You’re new to poker online, and you’re not sure what stakes you should play for. Should you play the free games with the play money chips first, in order to learn how the game controls work? Should you start by playing for small stakes and then move up in stakes? And if so, then how low should you go? Should you try the micro stakes games?

This page tries to answer all these questions, but no one answer will be the same for every poker player.

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Starting Off with the Play Money Games

All online cardrooms have an option to play for real money or play money. These play money games are aimed to players with no bankroll at all. But if you’re completely new to playing on the Internet, these play money games are the perfect way to get started.

Someone who has played poker online before might do well to skip these games, as they might encourage you to create bad habits, like calling when you should fold. When there’s no money on the line, poker players tend to make all kinds of bone-headed decisions.

On the other hand, if you’re a complete neophyte, you SHOULD start with these free games in order to learn the controls. It’s way better to lose fake money when you accidentally push the raise icon instead of the fold icon than it is to lose real money.

It won’t take long to get familiar with the controls and how they work, and as soon as you’ve done so, you should move up to real money games. That’s because money is the whole point of poker, online or live. Without money on the line, you might as well be playing solitaire.

What Stakes Should You Play

If you’re from the United States, you should start off with the lowest stakes you’re comfortable with. The legal situation in the USA and the difficulty transferring money to and from Internet cardrooms creates a situation where you should literally only play with money you won’t miss. If the website at which you’re playing shuts down or is unable to make payouts, you won’t be in a situation where you can’t pay your bills.

On the other hand, if you’re from a more enlightened country, you needn’t limit yourself to super low stakes, although you still shouldn’t gamble with money you can’t afford to lose. Your bankroll should be a separate stack of money that’s only used for that purpose. Gambling with the rent money is always a bad idea.

The size of your bankroll should determine what stakes you should play. You need a large enough bankroll that the vagaries of luck and statistical deviation don’t bankrupt you before your long-term expectation kicks in. (Of course, if you’re a losing player, you’ll need an infinite bankroll to avoid going broke, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)

The most commonly agreed bankroll requirements for Texas holdem player are as follows:

If you’re playing no limit, you need a large enough bankroll to accommodate 20 buy-ins.

If you’re playing limit, you need a large enough bankroll to cover 300 big blinds.

If you’re a sit and go specialist, you need a large enough bankroll to cover 40 buy-ins.

Suppose you have $300 in your bankroll. This means you could afford to play for the following stakes:

  • You could play in no limit game with a buy-in of $15 or less.
  • You could play in limit games with blinds of $0.50/$1.00.
  • You could play in sit n goes with buy-ins of $7.50 or less.

Should you ever play at lower or higher stakes than those? The answer depends on your goals and your situation.

If you’re losing consistently at these stakes, you should probably go down a step and play for lower stakes until you’re confident you can beat the game at that level. You should be keeping detailed records of your play, as well as studying books and/or training videos in order to improve.

If you’re winning consistently at these stakes, it’s okay to “take a shot” at the higher stakes, especially in terms of a tournament that’s outside your normal buy-in. For example, it wouldn’t be outrageous for a sit and go specialist to take a shot at a tournament with an $11 buy in if she’s feeling lucky. She just needs to be prepared to go back down in stakes right away if she loses.

What If My Bankroll Is Really Small?

If your bankroll is less than $100, you’ll really need to focus on beating those microstakes games. For example, if you only have $50, you will most likely need to stick to the $0.01/$0.02 no limit games. You might be able to handle $0.05/$0.10 or $0.10/$0.20 limit games. The biggest sit n go tournament you could afford would only have a buy-in of $1.10.

You needn’t feel ashamed of playing for low stakes. Everyone has to start somewhere. Even Chris Ferguson, for grins, has played for microstakes to see how long it would take him to turn $0 into $10,000. He started by playing nothing but freeroll tournaments, then he used the winnings from those to move up.

You do need to understand that the texture of the game changes based on what stakes you’re playing. The level of play and the style of play that wins in a no limit game at the $0.01/$0.02 level won’t win at the $1.00/$2.00 level. You’ll need to focus on continual improvement of your game.


Small stakes holdem online is appropriate for a lot of different kinds of players, especially those from the United States. These stakes are most appropriate for those with small bankrolls or concerns about their ability to cash out their winnings. Players need to focus on constantly improving their game as they play for higher stakes, because what wins at the microstakes tables often loses at the higher stakes tables.

Finally, purely recreational players who don’t care if they win or lose can play for any stakes they like.