If you’re trying to find an online poker site to join, this is the page for you. We’ve compiled a list of the best cardrooms on the Internet, ranked them, and listed them here. These are the websites we recommend when our personal friends or family members ask us where they should play poker games on the Web.
When choosing which cardrooms qualify as the “best online poker sites”, we paid particular attention to safety and trust. How the player interface works, the games available, and the level of competition also played a role in our rankings.
Of course, you shouldn’t just blindly follow recommendations from strangers online, either. Here’s some background about us:
We have a combined 20+ years’ experience with online gambling.
All of us play Texas holdem and other poker games.
We have experience on both sides of the business, as both players and as marketers.
A Quick Online Poker History Lesson and How It Affects U.S. Players
The online poker boom was fun while it lasted, but the legal implications caused significant changes in where you can play from the United States. At one time, Party Poker was the #1 choice in the USA, but they left the market in 2006 to focus on international poker.
PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and Ultimate Bet wasted no time trying to fill Party’s shoes. They were all forced to leave the U.S. market, too, in 2011. Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet both shut down completely. PokerStars acquired Full Tilt Poker and renewed their commitment to poker throughout the world, sans the United States.
What’s left for real money online Texas holdem players in the USA?
That’s what the rest of this page covers.
Choosing the Right Online Poker Site
You want to choose an online poker site that’s going to provide you with a great customer experience. How do we define that in terms of Internet poker?
A great customer experience means being able to play the poker games you want. This includes more than just Texas holdem for many players.
A great customer experience means being able to deposit and withdraw your funds quickly and easily. The sites we list have been vetted for customer-friendly banking options.
A great customer experience means being able to enjoy the interface. Clunky, outdated software won’t do.
Even though a lot of poker sites have left the United States market, you’ll still find a bewildering number of choices. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to your options. We’re confident you’ll be satisfied with almost every aspect of the player experience at all the sites we’ve listed.
Top Online Poker Sites by Category
Different poker players have different needs. If you’re looking for a 5-card stud game, an online cardroom which only offers Texas holdem and Omaha is a bad choice — even if it scores well among all our other criteria. When you’re shopping around, keep in mind what preferences you have.
In fact, we recommend putting together a list of what you’re looking for from a poker room.
Are you just looking for low-stakes Texas holdem games?
Do you want to play in a lot of freerolls?
Are you a sit-n-go specialist?
Do you also want to be able to bet on sports or play casino games some of the time?
Are you going to be playing primarily from a mobile device?
Here are some of the categories we use when ranking online poker sites:
A Guide to Getting Started With an Online Poker Site
You shouldn’t just blindly follow our recommendations or anyone else’s. You should do your own due diligence and read thoroughly and skeptically. Keep in mind that many information portals (ours included) have a financial interest in making these recommendations.
You’ll find that some sites are credible when recommending online poker sites, and others are not. Pay attention to the writing style on these sites. If you see a lot of exclamation points and many positive claims about every recommendation, use extra caution.
Legitimate recommendations and reviews include advantages and drawbacks, pros and cons, the good and the bad. That’s what you’ll find on our site. We’re in business to make money, sure, but we’re not after the quick buck.
We want our customers to love the information we provide so much that we become an indispensable part of their decision-making process. We want you to bookmark our site. We want you to feel like you can come to us for the latest, most relevant information.
The first piece of advice we offer to beginners is to try the software for free with the play-money games before making a deposit. After all, if you hate the software interface, you’re just going to have to deal with the hassle of getting your money back out.
The second piece of advice we offer to beginners is to start your real-money play at stakes lower than you might normally play. You can always go up in stakes later, but get used to the interface and get comfortable with the site before playing for big money there.
The third big piece of advice we offer to beginners is to shop around. Read the reviews we offer for the various sites that are available. Try playing at different sites to see which ones you like best.
Our Ranking Criteria
When we’re ranking and reviewing online poker sites, we look at specific criteria. Some of this stuff is obvious. If an online poker room has a reputation for making it hard to cash out, we’re obviously going to recommend playing elsewhere.
Below we’ve listed some of the criteria we consider. We address each of these individually in our specific poker sites reviews:
Deposit and Withdrawal Options
Safety and Security
Reputation and History
Competition Levels and Fair Games
Signup Bonuses and Reward Programs
Withdrawal Speed and Ease
Bad Beat Jackpots
Sound and Graphics
Deposit and Withdrawal Options
If you live in the United States, the options for making deposits and withdrawals might seem limited. A lot of this has to do with UIGEA (The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). This is a law which makes it a crime to facilitate the transfer of funds for purposes of illegal gambling on the Internet.
This is not to say that it’s illegal to play poker online for real money everywhere in the United States. The only federal law that applies to the legality of online gambling is probably The Wire Act, which pertains to sports betting. It’s arguable that poker doesn’t fit the definition of betting on a sport.
But state laws vary. In some states, it’s clearly illegal to play Texas holdem on the Web for money. We leave it to our readers to educate themselves about the latest laws and encourage them to stay within the bounds.
At the same time, we’d be lying if we didn’t have an opinion about the risk involved in playing poker online for money. As far as we know, NO ONE has ever been arrested, indicted, or prosecuted for playing Texas holdem online. We think the legal risk is minimal, but keep in mind, we don’t claim to be lawyers, either.
So if you’re from the United States, you’re probably going to need to use a credit card to make a deposit, and you might run into some trouble getting the card to clear the charge. You might also be able to use some kind of online wallet, but PayPal and Neteller have strict rules about U.S. gamblers.
Your most likely route for making a deposit is either the credit card, or some kind of cash transfer service like Moneygram or Western Union. Some poker sites now use Bitcoin, which is becoming increasingly popular for this purpose. Another option is to do a bank wire or electronic check.
Different poker sites have different options available. If you live somewhere besides the USA, you’ll have a lot more choices than the average American citizen.
We know of no online poker site which lacks Texas holdem. But what if you want to play other games? What kinds of poker games does the site you’re interested in offer?
Some of the possibilities include:
These games are available in multiple versions, too. Omaha, for example, can be played high or in high/low format. Not all sites offer both versions, either.
Stud is available in both 5 card and 7 card versions. It’s also often played in a high/low version, and some sites even offer lowball, which is stud poker played for low only.
Draw poker is almost always played in the form of 5-card draw. It’s the game of poker most of us learned earliest. It’s rare online, though.
Badugi is a fun, new-ish game that’s catching on quickly, especially with experienced poker players looking for new ways to gamble.
Mixed games are games like HOSE and HORSE. The initials in those acronyms stand for games. HORSE, for example, stands for
Stud (7 card stud)
Eight or better (7 card stud high-low)
You should know before signing up which games you like to play, but you should also be willing to explore new forms of poker you’ve never played before. That’s one of the beauties of playing online. For the most part, sites with a wider variety of games available are ranked better than sites with narrower choices.
One of our favorite ways to play poker is in tournament format. These include sit-n-go tournaments and scheduled events. Some sites have a lot of action available in a wide variety of tournaments, but others are stronger when offering ring games.
A sit-n-go tournament is a single or multi-table tournament which starts as soon as enough players have registered for the event. It has no scheduled starting time. The prize pool is based entirely on the number of players multiplied by the entry fee.
Scheduled events start at a specific time regardless of how many people have or have not registered for the event. These events often (but don’t always) have guaranteed prize pools. In the event that the guaranteed prize pool is less than the total of the entry fees collected, you have what’s called an “overlay”.
An overlay is when the poker site is having to contribute money to the tournament to make the prize pool the right size. This increases the expected value of your tournament entry. Here’s how that works:
You’re registered for a tournament with a $10,000 guaranteed prize pool. The event cost $100 to enter, and only 60 people have registered. This means that the site has only collected $6000 in entry fees; they’re providing the other $4000 themselves.
Here’s why that’s such a great deal for the player:
Assume that you and all the other entrants are of equal skill level. Your probability of winning is 1/60. You multiply that 1/60 by the prize pool to get the expected value of your entry.
In this case, the prize pool is $10,000. Divide that by 60, and you get $166.67. That means an entry is worth more than what you paid for it. Even if you’re a slightly below average player, you have a good chance of showing a profit in such a situation.
When we rank poker sites, we look at the variety of tournaments available. More tournaments with more games means a higher ranking.
Safety and Security
For the most part, any reputable poker site will have similar safety and security measures in place. But you shouldn’t ignore this. Smaller, newer sites might be scams and might not have the measures in place they should have. When you’re looking for safety and security measures at an online poker site, you want to consider some of the following:
What kind of encryption software does the site use to keep my personal information secure?
How solid is the infrastructure behind the site?
Where is the site regulated and licensed?
Is my credit card information going to be kept safe?
Are my winnings going to be paid out quickly?
As far as encryption goes, make sure that the site is using SSL encryption to keep your information safe from hackers. You should also look for sites that have 1024-bit RSA and CA certificate keys.
When we talk about the infrastructure behind the site, we’re talking about the likelihood that something will go wrong in the middle of a hand. Getting kicked off a poker site in the middle of a big hand can be a disastrous event for your bankroll in some situations. Look for complaints related to this in poker player forums and avoid sites where you think this might be an issue.
In terms of regulation and licensing, look for sites that are licensed by large, recognizable international authorities. If it’s a country you’ve never heard of, do some more investigating. The better-known and larger the country is that hosts the licensing agency, the better off you’ll be.
If you’ve done this much investigating into the site’s safety and security features, you can probably feel safe regarding the use of your credit card information. It’s rare to find a complaint among players that someone from an online cardroom stole or mis-used a player’s credit card information. Frankly, the business is profitable enough that such shenanigans aren’t necessary. A poker site will make more money by keeping your credit card number safe.
As far as getting your winnings quickly, you can investigate this in 2 ways. One way is to spend some time searching forums and reading reputable site reviews at information portals like ours. Another is to look at whether or not the site offers frequent, large guaranteed prize pool events. Being able to afford these guaranteed prize pools is a clue (albeit not a guarantee) that the site is well-funded enough to afford timely payouts.
Reputation and History
Not all new poker sites are scams, and not all old poker sites are safe. But this, like the other criteria listed on this page, is a clue as to what you’re getting yourself into. Reputable information portals like ours include detailed information about the history of an online cardroom in their review.
As a general rule, older sites are often safer in a number of ways. For one thing, it takes time to build a reputation — good or bad. If you develop a bad enough reputation over a long enough period of time, you’ll go out of business. This happened to Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker.
But don’t disregard new sites. Ignition Casino is one of our favorite sites at which to play online poker. It seems like it’s brand-new this year, but it’s actually more of a re-branding of an older cardroom that used to be associated with Bovada. Before that it was associated with Bodog. No one has complaints about any of those companies that we’re aware of.
User interface is more important when playing Texas holdem online than with most other games. If the interface is unfriendly and causes you to bet when you mean to fold, you’ll pay for it — literally. We recommended earlier that you try the free games before playing for real money. This is one of the reasons.
Another factor to consider when trying out a cardroom is whether or not you like the graphics and sound effects. We’ve seen poker rooms which were cartoony and felt entirely too childlike, but we had friends who loved those sites. We’ve also seen ultra-modern sites that felt slick and state-of-the-art, and we had friends who hated those, too.
Aesthetics are largely a matter of personal preference. You can glean some of what you need to know related to whether or not you’ll enjoy the look and feel of a site from screenshots and a website. But there’s really no substitute for actually playing the games and trying them out.
Competition Levels and Fair Games
Competition level is important. If you can find a site where most of the players are unskilled, you can increase your chances of being a profitable player. That’s worth doing.
When we look for a poker site at which to play, we tend to favor sportsbooks and online casinos which have poker rooms attached to them. You’ll often find sports bettors and casino bettors who are just trying out online Texas holdem. They’re often gamblers who don’t play well.
What does this mean to your chances of winning?
Think about it this way. You buy into a 9-person sit-n-go for $11. There’s $90 in the prize pool. (The site keeps $9 in rake.) If you’re as good as but not better than the other players, you have a 1/9 chance of walking away with some of that prize pool. Your expected value for that tournament is $10.
But suppose that you’re twice as good as the average player. Your odds of winning are 2 in 9 instead of 1 in 9, so your expected value is $20. Since you bought in for $11, your mathematical expected profit is $9 per tournament. That’s not possible at a poker site where everyone who is playing is already an expert.
Keep this in mind, too, though. Wherever you find fish, you’ll also find sharks. As long as you can recognize the difference, you can take advantage of sites with unskilled competition.
As far as the fairness of the games goes, you’re looking for sites which use legitimate random number generators. Most online cardrooms do have such RNG programs in place already. But if you’re suspicious, be prepared to back up your claims with data. You’ll find complaints about the fairness of the deal at every poker site online. Most of the time, this is just short-term deviation and sore losers at work.
One other thing to watch for when it comes to fairness — collusion. Reputable online cardrooms watch for players who share information and take extreme measures to run them off. Don’t cheat. If you suspect other players of cheating, contact the site’s security team.
Signup Bonuses and Reward Programs
All Internet cardrooms offer signup bonuses and reward programs. There’s more to a signup bonus than its size, though. You also need to understand how long it’s going to take to play through the rake requirements and release the entire bonus.
Example of how a signup bonus works
You’re signing up at a poker site which offers a 100% matching bonus to new signups of up to $1000. This means you deposit $1000, and you get $1000 in extra money added to your account.
But these bonus founds don’t hit your account immediately. (That’s one of the main differences between a poker bonus and a casino bonus, by the way.) Those funds are released as you accumulate player points by participating in raked hands.
Let’s say this particular poker site — and this is the actual program at Ignition Poker, by the way — has levels based on poker points, and your bonus is released when you hit the following milestones:
By requiring you to participate in a certain number of raked hands before releasing your bonus, the site ensures that you’re not able to just claim the bonus and immediately cash out, guaranteeing yourself a profit with their promotional funds.
Reward programs are usually points-based, as in the example above. These points do more than release your signup bonus, though. At Ignition, for example, you can trade your points for chips to use in the casino at a rate of 200 points = $1. At other online cardrooms, you can use those points to get cash rebates or to shop for various brand-related items in the frequent player club store. (We have a huge collection of poker site ballcaps, but that’s just one example.)
Withdrawal Speed and Ease
No one wants to wait a month or longer to get their winnings. If you live in the United States, it can be tricky to get your funds, but reputable poker sites should still be able to get you your funds within a week or so.
When we’re ranking poker sites, we take into account how many withdrawal options a site has. If you only one or two ways to get your money, that’s not as player-friendly as if you have a half-dozen options to choose from.
Low withdrawal limits are another hot button issue for us. You should be able to withdraw a reasonable amount of money at a time. A poker site that’s limiting how much you can withdraw isn’t doing as good a job.
Bad Beat Jackpots
Not all poker sites offer a bad beat jackpot, and that’s okay. In fact, a lot of the more elite poker players we know turn their nose up at such foolishness. But for a lot of gamblers, a bad beat jackpot adds a little spice and excitement to the game.
Here’s how a bad beat jackpot works
You win a bad beat jackpot when you have a strong hand, but it loses to someone with an even stronger hand. Each poker site has its own specific requirements about what qualifies as a bad beat. For example, you might need to have a 4 of a kind or better to qualify. Other requirements might apply, too, like needing to use both hole cards in both the winning and losing hand.
A bad beat jackpot differs from a bad beat bonus. A jackpot is progressive — that is, it grows over time until it’s hit. The poker site uses a percentage of the rake to “fuel” that jackpot”. A bad beat bonus, on the other hand, is a flat amount that’s awarded — it’s the same regardless of how long it’s been since the last bad beat.
One of the nice things about a bad beat jackpot is that everyone sitting at the table gets to participate in the winnings. The jackpot is normally divided up according to who lose, who won, and who just happened to be at the table. The loser normally gets the largest percentage, followed by the winner. The other players at the table only get a small percentage.
Sound and Graphics
Whether or not the sound and graphics suit you is a largely personal decision. When we rank poker sites, we take these factors into account. Clearly, some sites have better sound and graphics than others. But in other cases, the sounds and graphics are comparable — it’s just that what you think looks and sounds good might be different from what someone else thinks.
So we don’t weight this factor too heavily when we rank a site. We take it into account, but it’s a much less important factor than the site’s safety and security, for example.
Online Poker FAQ
Below you’ll find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about online poker. In some cases, we’ve written entire pages providing comprehensive, detailed answers to those questions. In those cases, click on the link to read the detailed answer.
Is online poker legal?
The answer to this question is short and a little unsatisfying:
It depends on where you live.
In the United States, there is no federal law that specifically outlaws online poker. But individual states often have state laws which apply. We’re not lawyers, but we know this — the likelihood of facing legal action in the USA when playing poker online is minimal.
How common is cheating?
Cheating at online poker sites isn’t unheard of. Do a little research into what happened a few years ago at Absolute Poker if you want to read a really hair-raising story about online poker cheats. The most common form of cheating is collusion. That’s when 2 or more players at a table share information with each other about their hands.
Cheating is a concern, but it’s not a major concern. In our experience, most of the players who would be willing to cheat in this way are so bad at poker that you can beat them consistently even when they are cheating.
How safe is my money?
This varies from site to site. For the most part, reputable poker sites keep your money safe. But it’s possible that if the US government takes action against a poker site, your money could be tied up temporarily. When the federal government went after PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, many players waited months before getting their funds out of the sites.
Full Tilt Poker wasn’t segregating player funds from their operating funds, either, which made things even harder for players. Reputable cardrooms keep those funds firmly separated from the rest of their moneys.
How do I make deposits and withdrawals?
The most common way to make a deposit into an online poker site is to charge it to a credit card. Mastercard and Visa are both commonly accepted at most online cardrooms. You have other options available, too, depending on the cardroom. Some sites accept e-checks, money transfers like Moneygram, and (depending on where you live), online wallets like PayPal or Neteller.
These are also the typical ways of withdrawing funds, but with some exceptions. For example, if you deposit $200 using your Mastercard, you can probably cash out $200 as a credit back to your card. But funds above that amount have to be cashed out using another method.
Bitcoin is becoming an increasingly popular means of accomplishing your banking needs with online gambling sites, too.
Do I have to download software in order to play?
At most sites, yes, you do need to download a software client in order to play. The good news is that the download is quick, safe, and painless. Some sites do offer no download interfaces, too. For most of these, you play through your Internet browser.
Which poker games are available?
We don’t know of any online cardrooms which lack Texas holdem as an option. Most also offer at least one form of Omaha, too. Stud poker and 5 card draw might or might not be available, depending on which site you’re using. Badugi is becoming more common, too, but it’s not available at all sites, either. If poker game selection is an issue for you, be sure to read the detailed information about what’s available before signing up at the site.
What if I’m an Apple or Mac user?
At one time, Apple and Mac users had a limited number of options for playing poker for cash on the Internet. But most sites now offer compatible software or some kind of interface for Mac or Apple users. In a worst case scenario, you could use a Windows emulator to be able to play. If a site lacks information about Mac compatibility, you can always ask customer service about it.
What if I want to play poker on a mobile device?
Not all sites offer mobile apps, but it’s becoming increasingly common. See our answer to the question about Mac users. It varies from site to site, and most sites offer detailed information for prospective customers. You can also always contact their customer service teams.
Playing Online Poker From the United States
Playing online poker from the United States isn’t as easy as it used to be. At one time, there were dozens of high profile choices. But in 2011, the federal government shut down the largest poker sites accepting U.S. players online.
PokerStars is still in business and merged with Full Tilt Poker, but they no longer accept players from the USA. Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet shut down entirely.
This doesn’t mean you can’t play poker online. It does mean that you have fewer options than we used to have. It also means that it’s a little harder to get money to and from the cardroom. At most poker sites which accept U.S. players, you can get a tremendous amount of support from the customer service team when it comes to getting money to and from the site.
Internet Poker Information, Tips, and Advice
Below we offer some tips and advice about Internet poker. This information should be especially helpful to beginners.
Beginner’s Guide to Online Poker
If you’re just getting started with online poker, you need to learn the basics of how to play. This means knowing how the rankings of hands works. It also means understanding betting. Then you need to start getting to know some of the strategic concepts involved, like tightness/looseness and aggressiveness/passivity. The math is also important — an understanding of pot odds and drawing odds will put you ahead of many of your opponents, skill-wise.
Then there are factors specific to online poker: things like how to best take advantage of signup bonuses, how to compare player rewards programs from one site to another, and which banking methods are most appropriate for your goals. We cover all these topics in detail elsewhere on this site.
Online Poker Basics
One of the mistakes many players make is to get involved in a lot of fancy strategic thinking too early. At its heart, poker is an easy game. You get good hands, then you bet those good hands. These are the basics of any kind of poker strategy.
It’s easy to start getting involved in more intermediate topics like game theory, psychology, and multi-level thinking. But you should master the basics of tight aggressive play before putting too much thought and effort into that line of thinking.
Texas holdem is, of course, the most popular option. Each player gets 2 hole cards, then there are 5 community cards. You use any combination of your 2 hole cards and the 5 community cards to make the best hand possible.
Omaha is growing in popularity, especially in Europe. It’s just like Texas holdem, only you get 4 hole cards. Also, you have to use 2 (and exactly 2) of your hole cards along with 3 (and exactly 3) of the community cards. Also, Omaha is often played “high-low”, which means you split the pot with the player with the lowest hand.
Stud poker is older and stiffer than these other 2 games, but it’s still occasionally found online. Stud poker rewards players with good memories, because you get a lot more information about the cards that have already been dealt. But once a hand is folded, those cards are no longer visible. You have to remember them to get an advantage.
Draw poker is rare online, but this is the version of poker most of us learned as kids at the kitchen table. You get 5 cards, there’s a round of betting, then you get to discard some of those cards and get replacements. Then there’s another round of betting.
Badugi is a new-ish game that’s also growing more popular. It’s played with 4-card hands. You win if you have the lowest set of cards. The best possible hand is A234 of different suits.
We mentioned earlier in the basics section that you should focus on the fundamentals. This is especially true when it comes to learning poker strategy. Most people don’t spend nearly enough time figuring out the basics.
When it comes to strategy, the first thing to understand is that you should be folding a lot more often than you probably think, especially early in the hand. This is called “tight” play. Some players do play a lot of hands aggressively and win that way, but beginners should focus on playing only the best hands.
The next thing to understand is the concept of aggression. Winning poker players bet and raise a lot. Checking and calling is a cowardly way to play poker, but worse, it’s a losing way to play poker. You can play loose and aggressive and still win. But you can’t win at poker by being passive. It’s impossible.
Pot odds is a major mathematical concept to understand, too. It’s just a way of comparing how much money you’ll win with how much it costs to get into the pot. For example, if you have to call a $10 bet in order to win a $100 pot, the pot odds are 10 to 1. If you estimate that your odds of winning are 8 to 1, this is a profitable call. If your odds of winning are 12 to 1, then it’s not a profitable call, and you should fold.
You can find lots of other aspects of poker strategy to think about, most of which are covered elsewhere on this site.
Live poker is the game as it’s played in real casinos and cardrooms. The strategic considerations are often a little different. After all, when you’re playing live, you gain access to physical information that isn’t available online. An opponent’s posture and behavior can have a major effect on your strategy.
We’ve done our best to provide a comprehensive list of the best online poker sites here. We’ve gone into a lot of detail about how we rank and review these websites. The final decision about where to play still lies with you. We can only hope that we’ve helped you make an educated decision.
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