Rediscovering online poker; free games offer entertainment and socializing during “stay at home”

Michael Russell, Columnist

Competitive poker player and gambling professional, Michael Russell will offer his expertise and advice on all things gambling.


With the current stay at home orders in place, where can poker players find a game these days?

Casinos nationwide have been shut down since mid-March.

Talking Stick Resort, Arizona’s largest casino and poker room, just announced they are extending their closure until May 31. Desert Diamond West Valley casino has announced a May 15 closure extension.

These dates and predicted openings might be fluid—or speculative at best, as the impact of the Covid-19 crisis directly influences these re-opening projections.

Pokers’ largest annual event, The World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas every summer and televised on ESPN, just announced they are postponing this year’s 51st annual month and a half long event to sometime in the fall.

No exact dates have been announced yet.

There should be no betting on when this virus will slow or become well managed by health care professionals or when the public at large is considered “safe” and we can actually move at getting back to “normal.”

The safe bet—play it safe.

Social distancing has pushed poker players back from the tables and out of the casinos.

But there’s one place where poker is booming.

Like pretty much everything else, poker has found a way to survive—online.

In fact, online poker has experienced an explosion since the shutdowns were put into place.

Where else can you “sit” at an imaginary poker table with eight other players and not worry about the coronavirus?

Actually, the first virtual hand of poker was dealt back in 1998 on a now-defunct site called PlanetPoker.

The first online poker boom came in 2003 when the aptly named Chris Moneymaker won a $10,000 World Series of Poker entry in a $40 online tournament.

That summer, Moneymaker went on to defeat 838 other poker players (including all the pros) to win the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas and its top prize of $2.5 Million.

Many average Joes like Moneymaker caught the online poker bug.

That boom lasted three years until the UIGEA was passed by Congress in late 2006, curtailing some of the largest online poker sites.

Most of the popular poker websites in 2020 have been around for several years now.

Some major poker tournaments have been played online in the last couple of years including some World Series of Poker events.

Many of these poker sites are advertised in numerous magazines which are available for free in any USA casino. The longest published such magazine is Cardplayer.

Most of these poker sites have plenty of free games which I recommend.

In fact, some sites are play money only—which, in today’s economic uncertainty—is a better way to play.

In many of the free games there are still ways to win prizes while brushing up on ones poker skills.

Chat rooms and poker forums have kicked into high gear for a way to socialize while everyone is home.

Online poker, used responsibly, is fun, it’s a way to be entertained during the coronavirus crisis and it might keep poker enthusiasts from getting too rusty when they can finally meet around the casino tables again