The best free poker apps

You don’t have to spend a penny to have fun playing poker, as Lee Davy explains with his guide to the best play money poker apps available on the market

I learned to play cards during weekly visits to Grandma’s house on a friday night. We always played ‘Crash’ and before you could play you had to produce a small plastic bag containing 1p and 2p coins. Reminiscing about the good old days raises an interesting point. The amount of money that you won or lost was irrelevant. Not one person seated at that table was going to get rich from a stack of coppers and in fact, the coins never left the game; and yet without them there was no game. I was more likely to see my Grandparents put Diet Coke in their 1946 Glenfiddich than sit down and play a game of cards without money, and once you experience poker played for money you understand why. It’s not something that is easily explained; you have to feel it from an emotional standpoint to ‘get it’.

Most of the players in the family game were content with the friday night penny-fest but for others there was a need to move up into the world of real money. I was one of those up and comers, and soon my hefty bag of coppers was traded in for a credit card as I took my first step towards real money poker. 

The online revolution

In the mid 1990s the internet changed everything, including poker. One of the earliest forms of online poker was called IRC Poker and it was a free play site where you typed in your plays. An early enthusiast of IRC Poker was Chris ‘Jesus’ ferguson. Then in 1998, Randy Blumer formed Planet Poker and suddenly a real money alternative was born. Poker would never be the same again. Once you get promoted from free play to real money, you never take a backwards step. Ever.

IRC Poker died a death in 2003, and just a year later along came facebook. Just when you thought free play poker had gone the way of the Dodo, along came a billion people who wanted to interact and play games; an opportunity that was exploited to full effect by free poker powerhouse Zynga Poker. Suddenly, there were more people playing free play poker than real money…but why? Where had all of these people come from? 

Freewheelin’ poker

Free play poker has achieved great success because it attracts a clientele that hasn’t spent any time swapping coppers on their Grandparents’ table. They have only ever experienced free play poker, and remain untouched by its exciting older brother. Earlier this year, Zynga Poker joined forces with to create their first real money poker offering, ZyngaPlusPoker. The poker world hoped it would spark a new boom of new players flocking to the real money tables – but it never happened. ZyngaPlusPoker continues to be an afterthought when people talk about real money alternatives.

poker apps

There are two types of poker players. There are those that have never experienced real money games, and only know free play alternatives. To these people the thought of playing for real money scares the living crap out of them. Then you have the real money players who have experienced the ups and downs that real money poker hands out on a regular basis, and they will never return to free-to-play games.

But for those that still enjoy the thrill of playing for free – here are the best apps and sites online where you can pit your wits against the competition, without the risk of financial ruin! 

1. Zynga Poker – Star rating ✮

With estimated player traffic of around 42,000 players a week, Zynga remains the king of the free play poker sites. Zynga’s performance relies heavily on the membership of Facebook. When the Facebook audience swells so does Zyngas, and the current trend is a downward one as teenagers are seemingly getting fed up with Facebook after a decade of procrastinating. As such, Zynga has a lot of problems ahead. Better social gaming experiences are being released all the time, and Zynga’s decision to pull out of the real money market in Vegas indicates a grim future.

On the plus side, free play sites like Zynga Poker are extremely quick to get up and running because there are no payment process details to go through, but the ease of accessibility is dampened by the speed of the game which is painfully slow. I grin. I bear. Then I find that I can’t play a single hand because players keep moving all-in for 1,000 big blinds holding J-2 off suit. I decide to join in the fun and also move all-in every hand, only that isn’t very fun either. Like Zynga. 

2. DoubleDown – Star rating ✮✮

One company who believe in the future of the free play option is International Gaming Technology (IGT), who put their money where their mouth is when they paid $500 million to acquire DoubleDown Interactive in early 2012. DoubleDown looks fantastic. Once again ease of access is a major plus and this time I am greeted with a plethora of choices. Not only can I play free play poker but also bingo, blackjack, slots and video poker. But once again I have to ask what the point is if there is no money involved?

There are around 4,000 players ‘grinding’ on DoubleDown each week – and they love to throw chips around, with everyone moving all-in at will. Perhaps they had pressed the poker link instead of bingo? I would put DoubleDown ahead of Zynga if only for its variety. But in terms of gameplay, both are inept, and their bells and whistles still taste like a bowlful of Weetabix sprinkled with acid. 

3. IveyPoker – Star rating ✮✮✮✮

I believe IveyPoker has a problem on its hands.They have looked at the business model of Zynga,coupled that with the pull of the world’s greatest poker player, and hoped that luring social media eyeballs by the hundreds of thousands will provide them with a great platform when they are ready to launch a real money gaming product. Only Zynga’s model shows that turning 42,000 free players per week into real money players is not as easy as it sounds. Like I alluded to earlier, play money and real money players are two different species.

iveypokerThe lobby has been designed to look like the real thing, and it does have the advantage of being able to sell its pro roster as a value-added proposition. When I log on for a session it tells me that Ivey Pro Kevin Vandersmissen is sat waiting for a game at the Athens table – but there is a little bit too much going on for my liking. It seems more slot machine than poker game. However, the addition of pros like Kevin at the tables does add an extra dynamic, and that’s dialogue. It reminded me of the good old days when Full Tilt Poker promised that we could ‘Learn, Chat and Play With the Pros’.

The game flow was good and it’s great that recreational players get to play with the likes of Vandersmissen, Greg Merson and Phil Ivey. This is their hook, and the only other site that can match that is PokerStars… 

4. PokerStars – Star rating ✮✮✮✮✮

PokerStars are not only the world’s largest real money poker room, but also the second largest free play poker room in the world with over 20,000 players per week taking a seat to play on ‘Stars. There are two free play options on offer. The first is to open up an online account on the normal site and choose free play, and the second is the PokerStars app on Facebook.

The free play option on the PokerStars site is set out in exactly the same way as the normal real money games. This makes sense as it allows players to experience and learn the game for free before deciding to invest in real money games, and when they do, they are familiar with the software. I see it as a nice progression through the ranks into real money. During my time on the ‘Stars free play games the play was reasonable. There were no random bingo plays that I found on the alternatives, and there is a serious edge around the way the games are set out.

The second alternative is the PokerStars Facebook app, which is a real challenge for Zynga and the rest of the crew. The layout has more pizzazz than the normal PokerStars free play alternative, but not as much as to give it that slot machine feel IveyPoker, Zynga and DoubleDown give you. The game speed is quick, the quality of games great and it interacts well with your Facebook account. For example, when a seat becomes available you can invite a Facebook friend sit down.

The bells and whistles were kept to a minimum and yet there was enough to give you that social media gaming experience that seemingly attracts people by the thousands each week. It is the best free play money game on Facebook by a country mile. 

The bottom line

There is room for both free play and real money poker games, and the numbers prove that. The real money players are never going to like the free play alternatives. The games are too comical with players moving all-in like it’s a game of bingo, and yet this is what they love to do.

If you want to advance from free play poker to real money poker then I suggest you avoid the Facebook-style social media poker games, and concentrate on the free play games on either PokerStars, Full Tilt, PartyPoker, or iPoker. Choose a site you are eventually going to play for real money and then get stuck in. If you just want to play for fun, and are not interested in strategy, then you are better off playing on Facebook with PokerStars and IveyPoker being my top choices. These options provide you with games within games, but still maintain the solidity of a great poker product. 

For more great features like this, get PokerPlayer magazine online here.

Pin It

Comments are closed.