Does play free poker help you learn poker?

If there is no money involved does it reflect realistic play?

  • Helps you learn how to play vs calling-station / recreative player / maniac and so on... Helps you if you learn how to categorize each player and read them. no money cost & lots of frustration are the 2 faces of the same play-money-coin :)
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 31, 2017 at 15:53
  • This hit the hot network questions page. This might be the first poker.se question to ever do that.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:56

3 Answers 3


If a person's end goal is to become a good enough poker player to win money consistently, play money is a great way to get started. BUT over time, it becomes less productive and at some point becomes counterproductive to learning.

It's a great place to start because: 1) There is no risk involved 2) You can learn the rules and get comfortable with general gameplay 3) There is room for experimentation which leads to learning 4) You can practice new concepts and reinforce your skills--for instance you get real-life examples of handling pot odds, estimating outs, rather than just reading about a couple hands. 5) There is a wide variety of opponents and styles you'll need to learn how to handle

It becomes inhibitive to getting better once you have the basic concepts down and you start learning how to assign opponents' ranges of hands, deducing what they might be thinking, balancing your own ranges, etc--anything that assumes mostly rational, thinking opponents. While real poker (for money) does have some outright donkeys playing, the ratio of them is completely different than what you'd find at play money tables. If you play too long at play money where there's no real consequences for dumb or random moves, you'll never learn how to play against people who are playing for something tangible. There's a big difference there, and while you might find ways to take millions of chips off of bad play-money players, the same techniques will backfire against good players. The risk in playing too much play-money is that those techniques are the only thing you'll have in your arsenal and your bad habits will only be reinforced. You have to constantly be challenged in order to grow.

With all that said, if your goal is just to have some fun, then play money is fine for that. An analogy might be a video game where you play against your 6-year old kid. You learn how to play it with no risk, probably getting better over time and having fun. Now if you want to win a gaming tournament someday, you'll have to step up your competition at some point or you'll end up looking like a fool. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with just playing with your child for fun once in a while.

  • I don't think you regress if you think where you might play real money different. Good answer.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31, 2017 at 16:56
  • @Paparazzi You might be surprised. You certainly can... it's easy to get acclimated to a certain level of opponent and have that work against you when the level of your opponent changes, especially for such a large skill difference as there is between play money opponents and opponents in a game for anything of value. YMMV, but it's been detrimental enough to me that I stopped playing online because it was costing me real money - picking up bad habits or expectations at online play money tables and taking them to real games. Stupid online gambling ban. Grr. Jul 31, 2017 at 17:22
  • @HopelessN00b My mileage does vary. I suggest you might think more about your plays and not make habit. I live in a state where gambling is not legal so I don't get to play much real money. I get to play in a couple home games that are not as good as the high stake play money games I play.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31, 2017 at 18:05
  • 1
    I found that the free games where you had to work your way up to being able to play at higher stakes tables were more realistic. After spending the time to get to the higher-stakes, you didn't want to bust out and have to go back to the kids tables. If you can go all in and then just re-up to sit back in the same seat, you get a lot of silliness.
    – JimmyJames
    Jul 31, 2017 at 19:31

I won't accept my own answer if someone else wants to answer.

For starters, it teaches you to read the board; e.g., being able to recognize a flush or straight draw.

For sure you will learn the who wins this hand questions.

Betting will typically be loose but if you can learn to adjust and win it will make you a better player. You get a mix of passive and aggressive.

Cash plays less real than a tournament as with auto buy they don't really feel the pain.

With fast clocks you don't have time for much 2nd level thinking.

The bigger stakes games play more like real money as these are people that are often playing to increase their bankroll. You are up against better players. It will take you a while to build your bankroll. Even in the higher stakes you are going to have some people just blowing their money off. Once you get to the second table at a higher buy in tournament it starts to play pretty real.

If you are a cash game player and signed up for a Sit N Go you can use it to get used to the format.

You probably should not play for money if you cannot win free.

You can then move up to micro and beyond. Play changes as the stakes go up.


It is great for learning the mechanics of the game, gives you a good feel for how the game works which is a necessary step to becoming good at the game. If you cant get a grasp here you are not going to be able to get a grasp of the higher concept of the game.

Also is an excellent way for an advanced player to work on their game. Most players have a type of game they are comfortable with. When they find themselves in a game that has gotten wild, they often do not do so well. For me it was because I simply did not have that much experience playing these kind of games. It helped me to play some free money games. I suggest it for anybody that is having a bad time booking wins in the "good" games were the whole table seems to be on tilt.

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