How Does Online Poker Work?

With online poker you can play for real money against other real players, from all over the world, without having to leave your home. All you need is an account at an online poker site. Most of these are incredibly easy to use and provide an experience about as close to live poker as is possible on a computer.

Obviously there’s a lot of technical stuff going on at these sites, but you really don’t need to worry about all that. Naturally though, you may want some idea of exactly how things work. On this page we have taken a look at basics behind how these sites make it possible to play poker over the internet.

The Basic Concept

The basic concept of online poker is relatively straightforward. Whenever you log into a poker site and sit down at the table, the other players you sat at the table with have done exactly the same. During a game, the software used by your poker site sends information from their servers to your computer, and the computers of each of your opponents, about what cards are being dealt.

Because there are no physical playing cards involved, the cards being dealt are selected randomly from the deck by the software. This is done use something known as a random number generator, or RNG. This RNG is a key part of a poker room’s software.


If there was any kind of noticeable pattern in the way cards were dealt online then this could be taken advantage of by players smart enough to notice. This is why the RNGs used by poker sites are so important, as this simply cannot be allowed to happen. They’re constantly shuffling the cards to ensure that every time a card is dealt it’s completely random and there’s absolutely no discernible pattern.

Whenever you make an action at the table – such as betting, calling, or raising – your computer sends that information back to the site’s servers. This information is then processed and sent back out to all the computers of your opponents, so they can see what action you have made. The same thing happens when they make their actions.

This is all happening so quickly that there’s no real delay in a player acting and all the other players seeing what they’ve done. At the same time, the software is keeping track of everything such as who is still in the hand, how many chips everyone has, and how much money is in the pot. When a hand is finished, the winning player is determined and they’re awarded the pot. Chip counts are then updated accordingly.

Essentially, the software used by online poker sites does everything it needs to do to provide a game that follows all the normal rules. It’s powerful software and there’s a lot of technology involved, but from the player’s point of view it all runs smoothly.

Who Can See Your Cards?

Your hole cards can be seen by you and you alone while a hand is in process. The electronic data that contains the information about your cards is encrypted when being sent to your computer, using high-tech encryption techniques. There’s no way for anyone else to see them unless they are looking at your computer screen. Even poker site employees cannot see your cards while a hand is in process.

You cards will only be revealed to your opponents if you choose to show them at the end of a hand, or if you’re required to at a showdown. This is basically the same as it would be if you were playing live.

How You Get Your Winnings

To play for real money at an online poker site you first have to make a deposit. There are several methods you can do this, the most commonly used being a credit or debit card. Depositing at a site using a card is largely the same as making an online purchase; you enter your card details and the authorized amount is then debited to your card.


Rather than buying anything though, you’re simply adding funds to your online poker account. You can then use these funds to buy chips in cash games or buy in to tournaments. When you buy in, the funds are deducted from your online account. Any winnings you subsequently make are then added into your account.

At any time you want to get your hands on your money you simply have to make a withdrawal. Withdrawals are usually made with whatever method you used to deposit, although you may have to withdraw using an alternative method in some circumstances. Either way, once your withdrawal is requested you should receive your funds back within a timely manner. Reputable sites, such as those we recommend, are very good at processing withdrawals quickly.

How Poker Sites Make Money

Because you’re playing against other players, any money you lose goes to those players and anything you win comes from those players. It’s not like at online casinos where you’re winning from the casino, or losing money to the casino. As most players lose at casinos in the long run, this is how online casinos make money.

Poker sites make their money differently, and the methods are slightly different for cash games and tournaments. In an online tournament you’ll see entry fees listed as something like $10 + $1. The $10 is the money going into the tournament prize pool, and the $1 is the rake, or juice, being taken by the site.

In cash games, sites take a small amount of money, again known as the rake, from each pot. Usually rake is only taken when hands reach the flop. Typically about 5% of the pot is taken, but this amount is capped at most sites. The maximum is generally somewhere between $3 and $5.

Poker Networks & Independent Sites

All poker sites work in pretty much the same way as we have outlined above, but we should mention the difference between networked sites and independent sites. An independent site is one that uses its own software and its games are available only to those that are playing at that specific site.

A networked site is one that belongs to a poker network. There are typically several sites belonging to a network, and all the players from these sites play over the network. Therefore you could be playing at “Site A” on the network but be playing against one player from “Site B” and another player from “Site C”.

Poker networks are great for the players, as they improve player liquidity. Liquidity in this context relates to the number of players playing online at any one time. With higher liquidity it’s much easier to find action at your preferred game and stakes, meaning you can generally play whenever you feel like it without having to wait for other players to come online.

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