As a player residing in the United States, what is the best way to keep my poker skills sharp without access to real-money online play at sites like PokerStars or FullTilt?

What if I live in a state with no legal cardrooms, or live prohibitively far from one?

  • I don't know that I agree with the edit to add 'legally'. There are several jurisdictions where home games are illegal, and I think many would consider them a valid option. Jan 10, 2012 at 19:41
  • 1
    It's worth noting that even though PokerStars and FullTilt are no longer open to US players, there are still several poker sites that are. Cake Poker and the Merge Network are two major examples. Jan 10, 2012 at 19:54
  • Sorry Chris I was going from the fact that you ruled out online poker sites to mean you wanted legally... I still think the legally qualifier would be a better question. If you are not worried about breaking the law there are plenty of cash games around.
    – Chad
    Jan 10, 2012 at 20:56
  • I don't know that I agree with the edit to add 'legally'. There are several jurisdictions where home games are illegal, and I think many would consider them a valid option.But u can keep ur skills sharp if u have a better luck in playing real money.
    – user334
    Mar 7, 2012 at 2:29

4 Answers 4



Find a poker training site that lets you download their videos, and get as many as you can find for your game. Then don't just watch them, but study them. At every point a decision is made, ask yourself if you would make the same decision or not. Take notes. If you continued your subscription with the training site beyond the initial month to do the massive downloading, then ask questions about the video.

Go through old hand-histories with a fine-tooth comb. As poker players, we often neglect spending time to review in favor of getting in more hands. Now is the time to buck up and review the hell out of all the hands you've put in over the past few years. If you don't find several leaks that you could fix upon returning to the tables, then you're not looking hard enough.


I'm sorry, but I think playing without betting real money (online or not) won't keep your skills sharp. The decisions you make while not risking any money could differ significantly from the ones you make while risking your money.

It's okay to play for free to get a grasp of the basics, but I think it's not a good idea if you want to take your poker abilities to the next level.

  • 2
    Just as importantly, the decisions OTHERS make when no money is riding on their decision significantly changes the play, too. I'm wary of any online play, cash or free, because I don't know how much value a person puts on that two dollar bet.
    – Marvo
    Jan 10, 2012 at 20:28
  • LOL. @cch, the MOST IMPORTANT decisions and learning happens AWAY from poker table (analyzing hand, learning the math, learning strategies, etc). Of course you can learn at the table, but it's far more important what you learnt away from table
    – kissgyorgy
    Jan 10, 2012 at 20:52
  • I'd have to disagree; once you get out of the "this is fake money" zone and into the "I'm playing this because real $$ is illegal in my area" the decisions are the same. I've run into as many people making the same bad decisions for play money as I have playing live. You can learn skills from both.
    – AlG
    Mar 7, 2012 at 12:40

Well, I took this habit from a friend. I suggest to gather around 4-6 players / friends and play every week a game. We put down for the winner a small wage to keep everyone on the edge and active, then we play and the winner takes it all and gives the rest of the players another round of beer for example.

  • watching poker videos and poker shows from the pros
  • reading good poker books
  • talking about poker with friends who are interested also
  • work on math examples that needed to play poker (mainl statistics)
  • analye hands
  • go to poker forums, and be active
  • play home games with friends - nobody ever forbid that

Keep in mind that playing poker in play money probably wont achieve the desired affect (sharping your skills) because the quality of these games. Players who play with play money only play for fun and doesn't care, so the won't improve your skills probably.

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