Online Poker FAQ — Beginners' Guide

Sites welcoming US players

Full Tilt Poker
Highest limits, celebrity players, $600 deposit bonus

Ultimate Bet
Aruba and Bellagio freerolls, $650 deposit bonus

Poker Stars
Best tournaments and frequent player freerolls

Absolute Poker
Weekly $150,000 freeroll


Compare all sites.

Kinds of games – play money vs. real money, ring game vs. tournament

Play money vs. real money

The poker sites have both play money and real money games. Anybody can sign up to play in the play money games. You start out with a certain number of chips that you can use in the games. If you run out, you just ask for more, though most sites limit how often you can get more play money chips. Real money games require that you deposit money with the site first. Even if you know you're interested in playing for real money, it's smart to learn the ropes with a little practice in play money games.

We talk about real money games in a later section. But the thing to keep in mind about them is that real money doesn't necessarily mean high stakes. Some of the most popular online poker games are played at the nickel and dime level, or with $1 to $5 tournament buyins.

Ring games vs. tournaments

An important distinction between different kinds of poker games is the difference between ring games and tournaments. Tournaments are further divided into single-table or multi-table, and into scheduled events or so-called "sit-and-go" events. (New player advice: We recommend that players new to online poker start out by playing in a play-money ring game just to learn the mechanics of using the poker client. Once you've warmed up and are comfortable, try moving on to some play money or freeroll tournaments.)

The term "ring game" is poker lingo for a plain old non-tournament poker game. Another name for this type of game is a "live game". A ring game is confined to a single table. In a ring game, any player can sit down at any time, buy chips, play poker and cash out at any time. Players come and go as they please sit out when they need to take a short break. The big distinction between a ring game and a tournament is the ability to stand up and cash out at any time.

In the lobby, the ring games typically are grouped separately from the tournaments. If you see a section named "Holdem" or "Omaha", these are ring games. The tournaments are clearly marked as tournaments.

The easiest way to get started is in a play money ring game. The next section guides you through the process of finding a table, sitting down, getting chips and playing poker. If you'd rather start out playing tournaments, first see our section on the anatomy of poker tournaments.

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Downloading the client and signing up Online play - the basic mechanics