There is a world of difference between real money poker games (even at the smallest stakes) and practice or play-money poker. When cash is at stake, people take the game seriously – employing strategy and skill to try and win the money.

In a typical play money game, folding is the exception. Anyone with a shot at winning a hand will play to the river, regardless of the odds.

With real money, you find a few players like this. If you don’t understand simple strategy concepts like pot-odds and position, it will be very difficult to win even at the smallest stakes. As you move up to stakes as low as $10 or $25 cash game buy-ins (5c / 10c or 10c / 25c blinds), anyone playing the loose/passive style typical in play-money poker will be quickly relieved of their entire bankroll!

Simply playing fewer hands is a great start. You will find some strategy guides here at which will help you avoid common pitfalls of playing real money Texas Hold’em poker for the first time:

  • Poker Starting Hands
  • Pot Odds and Implied Odds Guide
  • Guide to Bluffing in Poker Games
  • How to Avoid Preflop Mistakes
  • Poker Bankroll Management

You can buy-in at many real money internet poker sites for as little as $20. This should get you a matched bonus and some extra benefits like tournament entry tickets.

With small deposit poker sites, you’ll be able to play the micro-stakes. This is games with 1c / 2c blinds and tournaments with buy-ins of $1 and under. These games are soft enough that your transition from practice play should be reasonably smooth. It is important to make sure you beat these games before you move up levels. The natural variance in the game can quickly wipe out your bankroll if you are unwary!

As you move up the buy-in levels, you will find a lot more ‘pro grinders’. These are players who sit for many hours playing multiple tables – putting together a decent hourly profit.

Micro Stakes:up to 2c / 5c ($5 max buy-in) cash games and $3 tournaments. Expect plenty of wild and loose play here, though you will need to adjust (tighten up) from play-money standards to have any chance.

Small Stakes:up to 10c / 25c ($25 max buy-in) cash games and $10 tournaments. People experienced in play-money games need to avoid even small stakes poker until they have both experience at the real money tables and solid strategy knowledge.

Mid-Stakes:50c / $1 ($100 max buy-in) cash games and $30+ tournaments. Even someone with live casino poker experience will be crushed online at these levels. Here you will find a lot of multi-tabling pros able to spot and exploit any new players almost instantly.

Many players who are today’s winners started off with kitchen table poker or play-money sites. While it is possible for anyone to make it in the poker for real money world, dedication is needed. You need to start at the smallest buy-ins, work on your strategy and plug your own leaks. When you have built a big enough bankroll – you can move up to the next level and new challenges.