Returning to basics and playing at the lowest limits is one of the best ways to learn real-money poker.

Returning to basics and playing at the lowest limits is one of the best ways to learn real-money poker.

For those of you who have been playing poker for years, you may scoff at a page about real-money poker. But think back to when you first started playing online for real money. While the underlying game of poker remains the same, there are things about online play that are different than live play.

Keep reading to learn more about real-money online poker, including a great way to get started.

The Difference Between Real-Money Poker and Free Poker

Of course the obvious difference is that when you play poker for real money you are risking your own money. You may have thought that I should have continued that sentence with something about the chance to win real money, but there are ways to play online poker for free with the opportunity to win real money.



Many online poker rooms offer freeroll tournaments that are free to enter but have real money prizes for the top finishers. These tournaments are rarely a good use of your time, as even an average poker player at the lowest real money levels will win more per hour than you ever will with freerolls.

The main reason for this is a common freeroll may pay out $50 spread out over the top 20 finishers and have well over 1,000 entrants. The top prize may be $10 or $20 and you may have to play for 5 or more hours to get there.

There is nothing wrong with playing freerolls, especially if you don’t have any other way to fund an initial bankroll, but when you can build one another way you are probably better off.

Level of play

The real difference between free poker and real-money poker is the way your opponents play. Just like real money poker, you can play free poker in tournaments and in ring game format. The winning strategy for each has many things in common, but there are subtle differences.

As a general rule, as you progress to higher buy-in levels for ring games and more competitive tournaments, the play of your opponents improves and you have to make adjustments to your play in order to remain a winning player.

Using this logic, you would think that the play at the free-money tables would be pretty poor. You have no idea how bad it can be until you have actually played a few hours at the free tables. The play is so bad that I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it at all.


When to use play-money tables

I do suggest always playing a few minutes at the free tables when you start playing at a new poker room and/or on a new poker software platform. This is solely for the purpose of familiarizing yourself with the software, table layout and controls before making a deposit. The play is so bad that it can actually stunt your growth as a long term winning poker player.

Here are just a few of the plays that you will see at the free money tables that will rarely if ever happen even at the lowest levels of real money play.

  • Players pushing all in pre-flop with hands as poor as J-10s or 2-2
  • Players calling your large bets or all ins with nothing but small pairs or even ace high
  • 8 or more players seeing almost every flop when one of them doesn’t push all in
  • 3 or more players calling a pre-flop all in
  • Four or more players seeing the river and finishing the hand

The majority of players at the free money tables have no interest in improving or learning how to actually have a chance to win. You will see some funny plays at the micro-limits of real-money play, but it is a much better place to learn how to improve your game than the free tables.


A Real-Money Poker Plan for New Players

Every real money poker player had to start somewhere. If you have been playing freerolls or at the free money ring game tables and are ready to start playing for real money or are ready to move from live play to online play, here is a simple and safe way to get started without risking much money until you are comfortable.

Where do you want to play?

The first thing to do is decide where you want to play. Read online reviews, scour the little-trafficked About pages, and investigate a poker room’s history.

I recommend starting with a bankroll of $25 to $100. There is nothing wrong with depositing more, depending on the available bonus and your financial situation, but remember this is a short guide generally designed for newer players.

$25 is a good place to start because it is a low enough amount that just about anyone that plays poker can put their hands on and it is plenty to start playing at the micro limit tables.

Start small

Micro-limit tables are the ones with betting limits in the cents or pennies range. For example a .05/.10 limit game or a .02/.04 no limit game. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that playing for pennies is below you if you have never played online.

There is a definite transition period from real money live play to real money online play. If you are a winning live game player then you shouldn’t have much trouble becoming a winning online player, but the game is a little different online at first. The biggest mistake I see new online players make over and over is jumping into a game at a higher limit than they should.


Find the smallest real-money tables

Once you deposit your starting stake, pick the lowest limit that your poker room has available for your chosen game. If you are a limit player find the lowest limit game, even if it is .01/.02. If you play no limit Texas holdem, pick the lowest no limit game. I do suggest buying in for the max amount, which is generally 100 times the big blind. So a .02/.04 no limit game may have a maximum buy in of $4.

Play at this lowest level until you have at least doubled your initial deposit. This may seem like it is a waste of time, but the second most important thing to do as a professional poker player behind play at a winning level is protecting your bankroll. With no bankroll you can’t play, even if you are an overall winning player.

As you double your bankroll, move up to the next level of play and keep at it until you have doubled your bankroll again. Continue moving up until you find your most profitable level of play. The most profitable level is not always the highest level available. There are plenty of players who can win pretty consistently at the micro stakes who will never win consistently at the higher levels.


Recommended Poker Rooms for Real Money Play

Here are my current top poker rooms to get started. They all accept players from around the world, including the United States, and have been operating from several years to over a decade in Bovada’s case.


With excellent credit card deposit success rates, BetOnline offers a solid reputation in the industry stemming from their years of accepting sports betting action. When they entered the poker market they instantly became a leader for US players.


Bovada Poker is the US-facing arm of the all-in-one online gaming empire. They have the largest pool of players in the United States market and a minimum deposit of only $20. Bovada makes payouts back to players in days, not weeks.