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Poker news | Aug 09, 2023

Why freerolls are ruining your poker game

By Rtr Lucy

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As a tournament with no entry fee but still a chance to win prize money, freerolls are an alluring attraction to many an online poker player.

It’s easy to see why. Who amongst us cannot be tempted by the prospect of free money. But whether you’re a new player starting out, or a someone slightly more seasoned, freeroll tournaments certainly have their drawbacks and are likely eroding your game play.

What are freerolls?

Freeroll tournaments have no required buy-ins or entry fees, but you can still win prizes. These can be cash prizes, or they can even be entry tickets to larger tournaments if the freeroll is acting as a satellite tournament. These days, most, if not all, poker rooms will offer freerolls on their sites, as the prizes offered are generally small, especially compared to the number of players they draw in. In fact, people that only play freerolls or at play money tables, instead of with real money, make up to 60% of online players.

Now, there are some upsides to freerolls. For those new to playing poker or less experienced, freerolls offer a no-cost way to familiarise yourself with the game and can offer a space to try out new strategies and experiment without losses.

But there are also some serious downsides to freerolls. They might be ruining your game without you even realising it and we’ll be exploring how here.

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The drawbacks of freerolls

No risks involved

What may be the most enticing aspect of free rolls may also be the factor that harms your poker game the most. The fact that there is no required buy-in means that there is nothing to lose. Even if you get kicked out on the first hand, your bankroll takes no hits, but this can encourage risky play.

When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to win, so you're ready to risk it all. Hand after hand, freeroll players are likely to go all in because they just have to strike gold once. Whilst skill is involved, what matters most to many players is getting lucky and cashing out.

There is often no logic to the play of your opponents, and this can make it difficult to practice and refine your own. Most of the play you see would not get them very far in real life tournaments and you would rarely encounter it, so any play practiced in freerolls will often be of little benefit to you in larger tournaments or real-life games.

Bad habits

Beyond making it difficult to practice and test your strategies, the lack of skill of many freeroll players may even start to rub off on your own game. As it is difficult to practice good play here, freeroll players can often get used to playing looser or over-aggressively. This may be to your advantage in freerolls or play-money games, but when it comes to a real cash tournament these bad habits will only drag you down.

New players can especially be prone to learning bad habits as whilst watching their opponents and seeing what plays win in freerolls, they are likely to think these tips and tricks can be transferred off-line as well. But, bluffing works far less often in freerolls and players' ranges tend to be significantly wider for all actions (including jamming the flop, calling jams, 3bets and so on).

Poker is a strategy game and the goal when playing should always be to enhance your skills and tactics. Becoming too accustomed to a freeroll style of playing will not do any favours for your profitability in the long run.

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Better alternatives out there

A lot of new players start out on freerolls as a way to kickstart their bankrolls, but realistically, this approach is time-inefficient and ineffective.

Thousands of people register for these events and playing your way through a freeroll tournament can often take hours. Even if you are one of the lucky or more skilled players who wins a freeroll tournament, the amount of time you spent playing for it is disproportionate to the size of the prize. And if you don’t win, you may have already spent hours playing, not perfecting your craft, or honing your skills as you could in cash games, only to lose at the last minute.

If you are a skilled player with potential to win, your time will be spent far more profitably and efficiently in paid games instead. And if you are a newcomer wishing to get your bankroll rolling, then, even in a minimum wage job, it will likely be more time-efficient for you to work a couple hours overtime at your day job to invest into your bankroll, rather than wasting double that amount of time on a game you have a high chance of losing anyway.

To summarise

I understand that for many out there, playing freerolls can be an enjoyable activity in your free time. But for those poker players looking to make money, big or small, freerolls are rarely worth your time and may damage your interests down the road.

If you're a player good enough to win money in freerolls, you could definitely be making more, and quicker, elsewhere. Whether you’re trying to cash in or just hone your strategy, I would recommend, other than the occasional freeroll if you’re still trying to learn the rules or to get a feel for the room’s layout, investing your time into paid games.

Yes, it is going to cost you, but it's not as if you’ll be playing to join the World Series of Poker. The fees will often be small and with this you have a greater chance of winning larger prizes. You also have the chance to practice your play with other seasoned players and truly hone your skills. As I said before, poker is all about strategy, and your strategy is not going to improve much playing freerolls.