Poker Site Software Explained
The software a poker site uses will have a significant impact on your overall playing experience. In fact, many seasoned online players would say that the software is the single most important aspect of a site. It's certainly something that we look at very closely when we're ranking poker sites and it's a critical component of how they actually work.
Most players are probably not too concerned about the inner workings of poker sites and the software they use. If everything works as it should and they have a good experience, then they're satisfied because that's what they truly care about. That's a perfectly reasonable view to have and it's unnecessary to fully understand how poker sites work to enjoy playing at them.
However, the basic mechanics of the software are relatively straightforward, so there's no harm in learning a little more about them. We provide a simple explanation of how it all works below and we look at the various types of software that poker sites use. We also provide some additional information on online poker networks.
Basic Poker Site Software Mechanics
The software used by a poker site sits on a central server and communicates with the computers (or other devices) of all the players that are logged in to that site. It keeps track of all the cash games and tournaments running and displays the relevant details so players can see which games are available for them to join.
When a player goes ahead and joins a game, the software displays a graphical representation of the table on their screen. All associated details will also be displayed, such as who their opponents are followed by their chip counts. All players should be seeing the same screen as their opponents, until after their virtual cards have been dealt and displayed on the screen, as then each player will only be able to see their own cards. When community cards are dealt, in games such as Texas Hold'em for example, they are displayed in the center of the table for everyone to see.
Cards are dealt randomly, as if from a shuffled deck. The randomness of these cards is assured by the use of random number generators (RNGs), which are programs worked into the poker site software. These programs are constantly producing random sequences of numbers and the software converts one of these sequences into a specific card every time a card needs to be dealt.
It's the RNGs used by poker sites which ensure games are fair. There's no discernible pattern to the order in which the cards are dealt and the sites don't influence the cards in any way. RNGs are also used by online casinos to provide fair games and we've explained how they work in more detail in our casino section. You can read the relevant article here.
In addition to dealing the cards and displaying all the action, the software used by poker sites effectively operates the games. It prompts each player to act when it's their turn, usually by displaying a range of buttons to depict their options.
The player must click on the relevant button to choose their action and then that information will be sent back to the server. The server then processes the action and updates the game accordingly. If a player folds for example, the other players will see that players cards be removed from the table. If a player makes a bet, then the other players will see that bet.
The software also keeps count of how many chips each player has and how many chips are in the pot at any given time. It determines who wins each hand, according to the rules of the game, and distributes the relevant chips to the winners.
This is a fairly elementary explanation of what poker site software does, but we hope it gives you a better idea of how it all works.
Downloadable Software vs Instant Play & Mobile
The early poker sites all required you to download software in order to play their games. This trend continued for several years and it's still the only option at many sites today. However, nowadays many sites also have alternatives available as well. A number of them offer software that can be accessed directly through your web browser and some sites have even developed applications that can be used from mobile devices.
Downloadable software still offers the best overall experience in our view, for a few reasons, but the instant play software and mobile software also have their own advantages. Let's take a look at each one of these options in more detail.
Downloadable Poker Software
This is still the number one choice for most poker players and it's available at the vast majority of sites. There are several reasons for its continued popularity, including the following.
- Higher Quality Graphics
- More Stability
- Better Functionality
- Additional Features
- More Games & Players
The graphics don't necessarily affect the usability of a poker site, but they do make a big difference to your overall playing experience. It's also worth noting that some players play for long sessions and poor graphics can really hurt the eyes after a while. High quality graphics are therefore very important and the graphics are usually better in downloadable software than in any of the other alternatives.
Stability is also vital for a good online poker experience. Playing the game can be frustrating enough at times, particularly during a run of bad luck, without the additional frustration of software that keeps crashing or freezing. This was especially a problem at the majority of sites during the early days of online poker, but it's a very rare problem with the more advanced downloadable software used these days. It can still be an issue with some of the instant play and mobile software though.
Downloadable software tends to be noticeably more functional and easier to use than the alternatives, which is obviously appealing to players. It also usually has far more in the way of additional features, and many players are used to having these readily available to them. Special features such as player notes, instant hand histories, customizable avatars and tables, multi-tabling options, and even the chat rooms aren't nearly as widely available with the instant software and mobile applications.
The final reason why downloadable software is still ahead of the others is almost certain to affect the most players. The selection of available games and the number of potential opponents are both currently far more impressive than the alternatives. This will probably change over time but for now it's a very good reason for why you should download the software from poker sites.
Instant Play Software
An increasing number of sites offer this option and it's proving to be fairly popular. There's nothing to download; you simply log in to the site and access the software directly through your web browser.
Instant play is a great option for those who might have compatibility issues with a downloadable poker client. Some of these clients are made to work specifically with Windows based PCs, so those with alternative operating systems or other devices (such as Apple Macs) may not be able to use them. You won't run into this problem with instant play software, as it's generally compatible with a wide range of operating systems and devices and it's typically powered by using Adobe Flash.
The instant play software used by poker sites is typically a scaled down version of their download equivalent. There'll usually be less features, lower quality graphics, and there may not be the same selection of games available. Overall, though, it works in pretty much the same way.
Mobile Poker Apps
Mobile poker applications are now available from several poker sites. Like the instant play option, they tend to be scaled down versions of downloadable software with a smaller selection of games. They are perfectly usable and are great for when you want to play a quick game while out of the house. The apps are generally compatible with a wide range of smart phones and tablets.
Gambling and betting from mobile devices is becoming increasingly popular and it's something that looks set to expand rapidly over the next few years. You can expect to see much better quality poker apps developed in the future and many more people subsequently start using them.
Online Poker Networks
Online poker networks are essentially groups of sites which all share the same software. This software is typically provided by a third party developer, who also manages the network. Each site on a network will customize the look of the software to match their own brand, but the software will work in exactly the same way at all of the sites.
The idea of a network is that it increases what is known as "player liquidity." This term basically refers to the amount of players at the tables. The way networks work is that players from each of the sites on the network all have access to the same games, which are all powered by the network software. This generally results in far busier tables than at standalone sites, where players are playing only against players from the same site.
We have a whole section dedicated to online poker networks on GamblingSites.org. In this section, we explain in more detail how they work and we also provide information on all the leading networks and the sites that are associated with them.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: September 2015
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