“Funny Money” online poker will castrate your game. Any hope you have of becoming a quality poker player of any sort will be utterly destroyed if you spend too much time in the Play Money online poker rooms offered by every site from PartyPoker to Betsson.
“But wait,” you say, “the game works the same no matter if the stakes are pretend points or thousands of dollars. A pair still beats a high card, a flush beats a straight… what’s the problem?”
Yes and no. Though the hand strength hierarchy works the same, a crucial point of poker is that stakes inform hand strength. Let me explain.
If you are a millionaire, playing hundred dollar hands is inconsequential to your bank account and you will play that way. Likewise, if you are on welfare, $1/2 blinds can be a hefty chunk of change and you will play that way. Top pair on the flop shrinks up when you’re broke and have to put a thousand dollars into the pot! The beauty of poker is that the real life of the player seeps into the poker game – heck, it IS the game.
Funny Money destroys that and the games are played accordingly. If you can lose all of your chips then just click an icon that reads “Refill” than what are you really playing for? The answer: absurd draws.
For the purposes of research, I created a PartyPoker account. After I registered, I went right into the NL Hold’em 1000 Play Money “Practice” room and bought in with every last fake penny I had. First hand: the guy under the gun folds, second to act folds. “Hey,” I thought, “maybe I have this thing wrong.” Third raises to 100, fourth proceeds to go all-in, fifth calls, sixth, all-in, then all of a sudden it’s to me. I have 10-5 unsuited, an easy fold. Then the button goes all-in, both the small and big blinds call because, well, I don’t know why but they called. All told, going into the flop there are six players all-in, seven in the pot which is actually five different pots ranging from 50 worthless points to 12,000 worthless points. Then the hands flip over, A-9 of Diamonds and pocket 6s look to be the strongest hands amongst an array of off-suited connectors like J-9 and Q-10 and I kid you not, two different 7-2s. When the flop came 2 2 K, I had to close the PartyPoker window, go outside and smoke a cigarette. I hadn’t smoked in two months.
Learning how to play poker in a Play Money online room is the equivalent of learning how to pick up a girl by watching pornography. Are there times when 7-2 wins outright? Are there times when you deliver pizza to a sorority panty party? Well, yeah…
“Hey hey,” you interject, “I happen to be a religious person and my faith bans gambling so I certainly can’t play for money. So the free games that I play in are not the same as the real money ones that you play in, that does not make them lesser.”
Actually, poker is not gambling, at least not the poker I play. When a player’s life is in play, as it is with meaningful stakes, poker becomes a game of empathy. It becomes a game of watching as a player sees his hole cards for the first time and almost imperceptibly, his demeanor changes. It becomes a game of applying pressure to someone else’s ability to perceive and empathize with you. It becomes an art.
Webster’s Dictionary defines gambling as “to bet on an uncertain outcome”. In Play Money rooms you are doing just that – you are betting fake money on uncertain outcomes in the hopes of receiving windfall returns. Even going with pocket Aces into a hand with 6 other players puts you at a 30% favorite at best. Paradoxically, the lower your stakes, the more likely you are to come to a table where people are gambling with any two cards. Go up in stakes, the more poker becomes about playing your opponent. It is not a fluke that there are a number of devoutly religious professional poker players including Kid Poker himself, Daniel Negreanu.
“But if the PartyPokers of the world are offering ‘Funny Money’ poker, why not play?”
Go right ahead, play Funny Money poker – just don’t confuse it with real poker. The fundamental tenant of poker is to say to another player, “Put your money where your mouth is”. You simply cannot do that when there are no stakes. Yes, you can see the real hand strength hierarchy in action. Yes, you have your very own hole cards and there are real blinds and a dealer button and everything. It’s just not real poker.
Furthermore, Play Money poker can be dangerous because it can provide the illusion of real poker ability. PartyPoker runs a freeroll tournament every few days, and once a year, it runs a $1,000,000 one. You can sit in on the final table and watch, so I did. My oh my did the game slow down!
Not only were there no all-in five-way pots, there were three consecutive hands where the big blind took the pot when the table folded around. In the off event that a flop did come, almost assuredly checks followed. I watched 20 hands, saw two rivers, one showdown and zero re-raises – ZERO re-raises! The table was terrified of actual stakes as it was not the game that they were used to playing. Once you get scared of the stakes at a table, you become focused on your cards. Once you focus on your cards then you are no longer playing poker – you are gambling.
Of course, there are exceptions to the Funny Money rule. There are a number of players who use their pretend chips the same way many actual money players use theirs, and semi- legitimate poker playing can be found particularly in the higher limit games, where players have had to amass a fake fortune over time and so care about their chips,.
The point is that Play Money poker is a different game than real money poker. If you are looking to play poker then play poker. It’s worth it to quit playing the Funny Money Lottery and buy in to PartyPoker for whatever you can afford to lose – they even match every dollar you put in up to $500 USD. It is not gambling, it is not a sin and it is a whole lot more rewarding than winning a family all-in pot with 7-2. Luck just sucks – buy in and learn the art.

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