So you’ve caught the poker bug! The game that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master is your new passion. Great. It’s a fantastic card game that continues to challenge you no matter whether you play for fun or thousands of dollars. You can’t get enough, can you? Unfortunately for various reasons it’s not convenient for you to play live poker. Maybe you don’t feel like the long drive to the nearest casino or local card room. Maybe the live game options are too limited or you don’t like the environment (e.g. smoke, drinking, and the crowd). What you really want is to play online poker with friends from the comfort of your own home as your schedule allows.
Thankfully, there are many options to play texas holdem against friends and get your online poker fix. Social media, mobile apps, and websites offer a range of online poker options for fans to play at their convenience.
Zynga, the very popular game maker of Farmville, Words with Friends, Empires and Allies, Cityville, CastleVille, Indiana Jones and MafiaWars, first created a Texas Hold’em game that has become the most popular free-to-play poker game in the world. The four-year-old game boasts over 30 million players, over 7 million playing daily, who interact and play online poker in a fun and friendly environment. Zynga has broadened the appeal and access by adding iPhone, Android, Yahoo!, and Google+ playing options to the original Facebook access to play their poker game.
Players have the option to play at any table and interact with friends from around the world. A limited amount of virtual chips are available for free. Players can play casual Hold’Em tables, tournaments or higher chip value VIP tables. Players can complete challenges, chat, or give/receive chip gifts.
If you burn through your chips too quickly, or want to move up and play higher levels, you have the option to purchase the virtual poker chips for real money. Although the chips hold no real value and can’t ever be cashed out, if your desire is to experience poker with friends at the highest possible level, Zynga offers many competitive levels.
The people behind the exclusive high stakes professional poker tour, Epic Poker League, have created a fun and free social media poker game on Facebook. The game was introduced in 2011 and has grown to have over 50,000 monthly active users. The graphics are sharp and vibrant, the software is fast, and you can upload a custom avatar to personalize your account. Use the promo code PlayforFree and you receive 50,000 chips when you sign up to play virtual poker. Like Zynga, you also have the option to purchase additional chips for real money.
Sin City Hold’em
Launched in August of 2011, Sin City Holdem has build up to over 500,000 monthly active users for their well constructed poker game. The graphics have more a a hand drawn feel, as opposed to the more cartoon like features of competitors. Player can accomplish various fun achievements or other task to accumulate virtual chips. A friend’s leader board and real-time online friends list add to the social aspect of the site.
There are many other free-to-play poker games with lesser followings. Once we move from the social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and Yahoo that offer free poker, we find many real money poker offerings that also offer free-to-play opportunities.
* A note to those who prioritize the social aspect of their poker, be on the lookout for Aces Hangout, which incorporates Google+’s group live camming with the online poker game making for an intriguing social poker experience where your every reaction and poker face will be on display.
Real Money Poker Options for U.S. Players
For those whose prefer to play United States Texas Holdem for real money, there are several options available to you; mobile apps, subscription poker, and real money online poker rooms.
Mobile Phone Apps
There are a couple options for Americans who like to take their poker wherever they go. The apps work on iPhone, iPad, Android and Tablet devices allowing you to bet and bluff your way to fun and profit.
Switch Poker offers a mobile poker app for both the iPhones/iPads and Android/Tablet devices. At present, their poker game can be played heads-up or 6-max versions of No-Limit Hold’em cash games with intentions to to add full ring (9 seat), Sit & Go’s, Multi-Table Tournaments, Fixed Limit Holde’m and Pot Limit Omaha in the coming months. The nice aspect about their site is the option for playing more than one table.
Terminal Poker’s entry in the real money mobile poker app world for iPhone/iPad and Android/Tablet offers a fun and fast paced version of the game that removes most of the down time associated with poker so you can concentrate more on hands you actually play. They accomplish this by pooling players and moving you to a new virtual table as soon as you fold a hand. The approach is less social, but more focused on the poker purists interested in seeing as many playable hands as possible. The Terminal Poker app can be accessed directly so there is no need to install any software from an App Store.
One 100% legal form of real money poker is the subscription model where you pay a monthly fee for the right to play poker on the site where you can win money from their prize pools. Subscriptions sites are treated under the same rules as sweepstakes, but some individual states are not eligible due to local legislation (i.e. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington).
This most established subscription poker site charges $19.95 each month for the opportunity to play free Hold’em against friends on their site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They claim to have over 25,000 registered members promising $100,000 in monthly prizepool payouts. They are associated with the World Poker Tour and occasionally offer live entries into WPT events as prizes. There is an extensive point and reward system along with pure freerolls so you can enter their larger point buy-in events.
SpadeClub offers membership for $19.99 per month which allows access to over 2,500 tournaments every month for your chance at over $100,000 in prizes.
GoldRushPoker is a subscription poker site where players can win prize money, automobiles and seats to live tournaments. They have three level of subscription that runs from $19.95 to $29.95 a month.
The unique spin that SouthPointPoker is taking on the Zen Entertainment Network, is that the site is completely free. It has the same points and rewards of many of the subscription sites, but without the monthly subscription rate. Players can win points as reward for doing well in their poker games which can be redeemed for various prizes. Any player can earn free points to enter the many events offered by logging on daily or completing surveys, questions of the day, referring a friend or taking up special offers. Their big promotion is to offer one $10,000 buy-in to the 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event each week to one winner.
Real Money Online Poker Rooms
Lastly, for committed poker players looking to play traditional real money online poker on their computer, there are still some poker room websites that offer real money texas holdem. They all come with some level of risk in light of the U.S. Department of Justice crackdown on the three largest online poker sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker) in April of 2011. The DOJ used UIGEA regulations that prohibited money transfers to any offshore poker sites as justification for action, so any poker site still offering real money poker is a potential future target. With that in mind, the remaining poker sites serving the U.S. market are considerably smaller and have taken precautions to avoid the abuses that haunted the large three poker rooms. They all allow “one on one” poker, also referred to as heads up matches against friends, for free or real money.
Of those still offering real gaming, the most established poker rooms include Cake Poker on the Cake Network, Lock Poker, Minted Poker on the Everleaf Network, Bovada and BetOnline. There are quite a few other smaller poker room options on these same networks for those willing to dig deeper.
Lock Poker – Located on the Merge Network, Lock is one of the most popular destinations for real money poker players since Black Friday. Fronted by a number of respected young poker pros like Chris Moorman, Casey Jarzabek, Melanie Weisner, Jason Young and Leo Margets, Lock offers numerous promotions and bonuses to encourage real money play on their site.
Minted Poker – Located on the smaller Everleaf Network, Minted Poker offers Texas Hold’em geared to newer players. There are numerous freerolls and promotions geared to the smaller limit player. The traffic is less than some other sites, but the software and play is more fishy than some of the busier sites.
Cake Poker – Located on the Cake Network, Cake has been around since 2004. The software is solid and graphically pleasing. The site has had an inconsistent history in terms of promotions, customer service, and security, but has weathered through the years to become an overall medium sized reliable option for players.
Bovada – The rebranded Bodog Poker is a long standing sportsbook and poker room. They have recently introduced software to remove player identities and the possibility of player tracking. The atmosphere has typically been one of wilder than average play due to the heavy sportsbook focus, but that has changed with recent software changes.
BetOnline – One of the top five U.S. sportsbooks recently launched their own poker room. Players can use Visa, eChecks and money orders via Western union and MoneyGram to move money on and off the site.
There are hopes that 2012 will see the introduction of legislation that would fully regulate and legalize online poker in the United States. If and when that happens, the online poker landscape will change dramatically and many new options will appear. Until then, check out one of the online options to work on your game and compete against friends and fish alike. Playing free poker online with a friend has virtually no risks associated. You can face off heads up if you wish and benefit from various free-rolls to win real money in the process.