There is a bewildering number of choices when it comes to online poker. I hope this article helps a beginner poker fan to get a smooth start in the world of online multiplayer poker. Each of our Top 3, in addition to being a leader, offers something unique. I will make sure to point those unique features through the article. As in any young industry situation is very fluid and relative standings change often. That is why I specifically review poker sites as they are in 2011. Next year I must revisit and update my conclusions.
What It Takes to Get On The List
What criteria should we use to select our Top 3? Here are factors that largely separate leaders from the rest of the field:
- Game Selection: Availability of cash poker games as well free multiplayer poker games. Free games are critical for training and getting comfortable with the software. Texas Holdem is king of poker. However other, less popular poker games, like Omaha, Razz can add appeal and variety to any poker site.
- Table Selection: Full Multiplayer – 9 handed tables as well as short-handed and heads-up tables
- Availability: Solid Client software for both Windows and Mac with frequent updates. Bonus points if site also offers good browser based, no download online poker game. You might not think of it much at first but no download poker client really shines when you are on vacation, accessing site from a mobile device or otherwise are “on the move”.
- Playability: This is important if you play online poker a lot. Here we rate factors like responsiveness of the software. Whether it hangs a lot or runs smoothly day in day out. Visual layout and how cluttered screen is. Whether controls are located conveniently. Do not underestimate these “soft” factors. All together playability is the best proxy for software quality. It can either turn your poker session into a struggle or make computer almost disappear by letting you immerse yourself into poker action.
- Social features: Capability to chat we other players and invite others to play a specific game or table. Remember that people who play poker online are often in it for fun as much as for thrill of winning money. If you play a lot, you will get to know people and even make some friends.
- Tournaments: Offering Tournaments in a variety of formats such as single table (Sit-n-Go) and multi table (MTT).
- For the record, I do not think that beginners should play tournaments. Poker tournaments, especially online poker tournaments, require different poker strategy from regular ring games because tournaments are often played short-stacked and use antes. To an untrained eye a tournament often looks like extremely loose even reckless game.
- Traffic: Sufficient player numbers. We are talking about players who are currently logged into the site. High traffic sites are great if you like to sample different games or just get bored easily. On the other hand, if you prefer playing poker online with the same people as you played yesterday, then traffic just does not matter. Note that high traffic sites are usually those with large promotional budgets. To recoup marketing expense their rake structure can be less favorable.
Run by a European company, Rational Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., this is by far the largest poker site today. It has grown enormously over the last 5 years and pulls as much traffic as 3 of its largest competitors combined. Due to lots of players hanging around the site, game and table selection are very good.
I have no first hand experience with their Customer Service. That said, I have never heard persistent or widely spread complaints about PokerStars. Unlike some other sites which generate constant outcry from abused and disgruntled players.