How to pick a poker site

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By John Lanier

With only 20 sites accepting U.S. players, how do you choose the best? There are so many options to consider so you must find a room that fits your needs. The most important concept is whether the room feels like a place where you want to put your money.
Here’s a list of what you should look for in an online poker room.

1. The site should have a lot of players. Many of the smaller sites will have just a few thousand players, with maybe 1,000-2,000 playing at any given time. If you’re a tournament player you might find your options limited here. Also, smaller sites tend to spread lower-limit cash games, which has the best rake for them. The mega sites will have a large number of cash games and tournaments of every type starting virtually every minute. Without a high volume of traffic, you might have issues trying to get into the game of your choice.

2. You must feel safe about giving the site your money. If you’re going to play anything other than freerolls or with play money, at some point you will need to make an online deposit. The best sites offer multiple ways of getting money to them. Credit card, direct-bank deductions, wire transfers, third-party credit services are options you should expect to find.

3. They should have great customer support. You don’t want to have any problems with an online site. If you do you certainly want it resolved quickly and without hassle. The best sites have 24/7 online customer support you can access via the chat box or drop-down menu. Smaller sites will offer customer support only though e-mail.

4. Hand histories: You want an audit trail. The largest sites will allow you to download hand histories of the events you’ve played. These are important to learn from and to keep players honest. The rare times when people on sites have been caught doing something improper a hand history usually was the smoking gun. Beware of any site not willing to provide this information.

5. Sign-up and other bonuses. Many smaller sites will offer generous-looking sign-up bonuses. These are legit, but you might find you have to put in a lot of playing time to see those bonuses materialize. Mega sites offer player points with nice merchandise offerings. Some sites run bonuses for training sites; generate enough points and get a free week of an onsite poker video site. Mega sites also will allow you to sell your points for cash or tournament-entry fees. Sorry guys you can’t trade points with another player. If it comes down to a couple of different rooms and you like them all the same then you might want to look at the best bonus. After all, they’re giving you free money to play there. But it’s still not as important as some of the other features of an online poker room.

6. Give me my money: When you want to cash out after that deep run in a big tournament you want your money sent to you safely and quickly. Interestingly, some mega sites fall short here, sitting on a withdrawal request for some time before a check arrives, but I’ve always been paid. There shouldn’t be any withdrawal fees or need for identification verification.

7. Class: You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you should judge a poker site by its layout. If it looks like it was just thrown together then you can expect the same level of service and professionalism from the rest of the site. The site should be functional but not bulky; you should be able to find what you want quickly and not feel like you are doing them a favor by viewing their product advertisements.

At the end of the day it comes down to your preference. Most poker sites offer a free-to-play version of their software. I would suggest trying that out first and then go from there.

— John Lanier is Ante Up’s Nothin’ But ’Net online columnist and plays as “WildHare” on most poker sites.