Real Money Poker Guide

Unless you have been in hiding without access to a television or social media for the last decade, you probably already know how popular real money poker has become on a global scale. The game has come a long way from the back rooms of seedy saloons to become a worldwide phenomenon, with players regularly playing in tournaments where they can walk away a millionaire.

Real Money Poker has a long history, and while we could spend hours and hours covering it in detail (and we will), this page is dedicated to giving you an overview of how poker got to be so big in 2017. We are going to cover a lot of topics right on this page, but also look for links to much deeper dives into strategy, rules, and history. We can promise you this: this site will give you a comprehensive look at the game. You will leave as much of an expert on the game as we are, and hopefully ready to slay some folks at your next home game or even make a run at a World Championship one day!

Here is what we will cover on this page:

A Brief History of Poker

The original introduction of the game of poker isn’t exactly known, although there are several theories that all come together to piece together a plausible story of how the game we know came to be. Elements of the game can be traced back a thousand years to the Chinese and their versions of dice gambling games. Combine those elements with the first documented account of the 52 card deck we all know now, and the basis of all modern card games like poker had been born.

Over the centuries that followed, many different games were introduced. A lot of those games involved bluffing (or lying as it was known back then) and this element of the game, focused more on the betting and psychology rather than the actual cards a player held, became very popular. In the 1800s, the game of “poque” made its way over from France to the U.S. where it was modified and became the game we now all know as poker.

Texas Hold’em

Traced back to the early part of the 20th century, Texas Hold’em was invented in, you guessed it, Texas. The story goes that when ranch hands were getting together to play cards at night, there weren’t enough cards in a deck to be able to accommodate the number of players who wanted to get in on the action. Someone determined that if you lowered the cards being held by each player from five to two, and then dealt cards in the middle of the table that all players could use to make their best five card hand, you could now have upwards of 20-30 people playing each hand. This, of course, settled down to the table sizes we commonly see today, but the excitement of the game was apparent. The more players that could play each hand, the more money was going into each pot.

Why Texas Hold’Em?

Texas Hold’em was popular in the state of Texas from the 1920s onwards, but it didn’t gain real notoriety until it made its way to Las Vegas in 1967. A group of professional players from Texas brought the game to the Las Vegas Strip, having a casino spread the game right at the front door so everyone is walking by could stop and have a look at what all the fuss was about.

It didn’t take long before the game started to become more familiar with these professionals from around the world, and in 1970 when the World Series of Poker was dreamed up and launched, it was determined that No Limit Texas Hold’em would be the game of choice.

There are a couple of the main reasons why the game of Texas Hold’Em is so popular around the world for amateurs and pros alike:

Number of Players

As we mentioned earlier, one of the most attractive aspects of the game Texas Hold’em is the number of players that can be accommodated at a table. This number, usually set at ten, makes for a game with a lot of action, but also for the amateurs it brings a great social piece to the game. In many hands, several players have folded their cards and are no longer focused, so having some others to chat with makes the game very attractive at the home-game level. Also, having this many players for only one dealer allows for large-scale poker tournaments which don’t have a massive cost for dealers associated with it.

Ease of pickup

It is often said of Texas Hold’Em that the game takes 2 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. This is evident if you have ever been to a poker night at a friend’s place. Most likely you will have a couple people who have never played the game sitting at the table. All it takes is a quick tutorial on hand rankings and how the betting works and all of a sudden real beginners can start to play. This has allowed the game of poker, especially the real money version of the game, to grow to become on of the most popular pastimes in the world. Also, the game’s language is universal, so you don’t have to speak a particular language to be able to play. This means that you can have players from all over the world playing at the same table without ever having to speak to one another.

The Tipping Point(s)

The game of poker was definitely growing. However, it definitely needed a push to become the juggernaut it is today. Real money poker was altered forever by two events, which happened a few years apart and yet their impact on the game is evident. There are definitely two specific individuals associated with these developments, and we’ll cover both right here:

The Hole Card Camera

As we mentioned, the World Series of Poker had been a televised event since the mid-1980s. When ESPN launched in the U.S., they were on the hunt for new programming to fill a 24/7 channel, and once they were tipped off on the excitement of poker, they decided to give it a shot as a broadcast.

There was only one problem with the game as it stood – it was boring as hell if you didn’t know what the players were holding. We can attest to this fact – in the early days of the poker boom, countless hours have been spent on the rail watching action only to have to wait for breaks to find out what cards players were holding. This made for super long days in poker rooms. A broadcast, however, was only an hour or two of edited programming covering the main hands that affected the tournament, usually resulting in a player being eliminated.

A new poker tour was launching in 2002, and with it came a modern look and feel. When the World Poker Tour burst onto the scene, it brought with it some great locations for players to play (France, Aruba, etc.) but also it came with a different style of broadcast. The founder of the World Poker Tour, Steve Lipscomb, realized that viewers wanted to know more about what was happening at the table, and so he introduced a TV table to the game, including lipstick-sized cameras built into each player’s rail.

When the WPT debuted their broadcasts in 2003, the poker public had a new way to absorb the experience. For the first time, viewers could see the player’s cards before any of the betting took place. This was a complete game-changer as now someone could learn what these pros would go through every time they bet, raised, folded or bluffed. The excitement level of the broadcast had jumped exponentially, and it indeed created a new interest in the game at an amateur level. New players could study the moves of their idols, and also practice alongside them. Without a doubt, the hole card camera changed the way both amateurs and professionals viewed real money poker, and we all have Steve Lipscomb to thank for that.

The Moneymaker Effect

Online poker started to become more mainstream in the early 2000s, with websites like Planet Poker, Paradise Poker and True Poker offering players a chance to play for real money online. We’ll cover online poker in more detail a little later, but we have to discuss it now because in 2003 the game of real money poker changed forever as a direct result of the online game.

Before online poker was a thing, if you wanted to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event you needed to plunk down $10,000 of your own money or get yourself to Vegas and perhaps play in a $1,000 “satellite” event that would award $10,000 seats to the Main Event tournament. One new online real money poker site, Poker Stars, realized that they could replicate this satellite model online, allowing players to qualify for the big show without having to get on a plane.

Now, you would think that this alone would make PokerStars the recipient of all our praise, but truly if it hadn’t been for the perfect storm of events in the spring of 2003, they might not even be a discussion point. That spring, a young accountant from the Midwest played in a $40 satellite event on the site, and without too much experience under his belt, he managed to win one of those coveted $10,000 seats to the World Series of Poker Main Event. He was indecisive about even going to the event, but after some coaxing (and a plane ticket purchase) from his father, he decided to head to Vegas and give it a shot.

The Main Event was his first live poker experience in a casino; this was some way to break into it, in a room with 842 other players including the world’s best. Undeterred, he played through each day, and as the field became smaller and smaller, the amateur continued to move up the leaderboard. At the end of the tournament, a new World Champion of Poker had been crowned…and Chris Moneymaker had done the unthinkable.

Now, many people outside the poker industry didn’t know anything about this until the ESPN broadcast that fall. What followed can only be described as a flashpoint for the industry. Not only was the coverage dominated by a rank amateur (including disbelief from the commentators on his style of play), in every shot of Moneymaker, PokerStars’ name of prominently displayed on his hat. Then there was the continual reminder that Chris had paid only $40 to enter the event and his glorious (and not made up) last name. Within 12 months of the broadcast, PokerStars grew 1800% in size, other sites grew and even more were launched, and the real poker boom was on.

Amateurs around the world realized that they could make their dreams come true by qualifying online for tournaments they could not otherwise afford, and all of this can be linked back to Chris Moneymaker (and of course the site that allowed him to enter a $40 satellite, PokerStars).

Types of Poker Games

There are 3 main types of real money poker games that people play these days, whether it is live or online. We’ll cover each of these in detail with their own strategy pages, so for now, let’s just review what they are:

Cash Games

Real money cash games are the backbone of the poker world. From the early days of poker in back rooms, cards have been dealt to players willing to bring their money to the table. The key component to a cash game is there is no finite amount of money that a player can risk while at the table. We have all seen those movies where guys throw their car keys and watches into the pot as collateral when they are out of money. Well, that is a realistic portrayal of what can happen at a table, although in casinos they won’t let you pull out your keys, so you will have to get chips from the cage. The point is if you bust out of a cash game, you can simply lay more money down on the table and you are back in the game.

Tournaments

Made famous by the World Series of Poker, real money poker tournaments are what most people play these days. The rules of the game are the same as the rules when you are playing a cash poker game. However, poker tournaments have a finite end to them. This was designed to ensure that there would be a winner, and also to even the playing field by not giving players with deep pockets an advantage.

Any tournament, whether you are playing at your kitchen table with your friends or a high roller event in Las Vegas, work the same way. There is an entry fee, and for that fee, you are given a starting stack of chips. Once those chips are gone, you are eliminated from the tournament, and when one player has all the chips in front them, they are the winner of the event! (This has changed recently with the advent of rebuy/re-entry tournaments, but the majority are single-elimination events).

Strategy for a real money poker tournament is very different than a cash game, so we have created a separate page dedicated to tournament strategy.

Sit and Go

The “Sit and Go” style of tournament is one that suits the needs of someone who wants to play in a tournament but wants the flexibility of not being bound to a particular start time. The concept is pretty simple: a tournament is created with a specific number of entrants, and once that many participants have paid their fees, the tournament begins. These tournaments are usually one or two tables in size to get them moving quickly and are very popular as a form of satellite event.

Once the cards are in the air, the rules of the game are exactly the same as a full scheduled tournament, but the strategy is wildly different. Check out our guide to Real Money Poker Sit and Go Strategy to see what we mean.

Poker Basics

There is no way we can capture all you can learn about the game of real money poker on one website, let alone one page! If you are playing the game right, you will be learning forever; the game is evolving, and as a result, even the very best in the world are focused on learning at and away from the table.

In this section, we are going to separate strategy into Beginner and Advanced, with pages and links dedicated to both. For the purposes of this overview page, we are going to cover the most essential parts of the game, regardless of which variant you are playing:

Poker Glossary

Let’s start with the terms you are going to hear and read about while making your journey into the world of real money poker. We won’t cover them all here, but you can follow our link to a comprehensive list of poker terminology.

 

Check: A betting option for a player when there is no action in front of them; they can choose to make no bet by “checking.”

Raise: Adding to a bet made by another player, determined by the rules of the game being played.

Call: Matching the bet of your opponent.

Fold: Throwing your cards away rather than calling or raising a bet from another player

Flop: The first three cards dealt in any community card poker game.

Turn: The 4th card dealt into the community cards

River: The 5th and final community card dealt in certain poker variants.

Hand Rankings

Ok, so now that we have you set up to not sound like a beginner at the table, it’s important for everyone to know the ranking of the hands at a real money poker table. For most games, the hand rankings are the same (there are some versions of the game that reverse the order, but the types of hands are still the same). Here is the full list of hand rankings from best to worst:

Royal Flush: The Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten of any one suit.

Straight Flush: Any 5 cards of the same suit in sequential order

Four Of A Kind: Holding all four of any one number in the deck.

Full House: A five card hand consisting of 3 of one card and 2 of another.

Flush: Any 5 cards of the same suit regardless of sequence.

Straight: Any 5 cards in order, irrespective of their suit.

Three of a kind: Three of the same numerical card.

Two Pair: Holding to sets of similar numerical cards.

One Pair: Two matching numerical cards.

High Card: A hand that contains no matching cards, no straights or flushes.

Beginner Poker Strategy Guide

Real money poker is a game that has a lot of skill associated with it. As a result, it’s important to understand the basic strategy that you are going to want to employ when you sit down at the table and gamble your hard-earned money. Even if you are someone who has played a lot of real money poker with your friends, we think you will get something from reading through our beginner’s guide to strategy.

We have brought all of our poker experts together to cover some of the cornerstones of the game of real money poker. Our goal with these guides is to teach you how to play the game, and for those who already know the rules, to make your game better. All good players are always learning, and that is what ultimately makes them successful players. Truly, isn’t that why we all play poker for real money? We all want to WIN! Our Beginner guide will cover the following topics for all our novice poker readers:

We promise you that after absorbing all this necessary information, you will become the master of your home game and ready to take your game to the next level.

Advanced Poker Strategy Guide

For a game as simple as poker to learn, there are a stunning number of sophisticated strategies that complement the dealing of the cards. The amount that you can learn about the game is overwhelming, and so we tried to cover some of the most popular advanced topics for you in our Real Money Poker Advanced Strategy Guide. Take this section at whatever pace you want, but make sure to read and re-read some of these pages because this will be the foundation for the next stage of your poker persona, no matter if it is for your local game or if you have aspirations of becoming the next World Series of Poker Champion.

Here are some of the things we’ll cover in this section of our website:

We could have listed 100 different topics above, but these are the ones that all players who want to take their game to the next level need to have covered. We are preparing a much more detailed strategy section broken down by the specific types of real money poker, and you will be able to find that guide here soon. In the meantime, jump into any of these topics, and you’ll be blown away by what you will learn.

Online Poker

We talked about this earlier on the page, but it cannot be stated enough: the advent of real money online poker changed the growth of this game in a way nothing else could or will do from now on. As early as chat rooms were formed, people were developing ways for cards to be randomly dealt to players in these rooms and while all the money changed hands offline, the game of real money poker was alive on the internet.

When the first online poker websites were built, the game was no longer limited to players who could dig a couple layers deep onto the web. The launch of Planet Poker and Paradise Poker allowed players to use their credit cards to make deposits, and with the poker site holding all the cash in-house, paying out winners was as simple as a couple of clicks (this got increasingly more challenging, as many of you already probably know).

After the Moneymaker World Series of Poker in 2003, the online game really took off, with millions of players around the world creating accounts and creating massive pools of players. With this type of critical mass, there was any game you could be looking for online at mostly anytime of the day. A real global community was born, and in essence, this became one of the first forms of social media before things like Facebook came along.

Online Poker vs. Live Poker

When real money poker made its way onto the internet, it not only changed the size of the market by opening the game up to anyone with a computer, but it also changes the way the game was played. Having the computer act as a dealer changed the speed of the game dramatically. At a live poker table, there is more discussion, not to mention the shuffling of cards after every hand by one dealer. As a result, you might see about 30 hands per hour on average. With a computer “dealer” and a set amount of time for each player to act, the speed of real money online poker is significantly faster. In fact, when you are sitting at a real money cash game online, you can see up to 100 hands per hour depending on the table.

Another difference between live poker and online poker is the number of games you can play at once. As you can imagine, when you are sitting in a live game, you are limited by your physical presence making it essentially impossible to play more than one game at a time. When you are sitting on your couch playing at a virtual table, the number of tables you can play concurrently is only limited by your ability to focus on all the games at once. Many of the young players who got into the game as online players first are playing more than one table at once. In fact, you can find videos online like this one where professionals are playing dozens of games simultaneously.

What is the end result of these large differences between live play and online play? Those who are playing online are seeing and playing way more hands per hour. When you play hands, you learn situations and scenarios that you can use at a later date. Well, some of the online generation of players were seeing more hands in a year than many of the top live pros had seen in their lifetimes. Having this significantly larger sample size helps players understand the math behind each decision made at a table, and forced the traditional pros to change their style of play to be able to defend against a much more aggressive style coming from the online world.

Online Satellite Tournaments

Also a direct result of the Moneymaker Effect on the real money poker world, the online satellite event has increased the field sizes of live poker events around the world. In fact, when the World Series of Poker reached its largest field of 8,773 players in 2006 it was estimated that over 40% of the field had qualified through an online site.

These days, online qualifiers continue to be a critical piece of the success of live poker events. What has changed over the years is the way that players can qualify online. With the introduction of Step Satellites, those players who can be patient and work their way through several levels of large fields can find themselves qualifying for $10,000 buy-in events for as little as one penny! While that sounds crazy and is in fact like playing the lottery, it is something that does exist, so we’ll dig into the different types of online satellites in our Satellite guide.

Online Poker Legalities

This is a section we would rather not have to cover, but the unfortunate truth is that one of the main blocking points for having the game of real money online poker continue to grow is legislation. In 2006 and again in 2011, the U.S. government took measures to stop players from being able to play their favorite online poker games for real money, crippling the industry by taking away its single largest group of players. While some small inroads have been made on a state level, the game remains illegal to play in most states.

There are different forms of regulation of online real money poker around the world, and depending on where you happen to be reading this page, you may not have any issue whatsoever playing online. Every jurisdiction has its own rules and regulations covering everything from where a site needs to be licensed to what players are allowed to play in the same pool. We can’t go into all the intricacies on this page, but if you are so inclined, feel free to have a read through our Real Money Online Poker Legislation page.

Poker FAQ

There are so many moving parts to playing real money poker that we have assembled a comprehensive list of the questions many of you have asked us over the years. A full FAQ page and be found by following the link below, but here are some of the most common questions:

Is online poker rigged?

We get this one a lot. Without seeing an actual dealer, and with cards being dealt by a machine, it seems to many players that when they get their chips into the pot with what they think is the best hand, they come up a loser. Often times your opponent has made a horrible play only to be rewarded with a miracle card on the river. This isn’t a case of the game being rigged; it is more likely that when you play online, there is a higher variance of skill levels combined with an increase in the volume of hands dealt. The two in combination can seem like you are getting the short end of the stick, but you probably don’t remember when you got lucky on a few hands only to have your opponents scream about these “rigged poker sites.”

Can anyone play in a poker tournament?

This is the most alluring part of real money poker tournaments. Every tournament has an entry fee, and as long as you have the money to buy in, then you can have a seat at the table. What makes this unique to real money poker is that in no other professional sport could you simply walk onto the biggest stage and compete against the game’s best. You’ll never get into an NBA game with Lebron James or tee it up at the Masters, but at the World Series of Poker, you may find yourself randomly sitting next to Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey or one of the other masters of the game. Poker is the only game where the genuine amateur has a chance to play with the seasoned professional…and win. Ask Chris Moneymaker about that one if you bump into him somewhere.

How do I know what game I should play?

This answer isn’t so much about what game you like to play, but more about the stakes level that you join. Most people are fans of Texas Hold’em, but we recommend that you don’t play above your comfort level from a financial standpoint. While the allure of winning huge pots can seem exciting, the truth is most players end up losers, so mitigating your risk should be the first factor in making the decision of what table to choose.

Trust us, you’ll thank us in the end.

Well, there you have it! We hope you enjoyed reading this page and that you got some valuable information from it. There is so much more information to ingest that we highly recommend you continue your journey by clicking on any of the links in this article and we wish you the best of luck at the tables!