As a newbie, I've taken to heart the advice "play freeroll tournaments!" to gain experience and see as many hands as possible. Now, since I'm newbie, I don't have much of an idea of what's realistic poker for lack of a better expression. But massive freerolls with several thousand participants tend to show a decidedly weird pattern:

First stage: AFK players and All-In madness

As far as I've seen, the first stage of a massive freeroll tournament is dominated by players being away from keyboard. If you end up at such a table (as I did the other night) you can steal the blinds simply by raising, no matter how crappy your cards are. This lasts until one or more players "wake up" which turns what should be a 9 or 10 person table to a one-up game or a 3-player game. Not my forte (if I have any...)

My theory is that many players go AFK or just keep an eye on overall development untill the second dominant group has died off, which is the All-In crowd. These are the players who go all in in the very first five to ten hands on the off chance that they luck out and win big. The overall effect is that there's no poker being played, just a funky kind of lottery.

Second stage: the newly awakened and the AFK profiteers

At this stage, the players who've been AFK for the first part of the tourney -- just paying the blinds and ignoring the game -- wake up. They might have 50-70% of their original chip stacks left, and start playing. The ones they play against are those who profited from them being AFK, and the odd lucky sod who succeeded in his or hers All-In spree. 

Is this realistic poker? Damned if I know.

Last stage: the tight players and the lunatics

Of the thousands that started, the 20-30% left are the more or less tight and careful players and the chip-stack tycoons. I'm fairly certain there's quite few left of the All-In crowd, but those who are there are likely to have quite big stacks. 

Is this, then, realistic poker? Could be. As a newbie I do not know. But I guess not.

What I guess is that freerolls, due to being economically risk-free, aren't the be-all and end-all tool for learning poker and seeing well played hands. 

Comments appreciated. Oh, and a Happy New Year!

Best regards,