Updated: Oct 17, 2021
As a coach, I’m often asked what sites I play on and then also what sites I recommend for my students to deposit into and play. Whether you're a beginner or a returning pro, the answer will change greatly. Your goal with poker or your current position in the poker eco-system. If you’re just starting out playing my answer will differ greatly compared to a pro looking to improve his win rate by ½ a Big Blind.
I remember being a new player, there’s a lot of choice between platforms. One of the biggest pieces of advice I wish I was given at the time is how important the user interface (UI) is. On my old PC, I couldn’t play on GG poker as the UI wouldn’t work well at all. It was constantly lagging, my clicks were not registering, and as a young hot head this induced so much tilt that I eventually uninstalled the software and stopped playing.
I also wasn’t aware how different the site average skill levels could be, or the difference that the stake would make. I ended up playing on PokerStars initially which I would argue is one of the most challenging sites available.
If I were you, I would try to give yourself access to multiple sites that allows you to play depending on your goal for the session. Are you looking to improve your GTO ability, or do you want to hunt down the fish and aim for a dastardly high win rate? Your site selection should reflect the goals you have, and this will depend on the player pool of the site and the time of day that you play. You should also be interested in the UI and the rake back offers that are available to you.
I won’t be recommending any specific sites today, rather highlighting some of the key information to look out for when selecting a site to play.
What To Assess When Deciding A Poker Site
Your Poker Goals
Firstly, we need to assess your own poker goals. You need to be honest with yourself and decide whether you want to get better at poker or want to play as a side-hustle. If you want to get better, you therefore must be happy with a lower win rate and subsequentially a capped cashflow. The best way to get better at poker is to play against tougher opponents. This means you want to be hunting down the hardest fields with the lowest capitol risk. 25nlz on PokerStars EU for example is one of the toughest pools I’ve ever played on for the stake. You’re forced to play as close to an optimal GTO strategy as you can garner, and your win rate is very much at variances mercy. In my opinion a profitable player at 25nl zoom will be profitable at 50nl or even 100nl on other sites.
When you start playing more seriously for the financial benefits of poker, you care less about moving up the stakes as quickly as a newer player would. If you can play with a 10bb/100 winrate at 50nl, why would you try and grind 10nl zoom? You would also like some added benefits for investing your time on the table, be that rake-back schemes or bad-beat protection offers. This means finding the softest player pools at the highest stakes possible. These sites tend to have smaller player-pools, as we will discuss further.
I won’t discriminate against the gamblers out there either, perhaps you just want to play poker for the fun of the game online and don’t care about anything other than where you are going to have the best chances at making some cash. Which means you are going to be trying to find soft player-pools or sites that offer some great promotions to give you a chance of winning big, side betting or even playing some other form of table game on the side.
One of the things that I have noticed over the time that I have been coaching and watching players send footage of the player pools across the world, is that the higher quantity of players on the site, then the quicker players will filter to their skill level meaning each stake is more heavily saturated with good players.
A site like PokerStars EU has hundreds of thousands of players at any one time, with most players selecting a stake that they think they will be profitable at. The more decent players available to occupy these higher stake games, the quicker the losing players get dominated and are forced to move down, and so on. If you want to get better at poker, you should go and try and play on one of these highly populated sites.
PokerStars New Jersey on the other hand has far fewer players at any one time, meaning there is a wide variety of players at all the stakes- there’s less competition. This lack of competition means that you are often limited to the stake that happens to have players in it. This in turn, provides a much less challenging experience for recreation players meaning pros have a much easier time at higher stakes on a site like that.
You should also be aware how the time-of-day effects the players that are on the site. Generally, late evening and weekends will populate a pool with many more recreational players than those grinding throughout the middle of a weekday. This can be a blessing, some of the smaller sites are swamped with fish at these “prime times” and your win rate has the potential to skyrocket. On the other hand, you may want to play on a Tuesday afternoon and find that there is barely a game of 5nl going on your site.
I prefer to choose a happy middle-ground as a pro. I like to play where I force myself to always use and subsequently improve a GTO strategy on PokerStars or Party Poker, I also like to play some higher stakes poker on smaller sites with bigger fish, especially on the weekends.
Rakeback Deals and User Interface
One of the deciding factors between Party Poker and PokerStars for me, living in the UK, is the rake back offers available. As someone who pays over $1000 in rake a month, having the site pay some of that back to me (up to 40% on Party Poker!) is a crazy bonus. There are plenty of sites that offer some fantastic rake back deals for player who play a lot of poker so do your due diligence and find the site that offers you the best rake back deal with your schedule. Many of these deals are time-sensitive and require you to reach certain landmarks each week or month. It’s generally ill-advised to try and go for multiple rake back deals or offers at once, as you may not be meeting the requirements for cashing out in them.
Also, play on a site that you enjoy playing on. If it takes an age for the cards to be dealt or the bet-slider is not programmable, it may leave you with an unpleasant experience. You should also check beforehand if your HUD and Tracking Software is compatible with the site in question. I don’t really play with a HUD anymore, Party Poker doesn’t allow it, but you may feel more comfortable having that tool at your disposal so double check its legality.
In conclusion you should pick a site that meets your needs as a player and often this means that you will want to play on multiple sites. Many players will want to have the ability to get better and make some good money in the process. This means you should have a site or two where you can load up some tables of softer opponents at a higher stake to bolster your win rate. You should also play on the hardest site that you have available to you; this is to ensure that you are progressing well as a player and can play profitably in some of the even higher stake games should they become available to you.
Take advantage of the site with the best rake back deals or offers, this will further increase your profitability. Be aware though as the best deals are often ones that require a lot of dedication to the platform.