Anyone who’s ever raked an enormous pot or won a WSOP bracelet was — at one point — a beginner poker player.
The new-player experience for poker has changed dramatically over the years with a variety of learning tools and apps.
It used to be that people would learn Five-Card Draw by playing for pennies against their family members. Then came No-Limit Hold’em and the WSOP on ESPN. After that there was an online poker explosion. It was a full-court press with strategy books, blogs, videos and more. Recently, people have been learning about the nuances of the game by watching Twitch streams.
Arguably the most popular way for people to get started in poker these days, however, is by downloading free poker apps on their smartphone or right inside Facebook.
We’re going to take a look at the pros and cons of free poker apps in today’s Poker 101.
How Do I Learn the Basics of Poker?
The basics of No-Limit Hold’em are exceptionally simple and most people can pick them up in a matter of minutes. In fact, you can just head over to How to Play No-Limit Hold’em and get a crash course in poker education.
If you can memorize the poker hand rankings, then you’ll be on your way to becoming a competent poker player.
What’s the best way to learn the rankings? Well, you could just memorize them. Or you could pick up one of those cheat sheets to bring with you to a poker game (that’s always a bit of a tell).
Many people learn best by doing, however, so they’ll want to sit down at a low-stakes or free poker game. You know what’s free? Poker apps.
Free Poker Apps Are Excellent for Poker Basics
If you want to quickly figure out what beats what and how the gameplay actually works in Hold’em, then free poker apps are a fantastic way of getting up to speed quickly because there are no stakes.
While it’s true that you “lose” play money chips, most apps let you reload every day and it’s not exactly hard to accumulate chips. The apps also give you a large number of starting chips so if you exhaust those, you could just move on to a different app.
The advantage of free poker apps is that you can get accustomed to all the poker basics such as checking, betting, calling, raising and folding. You’ll also learn the forced bets (the blinds) and when it’s your turn to act.
Good free poker apps will also let you replay your last hand so you can understand why you lost and which hand wins.
Free poker apps also have an advantage of being incredibly easy to start playing. Have a Facebook account? You can literally be playing poker within seconds.
There are some limitations for free poker apps, however.
When It’s Time to Move on From Poker Apps
Here’s the ironic thing about “free” poker apps.
It’s actually possible to spend money on free poker apps (buying chips, avatars, different tables, etc.) but it’s actually impossible to make money.
Once you get familiar with how poker works, you should probably just bite the bullet and put $20 or $50 on a real online poker site.
You’ll find legitimate competition but there’s also a chance that you’ll make a few scores.
A great deal of people get worried about risking money playing poker but you can actually play for extremely low stakes on online poker sites. We’re talking about a $1 buy-in at the lowest for cash games and there are tournaments that cost even less.
You Won’t Get Better Playing Free Poker Apps
The reality of free poker apps is that it’s difficult to improve your game by playing them.
The level of skill is quite low in free poker apps, for the most part, and people tend to play a bit differently than they would in real-money poker. You can pick up some bad habits by playing a huge number of hands on free poker apps.
For instance, because no one cares about the stakes, you’ll often see players shoving all-in every hand. It’s easy to wait for a good hand and snap them off with a call. You’re generally not going to see that in real poker games.
There’s just so much more nuance and strategy to real-money poker sites that it’s worth moving to real poker as soon as you can. It will give you a chance to become a much better poker player.
Real-Money Sites Also Offer Free Poker
If you’ve been playing free poker apps for a while but you’re not quite ready to move to real-money poker, there’s one excellent option that’s basically halfway between both of them.
Most real-money poker sites also offer a free money section of their software. That means you can download PokerStars or partypoker and not have to worry about depositing a dime.
There’s a few advantages these sites have over completely standalone free poker apps. First off, the level of skill is generally a bit higher so it will be better for your game. Second of all, you can get used to the software just in case you ever want to try real-money poker.
Finally, you can actually play freerolls (tournaments where the buy-in is $0) and potentially win real money. That’s win-win, right?
Are Free Poker Apps Legal?
Free poker apps are 100 percent legal in most countries because there’s no money at stake.
There are a few countries with strict anti-gambling laws, such as China, that won’t even allow apps that simulate gambling. In general, you can play free poker apps any place that you’re allowed to play a video game.
In some countries, legislators have begun to crack down on lootbox-based video games but the reward in poker is generally not randomized so free poker apps have escaped those restrictions unscathed.
What Are the Most Popular Apps?
There are plenty of options in the free poker app market but the most popular one is likely Zynga Poker, which was made famous on Facebook. Zynga remains one of the market leaders but it’s available as a standalone app on desktop, iOS and Android.
The WSOP App, which was developed by EA Games, is also very popular and benefits from World Series branding. The software has a slightly more professional slant to it and helps prepare players for real-money poker.
Jackpot Poker, designed by PokerStars, is a fun free poker app that incorporates three-player Spin & Go style sit & go tournaments. It’s an exciting way to play poker but somewhat limiting.
There’s also Appeak Poker, which is the most bare-bones of free poker apps, but offers a surprisingly good play experience with very little clutter.
Finally, if you’re looking for something more cartoony and video game-esque, there’s the popular Governor of Poker series, which incorporates a variety of gambling games.
In summary, here’s a list of the top five most popular free poker apps:
1. Zynga Poker
2. WSOP Poker
3. Jackpot Poker
4. Appeak Poker
5. Governor of Poker
MORE POKER 101 ARTICLES
- What Are the Most Common Physical Tells in Poker?
- Why Hand Ranges Are a Secret Weapon for Reading People
- How to Stay Afloat Against Tough Players
- Bet More, Call Less to Keep Your Opponent Guessing
- Why You Should Probably Be Folding More
- Do People Actually Make Money Playing Online Poker?
- Is Online or Live Poker Easier?
- Do Poker Faces Matter?