Choosing a Poker Site: Take Her for a Test Drive

Ok, so you have chosen an online poker room.  Now what?  Most people’s first instinct would be to deposit some money, find a real money game, and start pokering it up.  But I tread a little more lightly.  I like to get the lay of the land first by acclimating myself to the poker room’s software.  Poker is a hard enough game at which to succeed – I don’t need it to be more difficult just because I am not used to the software.  In this article, I present you with the tour I take through an online poker room’s software client before I ante up even a single penny of real money.

The Poker Table

First and foremost, I seek out a play money table so that I can get a feel for the actual game play.  Every online poker room gives you play money chips to use and you can almost always refill your play money account at any time, so don’t worry about spewing some chips.  Upon finding a seat, the first thing I note is whether or not the table rotates once I sit down.  At some rooms, if you click on a seat at the right side of the table, you will be seated at the right side of the table.  At some rooms, the table will rotate, putting you at the lower-center of table every time.  Some rooms allow you to actually choose which seating option you’d like.  Regardless, I figure this out first so that I establish my point of reference right away.

Next, I like to fiddle with the rest of the table settings.  Table options are accessed in a variety of ways, which include clicking an obvious button at the table, clicking the dealer’s chip tray, or selecting an option from a menu in the lobby.  The options I search out include, but are not limited to:

  • Four-color deck - makes it much easier to differentiate hearts from diamonds and clubs from spades.
  • Animation and sound – depending on the software, sometimes I like to turn off certain things to cut down on distractions and annoyances, or improve the software’s performance.
  • Bet display – I like being shown bet and pot values in number form, rather than only seeing the chip graphics on the table.
  • Player images/avatars – it’s fun to be able to upload your own image to be displayed at your seat, but these can get irritating sometimes, so it’s nice to have the option to turn them off.
  • Chat – do I want to see every poker room message, dealer message, hand detail, and player chat in the chat box or not?
  • Table color/background – some rooms allow you choose from a selection of felt colors and background.  I prefer simple color schemes, but others like to fancy it up.
  • Pop-up table – when it’s my turn, do I want the table to pop to the front or not?  If I’m multi-tasking, I often don’t want the table to be forced to the front, as it will interrupt whatever I am typing in another window.

After squaring all of my table options away, I need to make sure I understand the mechanics of betting.  How are the bet, fold, raise, call, and check buttons laid out?  Is there an “all-in” button and can it be turned off?  How to the automatic action check boxes work (these are boxes you mark before it’s your turn if you know in advance you want to make a certain move when it’s your turn to act)?  When I want to enter a dollar amount to bet, is it easier to just type it in or use a slider bar?  When I raise in a no-limit or pot-limit game, is the amount I type in the amount I raise to or the amount I raise on top of the current bet?


I generally don’t concern myself with the lobby all that much.  Most of my “make myself at home” tour is contained to the actual poker tables.  But, I do like to see how everything is laid out so that I can navigate to my favorite games quickly.  In particular, I look for a “custom” tab or lobby filter that will allow me to narrow down the tables shown to only the ones I want to see.  If I’m in the Hold’em lobby and only want full-ring No-Limit games $1/$2 blinds and no disconnect protection, it’s nice to be able to set those preferences and not have to scroll through dozens of tables.

I also like to open up a tournament lobby to see when registration closes, what the blind structures are like, and how the poker room distributes the prize money.  Nothing of overwhelming immediate importance, but while I’m cruising around the lobby, I might as well check it out.

Once I spend a sufficient amount of time testing out the software, I am ready to hit the real money tables.  While I’m waiting for a seat, or even while I’m playing, I usually continue to explore the software so I can find things like player search, promotion announcements, hand history options, and any other features that may be unique to the poker room.

Remember, you’re sitting at the poker table to make money and have fun.  It is much easier to accomplish those two goals when you are comfortable with your surroundings.  Take the time to familiarize yourself with the online poker room’s software before testing your skills with real money.  Your bankroll will thank you.