Free Poker
Sept 29, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

Somebody once said that playing poker without money isn't really playing poker at all. In most cases that's true, but the poker boom has led to the emergence of "free poker." From the .net "poker schools" set up by major online gaming sites like Party Poker or PokerStars, to local bar poker nights and charity poker tournaments, the amount of action to be had without risking a dollar is certainly greater than it used to be. When it comes to quality, though, some kinds of free poker are better than others. Here's a guide to flinging chips and showing your hand down on someone else's dime.

Online Poker Schools

If you've ever seen an American television ad for a poker site ending in ".net", you're familiar with the so-called "poker schools" on the internet. These sites are set up by online gaming companies to get around laws aimed at stopping them from advertising on television. By providing a place to play gambling games without actually spending money, the sites are technically obeying the law and can advertise. As you might expect from something that exists solely to skirt a law, there's little real poker value to these sites beyond new players using them as a means of learning the basic rules of the game and the mastering the mechanics of playing the game online. If you know how to play you'll want the chance to win something, and you can't get that here.

Online Freerolls

One of the best ways for an online card room to attract players is to host a freeroll. On the larger internet poker sites these tournaments regularly draw crowds numbering in the thousands. The fields are much more manageable on smaller sites, usually only reaching several hundred. You'll be playing against a diverse cross-section of players in these tournaments - beginning players learning to play tournaments, regular players blowing off some steam, and sometimes even people practicing a different style than they usually play. They're all there for one reason: they can win something without risking their own money. Freerolls play differently than tournaments where players have paid an entry fee, but skilled players can still win them. Anyone who can learn to successfully outlast the large fields in freerolls can build a bankroll with scores in just a handful of these tournaments and earn valuable experience in playing tournaments.

The ultimate freeroll tournament was recently hosted by Paradise Poker. Lee Biddulph, a chef from Blackpool, England, won $1 million after fending off more than 3,900 opponents who also entered the Million Dollar Freeroll at no cost. If that sounds like a lot of money for a free tournament, it should: it's the largest prize ever given for any online tournament, free or not. The final table of the tournament was played out on a tropical island, and the other players there who came up short all received $10,000 for their efforts. The tournament was heavily advertised by Paradise Poker, and given its success there will probably be more free tournaments like it in the future.

Poker Night At The Local Bar

In a growing number of areas, sports bars and other such venues have begun to hire promotion companies to bring in all the supplies to run free poker tournaments for their patrons. If the players are lucky enough to live in an area where gambling is not completely illegal there may be cash prizes for tournament winners. For poker fans in in cities and states where gambling is not allowed by law, there are still ways to win without becoming a criminal. If you don't mind not winning money for playing poker, promotion companies staging bar tournaments in these areas often give away merchandise such as poker chips sets to winners. Then there are the leagues like the National Pub Poker League which let you earn points through your finishes in sanctioned weekly tournaments at local bars - points that can qualify you for satellite tournaments with prizes like a buy-in to a large tournament such as the WSOP Main Event or a WPT event.

A great number of people out there today want to play poker after seeing it on television but don't want to risk their own money doing so - and luckily for them, there are entrepreneurs who have found a way to bring them free poker. Whoever said you can't get something for nothing didn't experience the poker boom.

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