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Not everyone who wants to play online poker has a bankroll. Nor are they able to get backing, because they don’t have verifiable results and no one knows them.
Then there are others who do have a bankroll. But they’re levelheaded – they know they’re not ready to play online poker for real money.
So, what options do these people have?
One option is to play free poker games. You can play for free and learn your fundamentals before you dive into shark infested waters.
But that doesn’t help with the bankroll deficiency.
The next option – your best bet – is to play freeroll poker tournaments instead. Most poker sites offer them. Our top picks are below.
The point is this — freerolls can help you launch your poker career. But only if you’re patient and persistent, and only if you learn proper strategy.
We’re going to talk more about freeroll strategy later in this guide.
But first, let’s talk more about what a freeroll is and what makes it unique from other free games.
What are Poker Freeroll Tournaments?
Tournament freerolls are like free poker games. But there’s one major difference.
Freerolls have prizes. Sometimes they’re money. Other times they’re entries to tournaments with prizes.
Free poker games do not.
The competition in a freeroll is soft like a free money game. But because they award prizes, they can get hundreds or thousands of entrants. So, it will take a little bit of both luck and skill to make money from these.
Lots of people have done it. Some have managed to turn these small prizes into bankrolls they later grew to hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars.
I’ve cashed in a freeroll or two, though I didn’t parlay mine into a lasting bankroll. But Chris Ferguson, Tom Dwan and Annette Obrestad have.
Ferguson did it as a challenge. But both Dwan and Obrestad launched their poker careers – earnings millions of dollars so far – playing poker freerolls.
You can do it, too. Your first step is to find the best site to join.
Nearly every poker site offers freerolls. Too many options can make it difficult to choose just one or two. So, here are the things we look for:
We would rather join a poker site that offers freerolls on a regular basis. That can be every four hours or twice per day. This is better than the sites who offer freerolls at random.
Even if it means the prize pools are smaller. Seriously.
We want regular tournaments because, like real money tournaments, you’re not going to cash in every single one of them. In fact, the larger the tournaments, the less often you should expect to cash.
The way to cash more often is to play more tournaments. The best way to do that is to join a site who offers frequent freerolls on a schedule.
For example, when Merge Gaming was worth joining back in the day, they ran freerolls every 2-4 hours. Fortunately, many of the sites we recommend do something similar.
Another thing we look for are larger prize pools. Because you don’t want to play for your share of $10, which might be split between 10, 25 or 50+ players.
We recommend looking for sites who offers a minimum of $100 for their freerolls. A cash can get you $5, $10 or even $20. A couple cashes – much less wins – will go a long way once you make the switch to the micro stakes.
Some poker sites let everyone sign up to their freerolls. Which means you might have to battle 4,586 players for your share of a $50 prize pool.
It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just that the numbers aren’t in your favor. Even if you play well you’ll also need to get very, VERY lucky.
We prefer to find poker sites who cap the number of entrants. We’ve seen freerolls where the fields are limited to 600 or 1,000 players – the top 50 (or less) are paid.
That’s a lot of players. But it’s doable (and on a somewhat consistent basis).
Other sites limit their fields to 3,000 or 5,000 players. This is okay, but only if the prize pool is large enough to justify it. Otherwise it’s too big a field to fight through.
Most bonuses and promotions come with terms. For example, you must earn so many player points to clear your deposit bonus.
Sometimes poker sites have terms for their freerolls, too. The exact terms vary from site to site.
For example, we’ve seen sites who say their freeroll winnings are not cashable. But you can cash out the money you win with it. Others say you need to wager so many dollars before you can cash out, while others say you need to make a nominal deposit first.
We suggest finding a poker site who has as few terms and restrictions as possible.
10 Freeroll Poker Strategy Tips
Okay, so now you’ve found a site or two and got signed up. The next step is to play freerolls. And, one of the common questions we’re asked is, how the heck do you win?
Here are 10 tips which should help you out.
In the early stages, many players will go all in preflop to try to double or triple up. This includes players with any two cards …because why not?
Don’t get involved in this. Yeah, you might get lucky. But 25+ percent of the time you’re going to bust early. And doubling or tripling up early on is no guarantee you’ll run deep or cash anyway.
We recommend you stick to the top of your range early on. Play pairs, KQ, AJ, AQ and AK. Limp small pairs (to set mine) and only play them post-flop if you hit a set.
2Play premium hands aggressively
You should go all in (pre-flop) with QQs+. Jacks are questionable. You can play them aggressively -or- set mine. The same goes for hitting these hands on the flop. You should plan to play AJ+ and KQ+ aggressively post-flop unless the flop is draw-heavy.
This piggybacks off the last tip, but it’s that important. Too many players try to get too creative with their hands. But if freerolls, your opponents will call you with any two just because. So, you might as well get paid. When you hit your hand, bet, bet, bet.
4Try to win, not just cash
Many players make the mistake of tightening up near the (cash) bubble. This is a huge mistake. Your goal should always be to win. You might bust more often, but the times you don’t you’ll make deeper runs for larger cashes, profiting more money overall.
There are exceptions. For example, if you have 5 big blinds left on the money bubble it’ll make more sense to try to squeak into the money. But unless you’re desperate, go for the win.
5Wait for antes to start stealing the blinds
Beginners start stealing the blinds too soon in tournaments. The problem is the blinds aren’t worth stealing relative to what they’ll add to your stack. But when you wait for antes, stacks are shorter relative to the blinds AND the antes add dead money to pot which will make a significant difference in your stack when you pick them up.
The reason why we recommend staying tight early on is so you can get more active later (when antes kick in). The benefit to this strategy is that most players will think you’ve been card dead the whole tournament, but now suddenly you’re getting good hands. So, they’ll get out of your way. You’ll be able to steal the blinds uncontested more than not.
Bluffs only work against players who’re capable of folding. Most freeroll players are not. So, it’s not going to make sense to bluff unless you know you’re up against a thinking player.
When you play a hand, you need to think a couple steps ahead. You got to have a plan for how you’ll play your hand if you connect on the flop.
For example, when you play an Ax hand, the goal is to bet. But say you hit top pair while holding A3o with 4 other players in the pot. Are you going to feel good betting this hand for value?
Probably not. Not only will you not like it, but chances are someone has your hand dominated.
A better strategy is to play hands that aren’t often dominated on the flop. You’ll get in trouble less often. You’ll feel better about betting for value, too.
9Explode during shorthanded play
Most beginners don’t adjust their strategy for different table sizes. Many full-ring tournaments will have as few as 5-6 players when players have busted or when the tournament’s winding down. They continue to stick to a tighter hand range.
This is a good opportunity for you to explode – open more hands and steal more blinds. Not only that, but hands go up in value in short-handed play. This includes your weaker Ax and Kx hands. Even when you’re called you can feel good about holding a hand like A9s or KJ.
This is another reason why it makes sense to stay tight early on. You’ll have a tight image, which will allow you to open several hands and steal several pots uncontested. This is much easier to do at a shorthanded table.
10Look for good “reshove” opportunities
A great way to add easy chips to your stack is to “reshove” over preflop limps or raises once antes have kicked in (in the later stages). The reason why this works so well is because most players will have a wide opening range, which means they’ll fold often. And because there will be so much (dead) money in the pot relative to your stack, you don’t have to win the pot very often for it to be a profitable play.
And when you do win the pot you’ll add a ton of chips to your stack.
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You’ll notice our tips are a mix of generic poker tips and common low stakes SNG/MTT strategy. But that’s because poker freerolls are going to play the same way.
For that reason, when you’ve practiced these tips and want to learn more, we suggest you read up on more beginner/low stake MTT strategy. It’ll help you out.
After you’ve played a few freerolls, chances are you’ll have cashed or are on the brink of your first one. Which means you’ll want to know this:
Most players will want to parlay this into a bankroll. To move up in stakes and start playing games that aware real money prizes.
And that’s a great idea. But, only if you’re ready.
For one thing, you should only make the jump if you’re comfortable with your poker skills. It won’t be a huge transition, moving from freerolls to real money games. But it’ll help you a ton if you have the basic MTT fundamentals and strategy down.
Then there’s your bankroll.
We don’t recommend switching to real money games with a tiny bankroll. It’s great that you’ve won $10 or $20, but you’ll struggle to find traction if that’s all you take with you to the micro stakes. A bad bout of variance will send you to the showers.
Instead, we recommend having a minimum of $100 before making the switch to real money games. This will give you 20 buy-ins for $0.2/$0.05 or $0.05/$0.10 cash games, or about 30-50 buy-ins for the $1-$3 SNGs.
We recommend playing SNGs because they’re great for learning MTT fundamentals. They’re much easier on your bankroll, too.
But that’s only one-half of the battle. You also need to learn how to manage your bankroll, unless you want to go back to playing freerolls. You can learn about bankroll management here.
And there you have it. That’s how you can build your poker bankroll and launch your career playing freeroll tournaments.
Here are some common questions we regularly get about poker freerolls and freeroll poker sites (and our answers).
A freeroll I want to join requires a password. What gives?
These are for community run freerolls. These are hosted by/for a specific website, organization or home game. These aren’t for you unless you’re invited or part of one of these groups.
Many players will go out of their way to steal these passwords. Then play the games to win money that’s not meant for them.
This isn’t very nice or ethical. Please don’t do it.
I don’t understand – what’s the difference between free play and freerolls?
The biggest difference between free play or free games is you cannot win money. You’re given free chips and you can play any free game you can afford to buy into. But there are no real money prizes. You’ll only win more free chips.
But with freerolls you can win real money prizes – like cash or tournament entries.
What’s the difference between the freerolls available to everyone, and the freerolls only available to VIP members?
Not much. Both offer real money prizes.
The biggest difference is that the VIP freerolls are available only to players on a specific VIP level (or all levels). Players who aren’t VIP members can’t play. One benefit to this is a smaller playing field. The prizes are usually better, too. And it is money the poker site puts up to reward their loyal customers.
What are the biggest benefits to playing freerolls?
There are lots of reasons why you might consider playing freerolls. Here are some of the biggest benefits:
- Practice strategy. This is a good opportunity to practice the strategy and tactics you’ve read about. Want to practice c-betting? Stealing the blinds? 3-betting? This is a good opportunity to not only try it, but to learn when, whom against and how much to bet.
- Build a bankroll. This is one of the best reasons. If you don’t have money, or maybe just want to challenge yourself, then you might want to play freerolls to build your bankroll.
- Learn patience. It’s going to take a fair amount of time, not only to cash or win a freeroll, but to build a large enough bankroll so that you can move on to real money games. Without patience, you won’t go very far.
- Learn bankroll management. This piggybacks off the last point. You’ll first need to be patience and save up your money until you have enough for the games you want to play. Then your bankroll won’t likely be very big. So, you’ll need to be patience and play within your means to avoid going broke. Playing freerolls can be a long and painful (and painfully boring) process. The more you take huge and unnecessary risks, the more time you’ll have to spend playing them.
- Learn and play different games. Many freerolls run games other than holdem. If you want to play and learn a new game without risking your bankroll, freerolls are a great way to do it.
All you should have to do in most cases is create an account. Then find and join a freeroll.
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Sometimes you might have to be a VIP member, though, which means you’ll need to create an account, make a deposit and play for real money first.
Can I play on my phone or tablet?
Yes. So long as the poker site offers freerolls on mobile devices. Many poker rooms don’t offer all their games and stakes for mobile devices. The only way to know for sure is to read our reviews or download the poker room’s app.
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Yes. In fact, some of the best freerolls are (and have been) on US-facing poker sites. We suggest starting with BetOnline, who routinely offers daily/weekly freerolls.
What kinds of freerolls are there?
Some of the different kinds of freerolls you’ll find are:
- No-restrictions. These usually have a prize pool of $100 or less. Entrants may be up to 5,000.
- Recent deposit requirement.
- Player point buy-ins.
- Player reward tier threshold.
- Private community-run freerolls.
Most of them offer freerolls to incentivize and encourage players to play. And when players win from freerolls, sometimes there will be terms they got to follow – like making a deposit or wagering so much money – before they can cash out.
Between the terms and winning money, this can encourage players to deposit more, which is something poker rooms want. It’s how they make money.
In other cases, they do it as a promotion. To give back to their VIP (loyal) players. Other times it’s to promote a live event the freeroll is a satellite to.
Can I cash out the money I win from freerolls?
It depends on where you play. Some poker sites will let you cash out your winnings. Other rooms may have terms you need to follow first. This could mean making a nominal deposit or wagering so much money (like a casino bonus) before you can cash out.
In other cases, the freeroll winnings may not be cashable. But you can use them to play real money games where any money you earn from those IS cashable.
Casinos put these types of rules in place to protect themselves from people who sign up only to play freerolls and cash out their winnings.
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