So, you have decided that you want to play poker Online, and your hunt for the perfect site has begun. But alas, there are literally hundreds of poker sites on the Internet. How do you discriminate between all of these available sites, to find that desired site? There are several key criteria that you should be aware of, in your quest to find the poker site that is perfect for you. Understanding these criteria, and being able to use them as a basis for comparison, will clearly simplify your selection process:
Free Poker - If you are looking to play online poker for pure recreation, and not for money, ensure that the site you are interested in accommodates "free" players. Most online poker sites do cater to free players.
Software Download vs. Web-based - Most, if not all, online poker sites require you to download their poker client software onto your computer system to run. If you are adverse to downloading such software onto your system, then you might want to check to see if the poker site alternatively has a web-based poker interface, which allows you to play poker on the site from within your browser. Software installs run the potential risk of viruses and / or adware being loaded onto your system (although most of the reputable firms would never do that), but software installs on your computer generally run a lot faster than web-based sessions. Software installations harness the power of your local PC's CPU, whereas web-based interfaces reliably on downloading any screen real estate updates over the Internet during play. This can be slow, particularly, if you are running over a slow internet connection (eg, a dialup line). Here, if you are after speed, select local software installations; If you are concerned about your computer's safety or can not afford the disk space used by a software installation, select a web-based poker site.
Methods of Deposit / Withdrawal - If you are planning to play poker for money over the Internet, it is very important to consider the methods of deposit and withdrawal that a poker site supports. Many of these sites permit major credit cards to be used, which appears to be the universal deposit mechanism of choice. Others permit the use of bank transfer, ACH transfer, checks, and wire transfer from banks. Most poker sites also support some form of 3rd party eWallets, which provide an intermediate between banking institutions and the poker site itself. The main criteria to look at are: 1) What methods of deposit / withdrawal are supported by the poker site, and how many of these methods are supported by the locale that you live in?; 2) Is it legal to fund / withdrawal to / from a poker site, from the jurisdiction that you are playing in?; 3) What are the fees associated with the 3rd party eWallet companies that you are able to use, and how reliable are they (this question question can be discussed on some of the poker message forum boards)?
Locale Restrictions - Some poker sites restrict the playing for money (and even free play sometimes), based on your locale, and the laws governing gambling in your locale. You should check with the laws of your local jurisdiction and check with the poker site, to see if there are any imposed restrictions on play, based on your locale.
Support - You should definitely look at the methods of support that a poker site offers. Poker sites generally provide one (or more) methods of support that include: telephone support, fax support, email support, and live chat support. The more of these that a poker site offers, the better. For telephone support, check and see if the poker site offers toll-free support from your playing jurisprudence or not.
Game Variety - Depending on your level of poker playing expertise and your interest in variety, it is important to determine which game types the poker site supports. Almost all of the sites offer Texas Holdem, but depending on your level of interest, you should check to see if they offer games like Five and Seven Card Stud, Omaha Poker (and all of its variations), Blackjack (not poker, but often included as a game option), Stud (and its variations), Draw poker, Tournament support, and limit and pot limit games. Tournaments in particular are very popular with online poker sites, and some site tournaments offer very large prize pools.
Bonuses - Most, but not all, of the poker sites offer some form of bonus to the player, when you initially sign up with the site. Each site's bonus is different different, but of the one's that offer first time bonus, it is usually predicated on a minimum initial deposit. Many bonuses are also calculated based on the amount of money deposited and spent on the site. Additionally, many sites offer reload bonuses, which are bonuses that are offered to existing customers, beyond their initial deposit bonus, and as an incentive to keep you as a customer.
Graphics and Useability - This is a very important consideration. Every poker site has a different look and feel to it. If you're going to be playing poker for money, it is important that you feel comfortable with the screen graphics and your ability to navigate (via mouse or keyboard clicks) through the poker program. If you feel uncomfortable at all with the poker site, you should definitely not consider playing at it for money. You should always test a poker site out in "free" mode first, before actually considering it for real-money wagering.
Game Features - You should always consider the game features that are available with a given poker site. Game features such as hand history, multiple simultaneous playing windows, player notes, audible and visual indicators, player statistics, connection status indicator, player chat, turbo games, and screen options should always be considered.
Rake - Rake is the amount of the pot that the poker site takes (as part of its fee for doing business), from each hand. You should always be aware of how much rake a poker site takes (compared to another site). Poker sites usually use a Weighted Contribution rake method or an Average Contribution method, when calculating rake. Obviously, the lower the rake, the more money you will take home on hand wins, but this criteria by itself should not dictate which poker site you use, since all of the above factors need to be taken into consideration as well. In summary, the aforementioned criteria should always be used, when deciding which poker site is best for you. Depending on your preferences, some of these criteria should be given more weight than others. Happy Poker site hunting !!