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While it's not all that difficult to get started freerolling, sites have their own schedules and entry requirements. This means it can take some time to figure out where and how to begin. According to JonM, who has played on more than 25 sites, opening an account is pretty easy. You have to be legally an adult wherever you live, and you must provide basic information like your name, address and phone number plus a valid e-mail address. In most cases, you also have to enable the account for real money play. This is generally just a formality that does not require giving a credit card number or actually transferring any funds. Certain sites do oblige you to deposit before you can withdraw your winnings. However, you don't have to bet the money; just let them hold it for a while. JonM suggests leaving any sites with more complicated requirements until you're past the raw beginner stage.
One site at which he has played offers several $100 freerolls every day. They are open to all money-enabled players and capped at 1,000 entrants, of whom the top 15 win amounts ranging from $20 to $5. Withdrawals may be made without depositing, and JonM says he has cashed out about $50 in winnings from these events. Another site has approximately 35 cash freerolls on its daily schedule. The prize pool is $50 split 18 ways among 2,000 contestants, with the winner getting $10 down to $1. This site is one that requires a deposit before withdrawing; the minimum is $20. JonM reports cashing another $50 or so from his successes there.
Clearly, the probability of winning anything in such large tournaments is pretty small, as are the prize amounts. So, how did he manage to amass over $1,500? The vast majority came from private freerolls where the numbers can be much more favorable. In an admittedly atypical example, he played in one that had only 11 entrants vying for nine prizes. What's more common is to play for the same $50 or $100 as above, but against far fewer opponents, often 50 to 150 rather than 1,000 or 2,000. These smaller events tend to pay the top nine, 10 or 15 places. This means an average player will cash about 10 percent of the time, and JonM says he does better than that. As above, the individual prize amounts are small, frequently $2 to $5. However, he plays almost every day and occasionally wins larger sums - $200 is the most so far - and every little bit adds up.
JonM does warn that looking at his total winnings doesn't give a complete picture. By his own estimate, he plays about 20 hours a week, which means he made about $1.50 an hour. He also spends at least a few hours each week reading up on how to improve his game, so his overall rate is even lower. The fact he makes anything at all is a nice bonus since he plays as a hobby, so don't expect him to quit his job and turn pro any time soon.
It has been estimated that this year's WSOP main event winner will receive as much as $10 million from a total prize pool that will almost certainly exceed $60 million. A few people who play for this enormous jackpot will have won their way in through freerolls. So, although the odds are very slim, JonM could turn out to be 2006's Joseph Hachem. In any case, he'll happily continue to enjoy winning money for nothing while playing as a pastime. And yes, he has also gotten a set of poker chips for free.
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about a different form of online gaming, massively multiplayer online worlds, for nearly a decade. His interest in poker is more recent. He started playing several months ago and has made a few dollars from freerolls himself.
Be The Quintessential Poker Newbie: Tips for showing what a rookie you really are
1. Understand advanced poker odds
The uninitiated may think a hand being "the favorite" means its probability of winning exceeds 50 percent. For example, consider a hand of two eights (88) against a single opponent holding an ace and a five (A5). According to conventional mathematics, the pair will win about 70 percent of the time. Simplistic nonsense! When 88 is dealt to you, it should prevail against A5 every single time. Well, almost. Once an eon or so, the poker deities will conspire to let the other hand triumph. When this happens ...