is, non-tournament cash games, will listed according to game and limit; tournaments will be listed according to their game, format (single table, multi-table) and further divided by buy-in or event; and free games will be separated from the cash tables, again divided according to the type of game, format and “buy-in.”
Information: If you’re curious about the site, want to know the basic rules for each game or want to see what special events are coming up—like a satellite to the World Series of Poker or a World Poker Tour event—visit their information section. Here you’ll find the latest happening and information about how to get involved, basic rules and betting structures, and sometimes even strategy tips from professional poker players.
Promotions: Since comps and other player incentives are such a draw, every site has some sort of promotional page that details everything they have to offer players. Once you become a member, be sure to check this section regularly to see what new incentives they have to offer returning players.
Cashier: What kind of a poker room would it be if there were no place to buy chips? Each site has it’s own banking section or cashier where players can go to deposit or withdraw funds.
From the general, we move to the specific and look closely at some of the most important features you’ll want in your poker room. If you don’t already play online and are looking for the best room to try, these are the criteria you’ll need to keep an eye out for.
What defines a good online poker room?
Just as there are key facets indicative of a great online casino, quality online poker rooms have specific features that can help you to determine if the room is worthy of your attention or simply a “Johnny-come-lately” looking to take a share of the $200 million poker bonanza. Here’s what to look for when selecting an online poker room.
Games, games and more games
Although the game of choice for right now is Texas Hold ‘em, you might want to try and find a site that has pushed past that singular craze to offer a selection of other not-so-trendy poker classics such as Five Card Stud, Seven Card Stud, Omaha, Omaha 8/B,
Triple Draw, Crazy Pineapple, and Five Card Draw. Also, wherever possible you’ll want the choice of selecting from limit, pot limit, and no limit games, as well as ring, single table, heads-up (limited to two opponents) and multi-table tournaments both with and without re-buy (purchasing more chips during play) options.
In addition to wanting a solid selection of games and game formats (i.e., single table, multi-table, limit, no limit, etc.,) the ideal site must also have an ample stable of players accessing the site around the clock. Why do you want to have so many players constantly streaming in? Because there’s nothing worse than having the itch to sit down at a table and start playing only find a room full of empty chairs.
The curse of many new poker sites is that they often lack a large enough membership to allow for continuous play. You may have to sit and wait for quite some time—possibly even hours—just to have enough players to begin certain single table tournaments, while in established rooms with 20,000-50,000+ members the seats fill up quickly.
A Wide Range of Limits
Poker rooms differ in the betting limits, and it’s important to be able to play in a room that offers the widest possible range—something like $0.02/$0.04 to $100/$200. The reason you want a large gap in limit structure—especially for you new players—is to be able to accurately adjust your game according to your bankroll and skill level.
Although there is some debate as to the appropriate bankroll for an online poker player, as a rule of thumb solid players want something on the order of 200 to 300 times the value of the big blind. That means that if you want to play comfortable at a $2/$4 table you’ll need a bankroll somewhere between $800 and $1,200. As you go along, you make adjustments to your table limit based on your bankroll and success at a particular level.
So if you’re playing—and losing—at a $1/$2 table, you might want to drop a level or two to recoup some loses and enter a game that’ll suit you better. That’s why it’s always good to be in a room that offers the widest range of table limits.
Of course free cash is always a very nice feature that can make a big difference in your bankroll and ultimately your sustainability at the tables. Ideally, whichever poker site you select should offer a combination of incentives to help keep your bankroll healthy throughout your play. Standard comps include a new player bonus (initial deposit bonus), VIP points (also called “Frequent Player Points” in some sites), and monthly deposit bonuses (these are sometimes announced sporadically on sites).
As you examine each site, make a note of what comps are given out, how often you’re entitled to them, and the rules regarding their usage and availability. Also, create a checklist and compare the comp options from site to site, to see which ones are currently offering the most lucrative rewards. Don’t forget to take into consideration your probable play frequency as this can drastically affect the value of your comps over time. For example, let’s suppose that site X offers a 100% deposit bonus, but no additional comps, or re-load cash for returning players. Site Y, on the other hand, offers a 40% deposit bonus followed by an additional 20% re-load bonus every month. Assuming you were to deposit an additional $200 each month, which site do you think offers the more lucrative program in the long run? Take a look.
In the end players who chose site Y are earning substantially more comps than players who went for a much larger new player bonus. However, if you do not plan to stick around for too long and are only looking to get your feet wet online, site X with its 100% bonus would be the better option.
Multiple Banking Options
A quality poker room provides ample banking options designed to suit a wide range of player preferences. If you hate to wait for your money to reach your poker account, make sure that the site offers at least one option that provides immediate funding.
A Dedicated Support Team
Because problems can happen at any time—the server might be down during a crucial stage in a tournament, or your bankroll shows less than what you deposited—you’re going to want to be able to secure help in a moment’s notice. The best sites offer numerous contact options that include live chat with a room host, 24/7 toll-free telephone numbers and multiple e-mail addresses.
Despite the technical advances, online poker rooms are not completely accurate representations of traditional poker rooms. You don’t see live images of your opponents, can’t read their faces or watch them intently for any sign of physical tells. You’re staring at a screen full of avatars (simulated player images) placed to represent who’s sitting at the table. These images vary from site to site, some appearing as nothing more than bland placeholders, while in others they border on the cartoonish.
To make your play as enjoyable as possible, opt for the sites that support the best games with as realistic software are you can find. This will help to better recreate the poker setting, adding an increased level of entertainment and comfort to the experience.
When making your decision about which room to frequent, be sure to take into account any unique features a site offers. For example, if you’re new to the game you might like access to a strategy library where you can learn all of the subtle nuances of the game. If your dream is to become a poker legend, you might want to factor in the availability of satellites to major terrestrial poker events such as with the World Poker Tour or the granddaddy of ‘em all, the World Series of Poker.
Online poker rooms all offer their own mix of each of these features, so be sure to note which elements are most important to you when selecting a site. To give you some idea regarding the different combinations of factors you’ll come across, here’s a little breakdown of noteworthy features from several prominent online rooms.
Hold ‘em, Omaha, Five Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Single table, multi-table, sit & go rounder, freeroll Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, NETeller, Firepay, Citadel, Click2Pay, PaySpark 40% initial deposit bonus worth up to $100.00 “Magi Hand” jackpot of $2,500 awarded every four million hands dealt.
Hold ‘em, Double Flop Hold ‘em, Omaha, Omaha 8/Better, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud 8/Better, Crazy Pineapple, Triple Draw A-5, Triple Draw 2-7 Single table, multi-table, direct entry satellites, re-buy, freeroll Visa, Mastercard, NETeller, Firepay, Citadel 40% Initial deposit bonus worth up to $200 Offers extensive archive of general poker and strategy articles
Hold ‘em, Omaha High, Omaha Hi/Lo, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo Single table, multi-table, heads-up Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, NETeller, Bank draft 25% Deposit bonus worth up to $100 Special “Showdown Survivor” bonus worth up to $200
At the Tables: Online Poker Tournaments
For many poker players, there’s nothing more inherently thrilling then playing in a tournament—especially if it’s one of the major events, such as the annual World Series of Poker.
Players in search of this level of action need not avoid the online rooms. Quite the contrary. Most of the major online poker sites now offer a host of tournament options designed for players whose ultimate goal isn’t just to make a little bit of money, but rather to earn a coveted place in the annals of poker.
Some rooms run their own major events. These can be anything from a $250,000 weekly tournament, to a monthly million dollar guaranteed event that attracts even the poker pros. The biggest online tournament to date is Poker Stars’ ultra-successful World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP). Since about 2002, the WCOOP has been the event for the online poker player, similar in nature to the land-based player’s World Series of Poker, with weeks of tournament events taking place across a variety of poker disciplines, and culminating in one multi-million dollar tournament and one ultimate champion. Here’s a breakdown of the typical poker bill o’ fare at the WCOOP.
In addition to hosting their own major online tournaments, most established poker rooms also offer online players a shot at poker stardom through satellites. A satellite is a small, inexpensive tournament where players can win their way into the larger, more expensive (and potentially lucrative) events without having to risk the high entry fees—which can easily run thousands of dollars.
There are basically two satellite formats: traditional card room satellites and online poker room satellites. With a traditional casino satellite, players compete against one another in a low-cost tournament played on specific dates in a land-based poker room.
The winner (or winners) of this type of tournament gain entry into one of the major tournaments, such as a World Poker Tour event. Just like their land-based counterparts, online poker rooms satellites afford winners the luxury of a free seat in a major poker event; however, these satellites are played online at a designated poker room.
Deciding what type of satellite is right for you has several important elements that need to be considered. For example, is the land-based casino that’s hosting the tournament easily accessible? After all, the total cost of travel and accommodations may make visiting a casino resort prohibitive despite the minimal entry fee of the satellite.
Another key element in choosing a satellite format is individual skill level. Once again, the added travel expense does not warrant such an excursion from novice and mid-level players who stand at best only a slight-to-moderate chance for success. While all players dream of hitting the cards just right and walking away with a windfall, given the number of rounds and skilled participants it is highly unlikely that any novice would even come close to reaching the final table.
Considering these factors, it behooves all but the most skilled and seasoned poker tournament veterans to work through as many single table, low-cost and no-cost multi-table tournaments online first, and work up to the larger, in-person events. Only after reaching a certain level of experience should these types of tournaments be considered.
Other Online tournaments
While earning a seat in one of the big games may be every poker player’s dream, not every player is up to the task. If you’re one of the vast majority whose skills are questionable, there are several other types of online poker tournament formats that are not only inexpensive, but can also help you to hone your skills and maybe even earn you a couple of bucks.
Single Table Tournaments
Single table tournaments typically involve 10 competitors, each of whom pays a specified amount of money into a prize pool as well as a small entry fee. For example if you were playing a $30/$3 No Limit Texas Hold ‘em tournament the prize pool is $300. The top three players in each tournament receives a percentage of the total prize pool, typically, according to the following schedule:
1st place 50%
2nd place 30%
3rd place 20%
Multiple Table Tournaments
Unlike single table events that allow only a very limited number of players per game, multi-table tournaments are generally “open ended” in terms of the number of people that can register. While this means that individual players have a larger number of opponents to overcome, it also means that the prize pool can get very large, even for low buy-in tournaments. For example, its not uncommon for a $20 multi-table tournament to offer a first prize of several thousand dollars, with players finishing as high as 70th taking home $30 or $40 for their troubles.
Free Online Poker Tournaments
In addition to single and multi-table events, most online poker rooms also offer free games and tournaments that can help players to better develop their skills and practice proper poker strategy. These free tournaments follow exactly the same structure as the real money tournaments, and can afford novice players a chance to compete and learn a little something without risking any money. Be warned, however, that free tables and free tournaments won’t yield quite the same experience that you’d get from a tournament where you have to pay to get in. The reason is because many players don’t take the game seriously and make ridiculous plays that they’d probably never do in a real game setting.
While it’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of what Internet poker is all about, knowing how to select a site and pick a tournament will only get you so far.
Touring an Online Poker.