Tons of people around the world enjoy poker, with various estimates pegging the likely number of online players at well over 100 million. And it appears that in recent years that number has only been getting higher. International reports compiled at IrishTimes.com have indicated a surge in online poker activity resulting in part from the pandemic and ensuing isolation. The Stars Group (part of an online gaming network including properties like PokerStars and Full Tilt) reported record increases in revenue in 2020; 888 Holdings (another prominent internet poker provider) welcomed one million new customers in 2019, largely before the pandemic had started.
This amounts to a lot of fun for poker enthusiasts, in that the industry is thriving and there are always new competitors and fresh opportunities to play. At the same time though, for those just starting out, diving into real online poker can also be somewhat intimidating. There’s risk involved at real-money poker sites after all, so even if you love the game a bit of apprehension is understandable. But this is where practice comes into play. The more comfortable you are with the game, the better prepared you’ll be to enter those real-money games. So below, we want to look at some easy ways to practice poker with no risk whatsoever.
1. Playing with friends in real life
If you want to learn how to play poker in a casual way, one of the best options is always to play with people you know. Poker is a great game to play with friends, whether at home (yours or theirs), in a breakroom, or even at a park. Naturally, there doesn’t have to be any money involved (unless you decide as a group that you’d like for there to be), and the pace and general vibe of the game can be a bit more carefree than in other settings. Additionally, when you’re playing casually with friends, you can change things up as you like. This gives you a great chance, for instance, to work on different varieties of the game (like Texas Hold’em, five-card stud, Omaha, and three-card poker, to name a few common varieties).
2. Playing on free, “just-for-fun” apps
If you’re not one for in-person poker, or you just don’t always have people around the play with when you want to, you can always enjoy a free app without real cash on the line as well. Such apps give you the opportunity to practice at your leisure with little to no pressure involved (and virtually endless capacity for replay). According to a poker app overview at Poker.org, some of the top available free poker apps that can be useful in this regard are Zynga Poker, PlayWPT, and Pineapple Poker, among others. Each of these apps can be downloaded for free, and each one then gives you “play money” in the form of chips that you can use to play games as if you were actually betting. Zynga Poker, in particular –– with a simple interface and a massive base of online players –– makes for a great simulation of real-money poker without actually involving cash.
3. Playing “just-for-fun” games online
Another way to practice playing without any real money on the line is to seek out poker games on your computer. Platforms like Steam (as well as some of those associated with major gaming consoles) make it easy to download free (or at least very cheap) poker experiences that –– like the aforementioned apps –– help you to enjoy competitive poker without risking any money. Governor of Poker 3, Poker Championship, and Casino RPG are among the popular offerings, each offering some combination of free daily chips, free buy-in events, and even fun missions and/or tournament progression that provide a sense that you’re really competing for a purpose. Of the games mentioned, Governor of Poker 3 is perhaps the best known –– and maybe the most fun too, given its cartoon-like graphics and vague narrative about taking over territory in Texas via poker prowess.
4. Playing poker within other video games
This may sound like an odd concept if you’re not specifically familiar with mini-games. But in fact, the notion of characters within larger video games being able to sit down and play cards (and sometimes other games) has been around for quite some time. In recent years this sort of poker experience has gotten all the more realistic though, most notably through the addition of poker to Red Dead Online, which we’ve discussed here at Oceanup previously. Within the stunning open world of Red Dead Redemption 2 (incidentally considered by some to be the single best video game of the last decade, per game rankings at NME.com, you can actually stop at any of several locations to play Texas Hold’em against other online players. This is just one of a few examples of games with this sort of feature, though the Red Dead Online version is particularly well designed –– and even simulates real stakes, given that you’ll be gaining or losing in-game currency for your character.
As much fun as it can be to get into a real online poker game, that probably won’t be the case if you don’t feel fully prepared. Take advantage of some of these options for risk-free practice though, and you can hone your skills, wait until you feel ready, and then dive into the real thing more confidently.