Don't get stuck in a rut, playing the same game, day in and day out. Sure, some people are immune to the grind and can multi-table four $3/6 games until their eyes bleed without making a mistake or getting burned out. But most of us can't. If your normal game starts feeling like a grind, mix it up a little. Play some Stud. Play some Omaha. Any and every game out there has its own unique lessons to teach, many of which carry over to other games.
Poker Bonuses; Or, To Whore or Not to Whore?
Let's get this out upfront. I'm a pretty dedicated bonus whore. I make the good people at Neteller very happy, constantly shifting money from site to site, opening new accounts, etc. So I'm a little biased, and perhaps not the best person to objectively answer the question of whether it's worth it to chase bonuses at different sites. Or, you know, perhaps I'm the best person. 'Tis in the eye of the beholder. Just be forewarned that these are the words of a poker bonus junkie.
Many online poker sites offer cash bonuses for you to play at their site. They almost always require you to play a certain number of hands (usually hands that have been raked) before you can claim the bonus and potentially withdraw it. These bonuses come in two forms: initial sign up bonuses and reload bonuses. Initial sign up bonuses are one time offers that are good only when you create an account, while reload bonuses are available to any player with an existing account.
Bonuses typically run in the range of 10%-30% of your deposit into the site. Most bonuses are capped as far as the maximum you can receive, usually in the range of $100-200 (i.e. deposit $500 at a site offering a 20% initial signup bonus and you'll get the maximum bonus allowed, $100). You can deposit less than the maximum amount and still receive a bonus, albeit a slightly smaller one.
So let's say you sign up a new account at PartyPoker and you use bonus code SCURVY. You'll get a 20% on your first deposit, up to $100. If you deposit $500, that's a $100 bonus. Sweet. All you have to do to get the bonus is to play a certain number of hands in which a rake is taken from the pot. When you play the set number of hands, the bonus will automatically be credited to your account.
You can do the same thing at Empire, InterTops, Absolute, and many other sites. After you get all the initial sign-up bonuses, you can often get reload bonuses from the very same sites, as they periodically offer you incentives to deposit more money into your account.
So why do sites do this? Because they make money when people play. And the more players they have on their sites, the more tables that are available, which enocurages more people to play. And so on and so forth. While they know that some smart, savvy players like you will get the bonus and cash out ahead, for every smart savvy player there are 3 fish who will lose their entire deposit. The poker sites are also somewhat protected by the fact that no matter how good you are, you still have to pay them rake money. So even if you clear the bonus and cash out ahead, they still get a piece of the action in the form of rake.
Enough babbling, you say. Is it worth it or not, to chase bonuses? Good question.
For the first year and a half of my online poker playing career, I didn't chase bonuses. I signed up at Party and got the initial bonus, as well as some reload bonuses, but I didn't sign up for any other sites. I was happy enough where I was, I'd set up to pay them through IGMPAY from my checking account, and didn't want to hassle with setting up a payment method for non Party sites that don't use IGMPAY. It just didn't seem worth the hassle.
But I got curious, especially after reading assorted forums dedicated to bonuses, like Bonuswhores.com. People claimed to be making pretty decent money chasing bonuses, and I like money. What the hell, I though, so I bit the bullet and set up a FirePay account.
Which was a mistake, albeit a small one. Neteller is far superior in regards to fees and speed of use. If you're going to chase bonuses, do it right and set up a Neteller account. They're quick, professional, and security conscious. They also offer a ATM that will let you draw cash from your account, which is a potentially nice perk. Once you set up your Neteller account, you'll need to link it to an existing checking account. When that's ready, you'll simply transfer money from your checking or savings account to Neteller. When the money is available in your Neteller account, you're ready to whore it up.
As far as dollars and cents, it's hard to quantify what hourly rate to expect from assorted bonuses. The biggest factor is the terms of the site, as far as what conditions have to be met to make a bonus worthwhile. Pay close attention to the number of hands you have to play, and if they have to be raked hands. Some sites offer what look like good bonuses (such as Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet) but in reality are almost impossible to clear, due to what they require to get the bonus. Other sites offer what appear to be lesser bonuses (such as InterPoker's 100% monthly match bonus, up to $90 maximum) which are actually very good bonuses value-wise, due to how easy they are to receive.
Of course, it also depends largely on your skill as a player. If you aren't very good, you'll like lose money, depsite the bonus. The bonuses are never large enough to make up for being a poor player. 'Nuff said.
To take full advantage of bonuses, it's usually best to be able to comfortably multi-table. How fast you clear the bonus isn't really important (although some bonuses do have deadlines when they expire), but you'll inevitably find yourself playing on sites you wouldn't normally frequent for whatever reason (tightness of play, interface, etc.) Being able to quickly clear the bonus and get back to your favorite stomping grounds is psychologically a nice tool to possess. Unless you have a huge bankroll, you'll also likely be splitting up your roll over multiple sites, which some people feel slightly uncomfortable doing, so being able to quickly clear the bonus and consolidate funds is also a good thing.
Speaking of psychology, for some players (including myself) playing with a bonus adds an extra level of comfort. It should make no difference but I simply feel more confident and solid when I'm working off a bonus, as if I have an insurance policy in my back pocket. It's an incentive to make me play more aggressively across the board, which usually translates into a much better game overall.
Bottom line, bonuses can greatly speed the building of your bankroll if you're a skilled player. They won't magically transform you into a superstar but they will provide you with a steady stream of income if you play well. It's basically found money and it's a minimum of hassle to reach down and pick it up. It literally takes less than a minute or two to signup for some sites and fund an account, after which you essentially get paid for playing your normal game.
So which sites have good bonuses? It's always a bit in flux, but the following are sites I've cleared bonuses at, which I'd highly recommend:
Please note that for Party, Empire, Intertops, and PokerNow you'll have to register with different email addresses, preferably on different computers. Because they're all skins/sister sites, they share players and will not allow you to create an account if you already have an existing account on another skin. All you have to do, though, is use a different email address, as long as you're on a different computer when signing up (or delete the other sites from your computer). All your other info (address, Neteller, etc.) can be exactly the same on all accounts.
Sites I would recommend, but which have tougher/smaller bonuses:
Sites I wouldn't touch with a ten foot bonus pole, due to impossibly hard to clear bonuses: