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If you know what you want from a poker room, then choosing the best online poker room is easy: just compare online poker rooms based on what you think is important and pick the best one.
"Okay, so why the rest of the article if things are so easy?"
Well, such a bunch of tables comparing all these poker room features aren't really helpful when you are new to poker and don't really know what you should be looking for when choosing an online poker room. And that's where this article will come in handy. It will show you what you should be looking for and it will only recommend safe and reliable poker rooms.
Let's break things down by looking at some basic, yet important goals a First Time Poker Player should set for himself:
A good and cheap way to learn the basics of poker is by playing poker for free with play money. I can't think of any poker room that does not offer the option to play poker with play money, but there are only a few of them which have enough traffic at multiple poker variants for you to learn any game you want at any time of the day. It isn't a coincidence that these rooms happen to be the two biggest online poker rooms around: PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
Besides offering play money games in texas hold'em, as all poker rooms do, these sites also have a fair amount of games going in play money omaha, razz, studd and several other games. Although at first you might not be interested in any other game but texas hold'em, familiarizing yourself with other poker variants like omaha will be very helpful for acquiring skills that will improve your texas hold'em game too. Both these rooms also have enough traffic for the real money games of the poker variants mentioned, which isn't the case for any other poker room.
What was meant with 'getting used to poker software' is simply learning to find the games you like to play, click the right buttons at the right time while playing and maybe eventually to learn playing more than one table at a time. There is no question about it that one room's software is more intuitive, easier to handle and navigate through, than that of other rooms. Furthermore, some of the poker software out there is known for its amount of bugs or lack of options and can be very annoying (or even tilt inducing) to play on. Examples of poker rooms with software that is very unlikely to give any problems are Ladbrokes, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
When you start to play online poker with real money you might have deposited some money in your account or you won some in a freeroll (free tournaments with a real money prize pool). Either way chances are your bankroll will be small. Proper bankroll management therefore dictates you to start playing at very low (nano) stakes in order to minimize the risk of losing your whole bankroll.
Some online poker rooms offer no limit cash games starting at 10nl (with blinds of 5 and 10 cents). However, you shouldn't play these stakes until you have a bankroll of at least $150. Therefore it would be sensible to start at a poker room that offers the lowest stakes available with blinds of just 1 and 2 cents. When buying in for $1 in these games, chances of losing a bankroll as small as 15-20$ are very slim provided that you have a basic skill level as well as patience.
Online poker rooms that offer these nano stakes and have at least a decent amount of traffic in them are: Ladbrokes, Everest poker, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and all rooms on the iPoker network (including BetFred). Of these poker rooms Everest Poker is the only one that does not offer any level between 1-2 cent games and 5-10 cent games, making the jump quite large when moving up. The minimum buy-in at these nano stakes cash games is most often $0.40 ($1 at PokerStars). When it comes to tournaments and Sit & Go's, PokerStars is the only room that does not charge rake with a buy-in below $1 and has a wide variety as well as the largest amount of games running.
First deposit bonus
Another consideration when choosing your first room could be the availability of a first deposit bonus and, more importantly, the extent to which you will be able to take advantage of this bonus.
Take for instance a 100% first deposit bonus up to $600. If you decide to start by depositing a small amount, say $20, you will lose the opportunity to take advantage of the other $580 for ever. As a nano-stakes player you won't be in the position to meet the requirements for a full $600 bonus before it expires anyway, so I don't think this should be a big deal breaker for you. Furthermore, especially Europeans will have plenty of 'bonuswhoring' options at other rooms once their bankroll reaches a size to play 10nl and higher stakes so that they can get and clear these kinds of bonuses.
A way to circumvent this issue would be to get a starting bankroll through a freeroll or, much easier, by a money transfer from a friend with an account at the same poker room. You can then build your way up to the stakes at which you can meet the requirements for the full first deposit bonus before actually making your first deposit.
Currently, PokerStars' first deposit bonus offers you the opportunity to make three qualifying deposits in the first 90 days. This way you can still make a small first deposit without losing the opportunity to take advantage of the rest of the bonus.
Availability of full ring games
Some online poker rooms do not offer enough full ring cash games to play multiple tables or to be able to game select. Because it would be sensible to start out in online poker by playing full ring games this is certainly something to take into consideration. Read more about full ring and shorthanded games (including their availability at various poker rooms) in the article 'Full ring vs shorthanded poker'.
Location, location, location!
Finally, residents of the United States of America will notice that they are not able to open an account at every poker room they wish. As a result of American regulations there are only a few poker rooms which accept American players such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
Well, considering the above and following my own experiences with many online poker rooms I honestly think that the best online poker room to start your online poker career at would be PokerStars.
If you are interested in trying out PokerStars then you should follow the guide to playing poker online at PokerStars I wrote. This guide will walk you through the process of downloading their software, opening a free account and playing for free. If you like playing at PokerStars, then the last part of this guide will walk you through the proces of depositing (and getting the first deposit bonus too of course!) and playing for real money. By following the guide you'll be playing the games you like to play at a safe and reliable poker room in no time.