A Guide to Online Poker

Poker is a major part of online casinos today, generating billions for gaming websites across the globe. Novices may find poker more appealing online, in the privacy of their own home, than at a table filled with more experienced players in a thriving brick-and-mortar casino. You can get to grips with the complex rules, develop strategies, and simply enjoy the game without feeling intimidated or pressured. In this guide, we’ll explore the history of online poker, consider how it differs from the traditional version at land-based venues, and look at various strategies you can try to better your luck.

The Beginnings of Online Poker

Online poker dates back to the late 1990s, when IRC poker was played by fans using the IRC chat protocol. This was a much more basic version of the games we enjoy today, but laid the foundations for the explosion of online poker than followed. In IRC poker, a program was created to deal hands and manage games, but no real money was used. The idea of playing poker without the chance to win money might seem off-putting to some, but it’s still possible today, as many online casinos allow you to play just for fun.

However, the first paid online poker site – Planet Poker – arrived on January 1st, 1998. While Planet Poker advanced virtual poker games further than IRC poker managed, it wasn’t until Canada’s Paradise Poker came along that things started to change. Paradise Poker enabled you to play such varied games as Seven Card Stud and Texas Hold ’em, which helped the site attract the attention of players from across the US. Over the next 10 years, the world of online poker transformed – by early 2010, around 545 online poker websites were available.

Online poker can now be played at any time, any place on mobile devices (provided you have an internet connection). Your smartphone or tablet will enable you to access some of the world’s biggest gaming websites or their apps, with online poker optimized for smaller screens. Further advancements will continue to transform the way we play poker online, not least virtual reality. VR might have been consigned to science-fiction once upon a time, but it’s now a fairly-affordable form of tech you can enjoy at home. More online casinos will embrace the power of VR, and allow you to interact with fellow players, speak with live dealers, and hold a hand of virtual cards just as you would at a real casino. It’s an incredibly exciting time, with the thrill of sitting at a poker table coming into your home with greater realism – reducing the need to actually visit a land-based casino!

How is Online Poker Different to Traditional Poker?

The most obvious difference between online and offline poker is the pace: it’s far faster. First and foremost, there’s no need to wait for a dealer to shuffle the deck, deal cards, or count chips – you can simply dive straight into the game. This makes online poker an ideal option for players who might become impatient during the game’s set-up, or have less time to spend playing poker than they might like.

Another critical difference is the lack of players all around you: at a traditional table, you’re surrounded by others with may or may not be far more experienced than you. These men and women will be able to read your expressions and body language, perhaps well enough to gain the upper hand. Online poker is a terrific way to get used to the game in a comfortable environment without having to worry about giving yourself away. This anonymity means you never really know how good or bad your fellow players are. You may well be competing with a world champion or someone who’s never even seen a poker table before.

Online poker games run on different software created by developers, with cards dealt according to a Random Number Generator (RNG), which leads to a more random outcome than hand-shuffling can allow. Encryption keeps your hand private from other players, and ensures nobody but yourself can see your cards. Creating online poker games demands that software developers put complex algorithms in place to facilitate such privacy, and must include other programs to handle such functions as the ‘rake’ (in which casinos take a small percentage of the prize pool for themselves) and payment processes. Some of the biggest developers creating online poker at casinos include BetSoft, Ash Gaming, NetEnt, and Evolution Gaming. Their work features at dozens of different online casinos, providing players with realistic visuals, smooth performance, and sound effects for an immersive gaming experience.

How Do You Play Online Poker?

Preparing to play online poker is far simpler and cheaper than visiting a brick-and-mortar casino. All you need is a computer, smartphone, or tablet, and an internet connection. Today’s online casinos are optimized enough to make mobile play smooth and fast-paced, with the convenience of playing wherever you like. Depending on the casino you choose, you may need to download software; this is less common now, as many casinos will simply let you play in your browser (or via an app). You’ll need to create an account with the site, and deposit money into your account.

You can either play video poker or live poker: the former is against the online casino’s software, the latter is with a live dealer and fellow players. Depending on your experience, you may prefer to experiment with video poker first, to help yourself acclimate to the rules. The object of online poker is to win the money contained within the pot, accumulated by the players as they place their bets. You need to make wagers on the chance that you’ll have the strongest hand, or bluff fellow players into believing you have a winning hand in the hopes that they’ll give up their cards (fold). The player with the best hand will win. You also have to know when you should fold and avoid the risk of losing any more money.

The dealer will issue cards to players around the table, and play moves around the table in a clockwise direction. Everyone is typically invited to perform one of several actions when their turn comes up, such as check, place a bet, fold, call, or raise. What does each one of these actions mean?

Check: you can check where there’s no bet at play in the present round, and checking will pass the action on clockwise to the person immediately in the hand – if every active player decides to check, the round will be viewed as complete.
Bet: you can place a bet if no one else has done so throughout the current round.
Fold: any players who decide to fold will give up their cards, and are unable to act or win again throughout the present hand.
Call: if a player wants to call, this is a challenge to the player who made the highest bet to show their hand.
Raise: any players who want to raise, they can only do so if others have placed a bet in the current round, and the person asking for the raise has to match the highest bet made so far (as well as their following bet).

In each round, betting goes on and on until each player has either decided to fold or managed to match bets; if all players want to check, this will bring the round to a close too. Once the round is complete, the next one starts (unless the entire hand is finished). More cards (visible and hidden) can be dealt after every round has ended. This affects the best hand players can make up with the cards available, and can lead to different outcomes than expected.

The game is nearing its end with the showdown. This takes place when the last raise or bet has been called, and pits the players left in the game against each other: they need to declare or show their hands. The player with the best-ranking cards will be given the pot! Players tend to show their hands in a fixed order, instead of simply laying them flat in unison. More than one player can share the prize pot, and this will be split in various ways according to the specific game’s rules and the hands’ rankings respective to each other.

This runs through far faster in online poker than in the real thing, which is a big advantage if you’re looking to try your luck over soaking up the leisurely pace found at real-world poker tables. The rules vary depending on whether you’re playing Texas Hold ’em or any of the other types; online casinos are typically generous with games’ rules, so you’ll never feel clueless about how to proceed.

Types of Poker Hands

There are multiple different hands available in poker, but they’re always made up of five cards. Even in a seven-card stud poker game, only the five strongest cards out of the seven-card hand are played. The most common winning hands you’ll come across are:

Flush: this hand features five cards of a single suit.
Straight: five consecutive cards, and any aces can be ranked high or low.
Straight flush: when players face each other in a showdown with straight flushes, the hand featuring the highest-ranking top card is named the winner.
Royal flush: this features all five of the cards in a sequence, in the same suit.
Four of a kind: everyone’s probably heard of this – it’s just four cards of the same rank.
Full house: this hand is made up of three cards of the same rank, along with two more cards of another rank.
Three of a kind: this is just three cards of the same rank.
Two pair: just as it sounds – two cards of one rank, with two of a different rank.

Online Poker Strategies

It goes without saying: you play poker to win. Just because playing online is faster and potentially less-intimidating than visiting a brick-and-mortar casino doesn’t mean you can simply leave your luck to chance. One great strategy is to start small. This sounds obvious, of course, but it’s absolutely crucial – keep your bets low and avoid getting drawn into ever-bigger wagers in your desire to win big prizes. There will be time for that as you get better and better at online poker.

Another strategy is to limit yourself to just one table to start with. While you can play at multiple tables at the same time, this is best reserved for more-experienced online poker fans, as you’ll need to be familiar with the game’s flow and your own skills. The key takeaway is not to spread yourself too thin. Become familiar with the different playing styles of online poker. Generally, these include:

Tight: this usually involves playing cautiously, only playing a few hands and avoiding risks. If you prefer to play tight, you’ll find that folding before than you’d like might be the best option.
Aggressive: these players go after the pot with all they have, placing plenty of bets and raising the stakes to test other players’ own styles.
Passive: these players are more likely to call instead of betting, allowing their opponents to take the big decisions throughout the game; passive might be the best style for newcomers unsure how to take more of an active role in the game.
Loose: if you’re a loose player, you’ll be a big risk-taker – you’ll chase big bets and throw yourself into gambling whenever you can, with little thought to the risks.

The more you play online poker, the more you’ll develop your own distinctive style of play. While there’s a great deal of skill involved (knowing when to raise, when to call etc.), online poker is largely a game of chance. Take your time, study the rules, and build your bets up steadily – don’t dive in and start upping the stakes without knowing exactly what you’re doing.