While the origins of poker are still up for debate, there is no doubting the fact that poker has come an awfully long way from the smokey back room joints that it became known for during prohibition times.
Today it is a multi billion dollar industry that spans across all media, making instant stars out of its most successful players and offering life changing amounts of money to those who are drawn by the maxim that it’s the game which “takes a moment to learn and a lifetime to master.”
One of the most attractive things about the game, is that there’s a variant of poker to suit all types of players. Each type of poker game comes with its own rules, betting restrictions and strategy. Some of the most common forms of poker are as follows:
Without doubt the most popular form of poker out there. If you’ve played poker with friends or seen it on the television, the chances are that you’ve already had some experience of Texas Hold’em.
Known as “The Cadillac of Poker,” Hold’em forms the backbone of many of the world’s largest poker tournaments and relies on players using 5 community cards drawn face up in the middle of the table to complete the best poker hand.
Omaha has a very strong following in the poker community with many online poker rooms offering Omaha games on a regular basis.
The game shares many rules with Texas Hold’em although there are a few subtle differences, most notably that the player is dealt four cards at the beginning of each hand rather than just two.
An interesting variant of Omaha (named Omaha Hi-Lo) also pays out half of the pot to the player with the lowest hand meaning that players are continually competing to gain both a high value hand as well as a low value one.
With a small but loyal following, Razz poker is best known as being part of the H.O.R.S.E game (see below). However, the game is still actively played in its own right and differs from the variants of poker mentioned above in as far as no community cards are dealt up into the middle of the table.
Indeed Razz is a variety of Stud poker whereby each player is dealt seven cards and must then build the lowest valid poker hand possible to earn the chips in the middle of the table.
Seven Card Stud
One of the oldest and most traditional forms of poker out there, before Hold’em came along Seven Card Stud was the game that any serious poker player needed to prove themselves at.
Today, it is still found in a great many casinos as well as some of the largest poker tournaments and, while it may be a little more complicated to learn than Texas Hold’em, it’s still a very worthwhile poker variant to learn due to the large cash prizes on offer and the number of fish that can usually be found at Stud poker tables.
H.O.R.S.E poker is seen by many of today’s professionals as the ultimate test of your poker ability. Generally played for high stakes, H.O.R.S.E is actually eight games in one with each round of play switching to a different variant of poker in the following order:
- Seven Card Stud
- Seven Card Stud Eight or Better.
Although this type of poker can be hard to find online (at the time of writing only Pokerstars and Full Tilt offer H.O.R.S.E games), it still forms a part of many live tournaments including the WSOP where the winner of the H.O.R.S.E event is now awarded the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy in memory of one of the best H.O.R.S.E players that ever lived.
While poker has always been a hugely popular game to play live, it took the advent of the internet and one man’s display in the Word Series of Poker to turn the game into the global phenomenon that it is today.
Playing poker online is not only easy but it’s incredibly convenient. It’s no longer necessary to have to arrange a time and a date with friends if you fancy throwing a few chips around a table.
Instead, you can now just log into your favourite poker room at any time of the day or night, safe in the knowledge that you’ll be able to find a game of poker almost straight away.
And with broadband speeds increasing on a regular basis, the software offered by some of the leading poker rooms not only include ground breaking graphics, but also a large number of game features that you’d expect to find in your local casino.
The increase in internet speed has also allowed good players to sit down at multiple tables, thus increasing their hourly profitability to levels that they had only previously been able to dream of while sat in a casino.
However, it needed one man to take poker to the masses and that man proved to be Chris Moneymaker who won the WSOP Main Event in 2003.
A previous unknown, Moneymaker had won his seat in the World Series thanks to a satellite game hosted by Pokerstars costing just $39 and he walked away with the first prize worth over $2.5m.
His victory seemed to send a message to the world that any amateur poker player could get their hands on a life changing amount of money thanks to cheap qualifiers, and as a result the number of people registering for an online poker account rocketed almost over night.
Following the explosion of online poker, a large number of poker rooms opened up on the internet offering players a number of different options when it came to choosing where to sign up.
This obviously led to a large amount of competition between those poker rooms which in turn lead to the birth of the poker bonus.
Today, any poker room worth its salt will offer new players a deposit bonus as an incentive to open a new account. This bonus usually takes the form of an amount of free cash which is based upon the size of the new player’s first deposit.
For example, Full Tilt Poker offer new players a 100% match bonus worth up to $600 when they open a new account and then go on to make a deposit.
This means that Full Tilt will match the size of the player’s first deposit up to a maximum of $600.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should be signing up to a poker room and expecting $600 to be deposited into your account as soon as you do likewise. Poker rooms aren’t quite that silly.
Instead, players get their hands on their bonus by ‘earning’ it. Every time the new player takes part in a ring game or tournament for real money, they earn loyalty points. Quite how many loyalty points they earn depends on the room that they’re playing at as well as the the stakes of the game.
Some rooms will pay out your bonus as you earn your loyalty points, and some will pay out your bonus in one lump sum once a certain number of points have been earned – again this will vary from room to room.
It’s not just free cash which is used to encourage players to sign up with a poker room though. Indeed it’s not uncommon to see poker rooms offering tickets to exclusive free rolls, entry into various tournaments or even a small amount of free cash to allow players to try out the room before they make a deposit.
Online Poker Tournaments
Participating in online poker tournaments offer players incredibly good value, which is why they’ve become so popular over recent years. Players are able to buy in for a reasonably small amount of money and walk away hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.
These days, it’s not unusual to log into a poker room and find a wide range of different tournament options designed to cater for all tastes. The more common types of tournament are as follows:
Muti Table Tournaments
As the name suggests, Multi Table tournaments (MTT’s) cater for the largest number of players. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some of the largest poker rooms to set up tournaments involving several hundred tables, each with 10 players sat around them.
Due to the fact that each of these players will have paid to play in the tournaments, it’s not suprising that MTT’s also offer the largest prize money with all those players reaching a certain part of the tournament being awarded a percentage of the overall pot.
MTT’s are very popular with regular poker players, and as such finding a poker room with a good MTT schedule should be treated as a priority.
Occasionally known as ‘Add-Ons’, Re-Buy Tournaments allow players to buy additional chips once they have lost their original stack. Effectively, they’re allowed to buy back into the game once they’ve been knocked out.
The amount of time players are allowed to re-buy chips is limited (and is usually set to to the first hour of play), after which point any player being eliminated from the game is asked to leave the table for good.
Due to the extra amount of chips which have been purchased, Re-Buy tournaments generally have very large cash prizes and offer players some excellent value – especially if they can stay at the table for a while without needing to purchase additional chips.
Sit N Go Tournaments
Sit N Go (SNG) tournaments are a great way of ensuring that poker players can find a tournament to play in at any time of the day or night.
SNG’s usually only cater for up to 10 players and they have no official start time. Instead, the action kicks off once the table has filled up meaning that, at the busiest sites, SNG players rarely have to wait longer than a minute or so before the tournament gets underway.
Once play has started, the format of an SNG is identical to an MTT with the top players sharing a percentage of the overall prize pot.
If you’re looking for good value when playing poker, then freerolls are as good as it gets.
With no entry fee, freerolls allow you to play a poker tournament at no expense to yourself while still giving yourself the chance to win a cash prize at the end of it.
The size of the prizes on offer aren’t nearly as big as you’ll find in MTT’s – they range from as little as $50 up to around about $1,000 – but if you’re looking for affordable tournament action, then you need look no further.
Freerolls also offer players a great way to develop their game or try out new strategies without risking their bankroll, although a result of this is that freeroll poker tournaments tend to be much more aggressive than any other tournaments you’ll play in.
This is because your opponents haven’t invested any of their bankroll in the action, and therefore have literally nothing to lose when it comes to playing their hands.
Many of the large online and offline tournaments come with a buy in fee of several hundred (or even thousand) dollars – that’s a lot of money for the average amateur poker player to wager on one tournament.
However, rather than excluding them from the big prizes all together, many poker rooms offer a satellite structure which allows players to get involved in a number of qualifying rounds prior to the main event.
The cost of entering these satellites are usually only a few dollars meaning that those players who successfully negotiate their way through these qualifiers are able to take their shot at big prize money for a tiny percentage of what they would normally have paid.
The best example of a player qualifying for a major event via a satellite is Chris Moneymaker who won his seat at the 2003 WSOP thanks to a qualifier on Pokerstars costing just $39 (as opposed to the standard WSOP buy in of $10,000) and then went on to win the main event, taking home a cheque for $2.5m.
Bounties are the newest type of tournament structure to be introduced to online poker. While they are generally seen as a more light hearted way to play the game, Bounties have developed a loyal following and offer players a great chance to pick up some serious cash just by winning a single hand.
At the start of a bounty tournament a particular player (or players) are nominated as targets and have a price put on their head. The aim of the tournament is to eliminate these targets and each player that succeeds in doing this earns themselves the bounty that was placed on their target’s head.
The size of the bounty depends on the room that you’re playing at, but to give you some idea of the sort of cash available from these kind of tournaments, Doyles Room pays $500 for the first target you knock out and $10,000 if you manage to knock out three.
If you’re going to get involved in a Bounty Tournament though, you should expect the action to get crazy when one of the targets decides to throw all of their chips in to the middle of the table. This is because most players will decide that playing junk and hoping that they get lucky on the flop is a risk worth taking, given the prize money on offer.
Biggest Online Poker Tournaments
If you’re looking to play for the big prizes, then you’ll definitely want to check out the following three tourneys which are as big as it gets:
Pokerstars Sunday Million
Run by the world’s largest poker site, the Sunday Million is the biggest and most prestigious weekly tournament out there.
The action kicks off every Sunday at 16.30ET and draws thousands of players from around the world, all hoping to claim their share of a guaranteed prize pool of $1.5m.
With a buy in of $200 + $15, the overall winner is guaranteed a cash prize of at least $150,000, although this may increase depending on how many entries the tournament has attracted.
The biggest poker tournament held online with no exceptions. The Pokerstars World Championship of Online Poker is run on an annual basis and starts every September.
The 2010 event smashed all previous records when 62 different events paid out a total of $63,157,150 in prize money making it the richest WCOOP of all time.
Full Tilt FTOPS
Since its launch in 2006, Full Tilt’s Online Poker Series has gone from strength to strength.
It’s now the second largest online poker tournament in the world (behind the WCOOP) and paid out over $17m in February 2010 – the largest amount of prize money given away since its inauguration.
The FTOPS comprises of a number of different tournaments spanning across the poker spectrum and plenty of satellite tournaments to ensure that even those with a small bankroll have a shot at winning some serious prize money.
Live Poker Tournaments
For all the excitement involved in a big online poker tournament, sometimes you just can’t beat the thrill of live poker action.
Today, Tournament poker has expanded rapidly around the world with prize pools often exceeding tens of millions of dollars meaning that there has never been a better time to fly to some of the most exotic locations on earth to play poker.
World Series of Poker
The WSOP is the largest poker tournament in the world, and the one that everyone wants to play in. Every year, the poker community flies out to Vegas to compete for over 50 different titles in a tournament that simply has something for everyone.
The event that gets the most headlines is the No-Limit Hold’em Championship (or ‘Main Event’ as it’s more commonly known). With each player needing to pay $10k for their seat, this is the richest poker tournament in the world and has made instant stars out of those players luckily enough to get their hands on the winners bracelet.
Jamie Gold’s victory in 2006, was the largest payout ever made at a poker tournament ($12,000,000) while 2010’s victor, Jonathan Duhamel, walked away with just under $9,000,000.
Since the WSOP first ran in 1971, only two players have won the main event three times (Stu Ungar and Johnny Moss). Phil Helmuth still holds the records for most WSOP bracelets won (11), most WSOP cashes (78) and most WSOP final tables (42).
Joe Cada is the youngest player to win the main event, aged just 21 when he walked away with the 2009 title and tournament winnings worth over $8,500,000.
Qualify for the WSOP
Every major poker room out there will offer qualifying tournaments for the WSOP meaning that players can claim their seat in Vegas for a fraction of the price that it will cost the majority of the players there.
Each room will have a varying number of seats to give away, but it’s generally accepted that Pokerstars and Full Tilt offer the most places to amateur players.
In fact Pokerstars players have a very good history in the tournament with the world’s largest poker room providing the winner of the Main Event five times between 2003 and 2010.
Held every year at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, the Aussie Millions is fast becoming one of the most popular events on the world tour.
Having launched in 1998, It is already the largest poker tournament to be held in the Southern Hemisphere by some way with a guaranteed prize pool which is widely accepted to be more than AU$7m every year.
2010 saw more than 2,500 drawn to the event from around the world and that figure is expected to be surpassed when the event is next held in July 2011.
Previous winners of the Aussie Millions Main Event include Gus Hansen (2007) and more recently Tyron Krost (2010), who took home a cheque for $2,000,000.
Aussie Millions Qualifiers
As with WSOP, any major poker room should be offering qualifiers and satellites to the Aussie Millions. The standard buy in for this event is usually $10,000 but by winning a seat through a qualifier, amateur players can be assured of their place in Melbourne for a fraction of that cost.
Pokerstars and Full Tilt are widely accepted to be the rooms that award the most seats to their players.
Poker in the US
If you’re a poker player living in the US, you probably don’t need to be told that it can be slightly tricking trying to find a game for you to play in.
The number of sites accepting US players has dropped rather significantly over the last few years and it is now becoming difficult to find rooms that accept US payments as well as offering you a high level of customer service.
The main reason for these problems is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (or UIGEA for short) which was passed as law in 2006.
There is an often repeated misconception that the UIGEA bill made gambling illegal in the US. This is not true – the bill does not include any documentation outlawing online poker.
Instead, the principal aim of this bill was to make it extremely difficult for gamblers to deposit any money into a gambling account by enforcing banks (or other financial institutions) to decline any transactions that they could identify as being related to a gambling website.
As you can imagine, this isn’t a hugely easy thing for the banks to enforce – especially as many online poker sites use third parties to process deposits and withdrawals.
As a result this move wasn’t hugely popular with US financial establishments who are being asked to spend a lot of time and money trying to enforce the UIGEA and some experts are claiming that banks have flatly refused to monitor every single transaction that comes their way, which may well force further amendments to the bill.
At the time of writing though, many poker transactions are still being refused by US banks meaning that it can often be very hard for American poker players to deposit or withdraw playing funds.
So why is it illegal to play poker in some US states?
As mentioned above, the UIGEA bill did not make it illegal to play poker in the United States. However, following the passing of the bill, various US states took matters into their own hands and took things one stage further by banning all online poker from being played within their state borders.
At the time of writing, the following states have completely outlawed online poker:
- New Jersey
- New York
- South Dakota
Why are some sites still allowed to accept US players?
As you can see from our list of US Friendly poker sites, there are still a number of rooms out there which allow players from the US to deposit and withdraw poker funds.
These are sites that have taken a calculated risk that legislation won’t go any further and ban online poker completely.
The companies that have withdrawn from the US are generally large public companies (who have a responsibility to a number of share holders regarding the value of the organisation), or small poker rooms that have decided that the cost of maintaining and advertising to an unstable US market is too much of a risk.
The exception to both these rules are the likes of Pokerstars and Full Tilt who are both large, private companies that have the funds to compete in the US market.