How to play poker online with friends

Geoff Fisk
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Last updated: April 25, 2022 11:47 am EDT

Online poker apps and sites boomed throughout 2020 and 2021, as COVID-19 shutdowns of live poker rooms prompted players to head online for new games and exciting poker action. It may not be the World Series of Poker, but online poker offers the opportunity to play with friends and poker players from all over the world.

Many different poker rooms await players looking to play money games or just for fun online. Some jurisdictions restrict access to specific poker sites, but players in most areas of the world can find at least one online poker room.

Some of the top online poker rooms available to U.S. players include Americas Cardroom, Global Poker, WSOP.com, PokerStars USA, and the partypoker US Network.

There are only a few states that specifically outlaw online poker. Utah tops the list with a ban on all gambling activities. Hawaii bans all games except social poker in private residences. 

Most states do not specifically mention online poker in their laws at all. There are states like Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey that allow only state-regulated games from operators like WSOP. 

Poker players can typically access poker sites from a variety of states. No poker player has been pursued or prosecuted by the U.S. government for playing online poker, and it’s not likely to happen in the future. States often word their laws ambiguously, not giving their courts any reason to interpret online poker legality one way or another.

In the last few years, Michigan and Pennsylvania joined Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada by licensing sites. They awarded licenses to operators like partypoker, 888poker, and PokerStars for internet poker. Others like Connecticut and West Virginia legalized that process but have yet to award any licenses.

American poker players have other legal options, too. They can access subscription-only poker sites by paying a monthly fee to compete for prizes. There are also free-play sites like PokerStars.net that offer play-money games only. 

Can I play online poker with friends?

Numerous online poker rooms operate around the globe. Depending on where you’re playing from, you might not enjoy legal access to all of the world’s available online poker sites.

Players in the U.S. can’t legally play on the international versions of PokerStars, partypoker, or GGPoker. Partypoker and PokerStars do operate online poker sites in certain U.S. states, but those networks only allow players from within their respective states.

U.S. players can still enjoy plenty of online poker tables, however. Here’s a look at some of the world’s top poker sites and where they operate:

Choosing the right platform and game type

Free poker clients like PokerStars.net are perfect for new players and those who simply want to compete with friends for fun.

Subscription-only sites like ClubWPT are primarily for players who want to win seats into live tournaments. However, these sites are also an ideal launching pad for beginning players who want to get better at poker and learn poker strategy. ClubWPT, for example, offers some lessons with its development plan for Diamond members. 

When playing with friends, it’s important to determine the group’s goals. 

  • Does the group want to play for real cash or for play money?
  • Do players want to limit private games to friends only or allow new players to join?
  • Do they want to compete in a friends-only game and regular cash games?
  • Is the game preference basic (No Limit Hold’em and/or Omaha) or open to poker variants like Stud or Razz?

Explore site options that best fit your friends’ preferences, and start playing.

What is the best poker app to play online with friends?

Looking to play some Pot Limit Omaha or Texas Holdem poker online with friends? Here are the four top apps and sites for playing online poker. Each offers different gameplay and functionality. Try them out for yourself to find which one suits you best.

Not all of the sites listed here are available to every player. Availability will depend on the state(s) where the players reside. However, there are so many options that players can almost always find what works for every type of game.

The best feature of the poker apps listed here is that they have all developed reputations for transparency and fair gameplay. Sites like Americas Cardroom and Global Poker have grown by significant numbers in the last few years. 

During 2020 and into 2021, when live and in-person poker was not an option for most poker players, they instead discovered these highly recommended and popular poker sites.

1. Americas Cardroom

Americas Cardroom functions as the flagship skin on the Winning Poker Network (WPN). Americas Cardroom (aka ACR) offers online poker to U.S. players in all 50 states.

Other skins on WPN include Black Chip Poker and True Poker, both available in the U.S. The U.S. skins on WPN also include player networks from the network’s international family of poker sites.

2. Global Poker

Global Poker offers online poker under a sweepstakes gaming model. You can’t directly deposit money at Global Poker, but you can purchase “Gold Coins” and play real money poker with credits and earn “Sweeps Coins” as a gift with those purchases.

Sweeps Coins can be used to play in the sweepstakes poker games at Global Poker and can then be redeemed for cash prizes. Global Poker offers games in all U.S. states except Washington state.

3. WSOP.com/888poker Delaware

Mobile poker players in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware can play against each other on WSOP New Jersey, WSOP Nevada, and the 888poker Delaware network. These sites all share the same player pool, and the network could expand to include other states in the future.

4. International poker sites

PokerStars, GGPoker, and partypoker all operate major international poker sites. These sites are ideal to create a poker club of friends outside of the U.S.

U.S. players do have access to online poker sites like PokerStars New Jersey, PokerStars Michigan, PokerStars Pennsylvania, partypoker NJ, and BetMGM Poker Michigan. All of those sites, however, only allow players from within their respective states.

Best places to play poker online for free with friends

Playing online poker with friends for free is fun and easy with the following top options.

1. PokerStars Home Games

Players from the U.S. and abroad can put together free private poker games online via the PokerStars Home Games service. You can start a private poker club and invite anyone you want, and the games play out on the familiar PokerStars software.

In the U.S., you’ll need to download one of PokerStars U.S.-based platforms (PokerStars NJ, MI, or PA). You can’t play for real money unless you live in one of those states, but you can sign up for an account and access the Home Games.

2. PlayWSOP

Much like PokerStars, WSOP offers free online poker for players not looking to play for real money. The PlayWSOP app allows friends to gather and compete against each other and is available as both a mobile app and a desktop browser-based client. Meaning you can enjoy playing online poker with your friends via any iPhone, Android, or other mobile devices.

3. Zynga Poker

Another “social poker” site available worldwide, Zynga Poker persists as a popular play money platform. Zynga Poker functions very much like PlayWSOP and PlayWPT, and is available as a downloadable app for Android and Apple iOS devices.

Players can also access Zynga Poker directly through a desktop browser, with no download required.

How to Play Online with Friends for Real Money

PokerStars Home Games offers the best platform to set up a private game out of the options listed in this article. The other free poker sites (PlayWSOP, Zynga Poker) are fun play-money options, but PokerStars Home Games allows you to set up truly private clubs and games.

While PokerStars Home Games doesn’t facilitate real-money transactions, you can keep track of your private game’s results and settle up with real money after the game.

PayPal, Venmo, and other instant payment processors offer great ways to reconcile real-money cash game stacks or tournament results at the end of a private home game with friends. It’s generally best to have the club manager, or another financially inclined member of the game, collect all real money beforehand, escrowing the player funds until the game is over.

Creating Private Poker Tournaments

PokerStars Home Games allows club managers to set up both private cash games and tournaments. These private tournaments can revolve around several different poker variants, not just limited to Texas Hold’em.

The club manager sets the game, buy-in, and structure for the tournament. From there, the tournament plays out just as a real-money tournament would on PokerStars.

Like the cash games, you won’t be able to use PokerStars’ payment processors to facilitate real-money play in a Home Game tournament. To play for real money, you should have all players send their entry fee to a designated escrow manager, who then pays out winning players after the tournament.

How to set up a poker game on Zoom

Getting an online poker game together becomes even more fun when you match with a group call on Zoom. What’s more fun than having your very own virtual private table to enjoy with friends? There’s no way to directly link a Zoom call to an online poker site, so participating players will have to bring up Zoom in a separate window alongside the poker game.

At least one player should splurge for a paid account on Zoom if you want to gather your friends for a virtual poker game. The free version of Zoom only allows multi-person calls to go on for 40 minutes.

If at least one member of your private game has a paid Zoom subscription, however, the entire group can stay on the call for an unlimited amount of time.

The takeaway

One of the best things to come from the poker boom and the many years since is the opportunity to play with others from around the world. Online poker is not only interesting but often informative and helpful in developing one’s own poker strategy.

Most online poker sites have also discovered the appeal to compete with friends in private games. In a technology-driven world, online poker lets people from different cities, states, and countries organize their own games. Whether in serious friends-only games requiring an invitation code or games set up more for chatting and having fun, poker sites try harder than ever to cater to player needs.

There are more ways to play online poker in the U.S than than most people know about. Perhaps it is time to see if your friends want to connect over a good poker game online. It can do wonders for your friendships and your poker skills alike.