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How to play online poker safely and securely with your friends

Three Friends

If you're like many people, then you might regularly play poker with friends, gathered around a table in your kitchen, garage, or den. However, there are times when it's simply impractical for everyone to physically meet in person to enjoy a friendly game of cards. This is particularly true in the current climate with the various coronavirus restrictions and social distancing now in effect.

Fortunately, you can play online poker with friends easily and safely. With the proliferation of places to play, there's no reason to avoid adding a few virtual poker tables to your mix of entertainment choices. We'll tell you about safe sites for poker games with friends online, inform you of how to get started, and warn you about common problems and issues so that you can avoid them.

Online Poker With Friends

Private Online Poker With Friends Better Than Live Games?

Though this might seem unlikely at first, there's a good case to be made for the experience of online poker with your friends being even better than sitting around a live table. For starters, you won't have to invest in a poker table, a set of casino chips, decks of cards, and all the other paraphernalia of offline poker. Thus, your upfront investment will be minimized should you decide that the online realm is right for your home game.

Moreover, the gaming online is generally faster-paced and less cumbersome than in a live setting. No matter what variant of poker you prefer – No Limit Hold'em, Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo, HORSE, et cetera – the dealing mechanisms and pot calculations will be performed flawlessly for you by the software.

No more forgetting whose turn it is to post the blinds or misallocating chips to side pots. There will be no more delays while players try to figure out how much they need to put in the middle to call an all-in or attempt to ascertain the size of the minimum permitted raise. This will all be handled for you without error.

The most glaring weakness of private poker games online is that you won't be able to look your friends in the eye or engage in the trash talking and banter that's such a fun aspect of live poker. However, you can recreate most of this atmosphere by setting up a virtual meeting using webcams and Zoom or similar videoconferencing software. This way, you'll still be able to stare directly into the souls of your amigos while misquoting badass lines uttered by John Malkovich in “Rounders.” And this, as we well recognize, is what social home poker games are all about.

Teddy KGB in RoundersWe Think This Is What Teddy KGB Said in Rounders

Poker Online With Friends: Free Games

One option available to you is to find a play-money room that will let you play poker online with friends for free. This may take some of the competitive fire out of the game, but you can always keep track of everyone's play chip wins and losses and then settle up with real money later.

You have a number of possible choices when searching for free online poker games with fake money:

PokerStars Home Game Clubs

Global online poker giant PokerStars is well-known for its real money tables, which are accessible only to a few users in the United States: those located in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania where the company has obtained state-issued licenses to operate with the blessing of the authorities. However, this site also hosts a robust play money division through its subsidiary, and it accepts customers from everywhere in the USA except Washington State.

Using the PokerStars Home Games functionality included in the software, you can create a club and invite your friends. Then you can make your own cash games and tournaments with play chip buyins, which the members of your club can join.

PokerStars Home GamesCreating a Table in PokerStars Home Game Club

PokerStars has probably the best poker software around, and you can select from quite a few game variants that you might not find elsewhere, including Badugi, Razz, Stud, and 6+ Hold'em. However, you start with only a limited number of chips, and so there's a chance one or more of your friends will lose their balance and have to purchase more. Chip packages start at 500,000 for $2.99, so this is only a minor expense although the prospect of paying anything for fake chips sticks in our craws a little bit.

PokerStars has various versions of its software client for its global .com player pool, its New Jersey licensed online cardroom, and other specific markets around the world. In order to play interstate online poker with friends, you'll need to grab the download from if you and your buddies reside in the United States. International users are instead directed to This means that U.S. and non-U.S. people cannot commingle at the PokerStars virtual tables even for play money club games, so this solution might not be right if some members of your group hail from the United States and others from abroad.


With a policy of welcoming players from around the world and a poker room that launches right in your browser, DonkHouse may be a perfect fit for those in search of an online poker with friends no download option. The games here are denominated solely in play chips. Once you start a new group (an extremely easy process), you can invite friends to participate by entering either their DonkHouse username or email address into a webform.

DonkHouse Create a TableMaking a Private Table at DonkHouse

No Limit Texas Hold'em, several Omaha variants, and an in-house creation called “donkem” can be played. There's even Dealer's Choice where players take turns selecting the type of poker to play for the next orbit. Unfortunately, DonkHouse does not offer tournaments, just ring games.

Compensating somewhat for the lack of tourneys are several entertaining features that are absent from most other virtual poker halls. You can straddle (and re-straddle!), run it twice, and enable bomb pots. Most of these extras are subject to a vote by the players in a hand, so you won't have to engage in such gimmickry unless a majority agree.

Poker Apps to Play With Friends

Another possibility is using one of the growing number of mobile poker apps to set up a free private table for online poker with friends. These apps use a club-based model, similar to PokerStars and DonkHouse, whereby one person starts a club and then invites others to join. The club manager then distributes chips, sets up tables, and performs functions related to administering the club.

Three of the most popular of these mobile apps are:

All three of these platforms let you start a club and open up tables and tournaments for free. You can choose Hold'em, Omaha, 5 Card Omaha, Open Face Chinese, and other formats though the exact list of variants supported varies from app to app.

Overseeing a club is somewhat difficult, however, because there are tons of settings and customizations that are the responsibility of the club manager to decide upon. Action timer lengths, rake/fee amounts, and permitted buyin values can all be adjusted, which is great if you want to fiddle with everything until it's just perfect but might be overkill if you just seek to start playing immediately.

PPPoker Table CreationConfiguring a Club Table on PPPoker

Additionally, all of these sites have restrictions on what you can do for free. If you wish to perform certain actions – like adding club members beyond a certain limit or acquiring extra chips above the initial allotment – then you will have to fork over some cash.

The way you accomplish this is by purchasing in-app currency, often called “Diamonds” or “Gold,” with real money and then exchanging the virtual currency for whatever features you want to unlock or items you wish to acquire. This process just adds to the complexity and time investment (not to mention money investment) needed to successfully run a club.

Mobile poker apps are intended primarily for phone and tablet users, and therefore, they are designed for smaller screens and possess simplified user interfaces. Most of them can be successfully played on a desktop, either natively or through emulators, but you might find the table layouts and gaming experience sub-optimal.

Real Money Warning

If you begin to seriously investigate mobile poker apps to play, then you will undoubtedly encounter people promoting existing clubs on social media and forums while encouraging readers to sign up with their codes. What's going on is that they're representing clubs that offer real money wagering, and they earn a commission on every player they refer.

You see, although the app developers state that their software is meant only for play money games, it's possible to trade the fake chips privately for real money and thus host what amounts to real money games. These clubs establish an exchange rate of how many dollars (or pounds or euros, et cetera) are equal to one in-app chip, and then they buy and sell the chips with their customers as needed.

It might be tempting to deposit your own money with one of these clubs and avoid the hassles of setting up and administering your own club. Most clubs will host private tables for you and your friends if you ask nicely. Also, you might be lured by the possibility of playing in other games apart from your weekly home game in order to sharpen your skills.

We must caution you, though, that there are dangers lurking on the horizon. Unless you know and personally trust the individual in charge of a club, you could be taking a big risk with your money.

Because playing with actual cash at stake is against the terms and conditions of the apps in question, you will have almost no effective remedies if a club steals your money. You will have been breaking the rules just as much as the club owner was, and so the site will not intervene on your behalf. You might even find yourself banned altogether!

Though most clubs conduct their affairs in an upright manner, there are those who succumb to the temptation to abscond with their customers' funds. Just look at the NYPokerKing case or the complaints by V-Pokere against PPPoker for examples of what can happen when you put your trust in online poker private table apps. If you're looking for real money online poker, then there are much better alternatives.

Online Poker With Friends: Real Money Games

If you're hankering for some private poker games online that use real money, then there are several outfits prepared to handle your action. Quite a few online poker sites happily transact with Americans, and there are a couple that are willing to facilitate your online home game.

Playing at a real money site means that there's something at stake and should help get the competitive juices flowing. You could instead pick a play money site and then declare that each chip represents a certain USD value, but having the bookkeeping done directly by the site saves you a bit of legwork. It also means you can take a chance on new members whom you wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable meeting with in person to exchange cash.

What About the Law?

There are no federal laws that interfere with your ability, as an ordinary player, to log on to the site of your choice and start playing online poker with friends for real money. All federal statutes that even mention online gaming, like the UIGEA, direct their penalty clauses toward those managing and running the games, NOT regular players. Also, none of the state laws that could theoretically prohibit poker with friends online have ever been enforced against internet poker enthusiasts.

The authorities have historically focused their anti-online gaming efforts on the financial and banking sectors, trying to stem the flow of money to and from the sites. This is what they did during the controversial Black Friday crackdown in 2011. Importantly, even during Black Friday, the largest enforcement action against online poker ever, not a single player was targeted. The indictments were filed against companies and their executives.

For additional insight into how federal and state laws interact with online poker, check out this USA internet poker legal overview.

Newfangled Payment Methods

Most international poker providers that serve the United States today have figured out ways of bypassing banks and legacy payment channels. Crucial in this department are crypto-currencies, like Bitcoin, which enable speedy and relatively anonymous online transactions that are mostly beyond the jurisdiction of any land-based busybodies. Old-school deposit and withdrawal methods, like credit cards and bank wires, are still supported at most internet poker venues, but Bitcoin accounts for a large and increasing share of transaction volume.

ACR Poker

One of the largest real money internet poker sites still open to residents of the United States, ACR Poker spreads a wide array of cash games, SNGs, and tournaments at prices both high and low. It has recently implemented private poker tournaments. Private cash games are not possible.

Your ability to customize the tournament is sadly very limited. Private tournaments are priced at exactly $1.50 + $0.15; there's no ability to set the buyin either lower or higher. You're restricted to three tournament structures (fast, medium, slow) as well as three forms of poker (NLHE, PLO, PLO/8).

In order to play poker online with friends at ACR, you must send an email to friends[at] Include the name of your tournament, the structure and type of poker you want, and a tournament password.

ACR Poker will create the game, and you can send the password to your friends so that they can register. Your tournament will be listed in the “Tourney” section of the poker software, in the “Private” Tab.

It's a shame that ACR's private games for online poker with friends are so restricted in variety. This is especially so given that the site houses a wide array of ring games at stakes from $0.01/$0.02 to $50/$100 and even higher, sit n' gos up to about the $100 level, and MTTs with buyins for low rollers and ballers alike. Perhaps management will see fit to expand the private games offering sometime in the future. Until then, many prospective ACR customers will be disappointed.

Still, you can read this comprehensive ACR Poker review for details on how to open an account and make a deposit. There's a 100% up to $500 welcome bonus awaiting you. ACR has full-fledged desktop software for PCs and Macs, but the mobile client contains only a few game formats.


Blockchain.Poker is one of the new breed of online poker rooms that eschew the use of traditional currencies entirely and conduct all gameplay using crypto-currency. You can deposit, cash out, and play in either Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, or Bitcoin Satoshi Vision.

Though you can only select between No Limit and Pot Limit Hold'em, this is one of the few sites that lets you partake in multiplayer poker online with friends for all three popular formats: cash games, sit n' gos, and tournaments.

You need simply point your browser at the website, and a new account will be automatically generated for you. We advise you to add an optional password to your account so that it will be saved for the next time you wish to access it especially if you leave money in your balance.

Going to the lobby will show you all the active games. Then to make your private game, it's simply a matter of clicking the “Create Table,” “Create Sit & Go,” or “Create Tournament” button and configuring your game.

Creating a Table at Blockchain.Poker Blockchain.Poker Game Creation Interface

By default, the games you make are open to all, but it's easy to add a password so that only those you approve of can take a seat. The blinds are all denominated in digital coins, but in U.S. dollar terms, they run from sub-penny games to high-roller values above $1,000 for the big blind.

Blockchain Poker is a browser-based program that works well on desktops, laptops, phones, and tablets. Another advantage is its lightning-fast payouts, which often arrive in just a few minutes. Privacy advocates will appreciate's philosophy of not requiring any personally identifying documents when you open an account or make a withdrawal request. You're truly anonymous at this site.

Read this factual review of for additional information, including instructions on how to claim a no deposit bonus.

Cash Game or Tournament?

If you've made it this far in our article about poker games with friends online, then you'll have noticed that we've indicated which online poker destinations support private cash games and tournaments (sit & gos are just a type of tournament). You may be wondering which one is best for you. Let's examine both styles of game:

Cash Games

A cash game is a table where the blinds stay constant and players can come and go as they please, leaving and rejoining later on. There's not really a designated starting or ending time for a cash game (also known as a ring game). They can theoretically run continuously for days or even weeks unless, of course, the administrator of the game closes the table.

Nobody is ever eliminated from a cash game due to running out of chips. A player who has busted can rebuy again an unlimited number of times constrained only by the funds they have available in their account.

Cash games are great if you want a leisurely home game where there's no time pressure and nobody is ever eliminated from play. But they're not really good for the purposes of bragging rights because there's no overall winner per se although you could figure out who won the most chips over the course of an evening and declare him or her the winner.

In a cash game, you're never really sure how much you stand to win or lose because you can buy in again if you run out of chips. Those big, failed three-barrel bluffs can really add up if you make them hand after hand.


In a tournament, everyone pays a set buyin amount to enter, and the action unfolds with players being booted from the game whenever they run out of chips. Prizes are awarded to the final few competitors eliminated and the ultimate winner.

In order to drive the action, tournaments feature a definite starting time and blinds that increase on a specified schedule. If you know the number of individuals who enter and the timetable of blind levels, you can get a pretty good idea of how long a tournament will last.

Because the buyin amount is publicized before the game begins, everyone can confidently know exactly how much it will cost to participate (we will exclude from our discussion tourneys where rebuys and add-ons are permitted). This might make tourneys more appropriate for those who consider poker just a hobby and don't want to lose too much in any single session.

Because there's a definite ranking of finishing position in tournaments, the winner can lord his victory over the losers at least until the next game when the relative positions are likely to change. You can even maintain leaderboards keeping track of the top performers over the course of a season or a year.

One problem with tournaments is that those who are eliminated will be done for the night. Some players might find this frustrating especially those who bust out after just a few minutes.

Tournament AND Cash Game

One solution to the tournament-or-cash-game dilemma is to have both! You can create a tournament and a cash game running simultaneously. As individuals are knocked out of the tourney, they can join in the ring game and thus suffer only a small interruption in the poker fun. Some enterprising souls may even elect to play both games at once.

In order for this strategy to work, though, you will need to select a room that allows you to create both types of games and ideally supports multi-tabling.

Practice Online Poker Today

In addition to playing online poker with friends, you might want to find somewhere for internet card games against people you've never met whether at a different venue or the same one where you compete with your buddies. Then you will be able to improve your game steadily, in between sessions with your pals, and perhaps gobble up all their chips during your subsequent private poker games online.

Click here for a thorough guide to online poker in the USA. In it, you will discover the best poker sites for Americans as reviewed by us, expert players with decades of experience in the game. We only recommend those rooms where we feel comfortable holding a cash balance ourselves. Money talks; BS walks!

Frequently Asked Questions

Making the leap from a live game to playing online poker with your friends might seem intimidating at first, but it's really not once you get past the initial set-up phase. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible for you, we've collected below some of the most common questions new internet poker players have along with the answers.

While minimum system requirements vary from site to site, they're generally pretty low. Any computer produced in the last five years or so should be more than powerful enough to run the gaming software.

Of more concern is the type of operating system you're running. Windows PCs have the most compatibility with online poker rooms, but there are a lot of poker applications that work just fine on Macs too. Mobile devices are supported extensively particularly at sites that have poker clients that run inside web browsers.

For newcomers to the world of poker, NL Hold'em is probably the best form of poker to get started with. It is, by far, the most popular form of the game spread today, and it is relatively easy to learn the rules.

Pot Limit Omaha is the second most common poker variant, but mastering the rules and how to read the board is a bit more challenging than in Hold'em. If you and your friends find NLHE getting a bit stale, then you may wish to make your next poker game with friends a PLO event. PL Omaha tends to have bigger pots and more action than NL Texas Hold'em, so it's perfect for jaded Hold'em veterans.

For more info about this game, check out this PLO strategy guide for beginners.

Yes, there's no possibility of you or your fellow players getting in trouble with the law as a result of indulging in this form of entertainment. This is true whether you're playing online poker with friends for free or for real money.

All of the laws that can be interpreted as being anti-online poker are enforced solely against the operators and managers of such games. None of them have ever been directed against regular players. Therefore, you can feel quite safe and secure when you log on to your room of choice for a little multiplayer poker online with friends.

Every provider of internet poker has a customer support department. Look on the website of the room you're playing at to get details on how to contact them.

Email support is nearly ubiquitous, but Live Chat and telephone support are also found at many online poker portals. Several companies maintain active social media accounts as well, so you may be able to receive assistance through Facebook or Twitter.

Apart from rake and tournament fees, you don't have to pay any additional costs to host your game online at a mainstream internet poker destination. The rake is a percentage of a cash game pot that the house keeps for itself while a tournament fee is the portion of the buyin that's retained by the room. This is the way that the sites make money, and there's no need to pay anything extra.

Some mobile poker apps follow a different model wherein basic functions are free but there may be a charge for running private games. If you do decide to install a poker app to play amongst your group, always do your research first to see what the costs will be.