The Poker Bonus Trail
I likes me some poker bonuses. In 2004 I collected $5,890 in total poker bonus money, playing on 19 different sites. Except for a few very brief spells here and there, I was almost always playing with a pending bonus of some sort. Between initial sign-up bonuses for new players, monthly bonuses from Crypto sites, and reload bonuses, it’s not very hard to always play with a bonus overlay.
The obvious question with chasing poker bonuses is a simple one: is it worth it? I’m pretty convinced the answer is a resounding yes, but I’ll play fair and lay out some pros and cons. (I’m assuming you’re familiar with the whole poker bonus concept and underlying issues; if not, go read this
If you’re just starting out on your poker quest, building a bankroll and experience, I think poker bonuses are invaluable. They insulate you from the nasty effects of variance and give you nice short-term goals to shoot for. They also teach you to manage your bankroll well, as far as maximizing the value of signup bonuses that require a certain amount to take full advantage of. They’re also easy, free money, which can help you build a bankroll more quickly to get you to higher limits that you might be shooting for.
As far as negatives, the biggest is that you’ll have to make peace with playing on sites you don’t necessarily like, as far as the interface. We all have our own little peculiarities and preferences, liking the software on one site but hating the interface on another. If you’re going to chase bonuses you simply have to let that go. You’ll also have to deal with the occasional slow cashouts from poker sites, although that’s fairly rare these days and usually never takes more than 48 hours for most sites.
One crucial skill is the ability to multi-table. And the more tables you can handle, the better. Bonuses get more valuable with each table you can successfully play, as each additional table dramatically increases the rate you clear the bonus at, allowing you to collect more bonuses on other sites, etc. If anything, I think the need to multi-table is a positive factor, as I’m a pretty firm believer in multi-tabling being a necessary +EV skill to possess overall.
Some people prefer to start chasing poker bonuses with a separate bankroll, so that they can more accurately track the progress and overall profit. I think that’s a fine idea and it’s pretty easy to do. While it’s best to start with a poker bonus bankroll of at least $500 (so that you can get the full value from signup bonuses at Party and skins) you can do it with as little as $100, if you hit the sites in a particular order. Shortly I’ll post a poker bonus strategy guide for both scenarios.
With no further ado, I’m going to list all the poker sites I chased bonuses at in 2004, with a brief summary of my experience, particular issues, etc. I’m also going to rank them in the order that I’d do them, if I could start fresh with a $500 bankroll. (Remember, though, that a strategy guide for chasing bonuses on a more limited bankroll is coming soon.)The Official ScurvyDog Poker Bonus HitlistInterPoker
Yep, kiddos, that’s right. InterPoker
has one of the best bonuses out there and it’s a monthly recurring bonus, which you can get each and every month. The monthly bonus is typically a 100% match on your first deposit, up to $90 ($100 in some select months). In order to claim it you simply have to play 450 raked hands (500 raked hands when the bonus is $100).
Aside from a great monthly bonus, the players at InterPoker
are really, really soft. InterPoker is a Crypto site, which means that there are lots of players in the poker room who enter from online casinos. Lots of bad, bad players. Lots of bad, bad players who like to gamble and throw money around. You likely see where I’m going with this.
On the negative side, I’m not a big fan of the Crypto software. The waiting lists aren’t very functional and the action is pretty slow, compared to Party and other sites. It’ll take you a bit longer to get your raked hands in but not terribly so. Multi-tabling is really helpful here, due to the generally slow action. The game selection isn’t as huge as at some sites but there’s generally always plenty of games, especially at lower limits. Keep in mind too that the smallest limit tables they have are $1/2.
The other annoying thing is the cashout system, as they use the Crypto ECash processing platform, which requires that a pin number be snail-mailed to you before you can withdraw money. It generally takes about a week from when you signup for the pin number to get to you by snail-mail. This is annoying but there’s really no way around it. Once you have the pin number cashouts are pretty quick and are usually processed within 24 hours. Just remember that on your first deposit that that deposit money (plus any bonus money you collect) will be tied up on the InterPoker site for about 7-10 days and not available to withdraw.Will Hill
Again, probably a surprising choice, but it’s got a nice bonus, much like at InterPoker
. Will Hill
offers a monthly recurring bonus, too, except this one is slightly different, paying you £5 ($9.68) per hour that you sit at a table, up to a maximum of £25 every month. It’s strictly based on your time at the table, not raked hands, nothing else.
Which is very nice, given that it’s a Crypto site and the action is generally slow. Keep in mind, too, that it counts for each table, so if you pop open three tables and play for two hours total, you’ll clear the entire bonus. That’s nearly $50 in bonus money that you can clear half-asleep, with your eyes closed. And you can collect it each and every month.
As far as games and tables, it’s exactly the same as InterPoker
. All the Crypto poker sites feed players to the same tables, similar to Party/Empire/skins, so they’re all basically the same site, as far as limits, player skill, etc. The only difference is in the bonuses offered by the individual sites.
While it’s a Crypto site, Will Hill
doesn’t require a pin number to withdraw money. (It’s the only one that doesn’t.) So you can signup, clear the bonus, and immediately cashout, with most withdrawals processed in 48 hours. Then wait until the next month rolls around and repeat the process.Paradise Poker
Paradise doesn’t have a spectacular bonus so there’s no real reason to rank it #3, other than I’m assuming you’re doing these in order and trying to maximize the bang for your bankroll, as well as waiting for a pin number from InterPoker
The reason to do Paradise third is that they give a 25% initial signup bonus, up to $50. That’s a decent bonus, not great, but it only requires a deposit of $200 to get the full value from. I’ll repeat this later, but the cardinal rule in bonus chasing is to never, ever leave bonus money on the table. Always maximize the value of the bonus, especially the initial ones, as you only get one shot at them.
Paradise has a nice site, lots of players, lots of limits, great tournaments, all that jazz. You’ll have to play a certain number of raked hands to unlock the bonus, which is dispensed to you in $10 increments as you clear it. It clears fairly quickly, even at lower limits. You should be able to bang this one out pretty quickly, given that it’s a relatively small initial bonus.Pacific PokerPacific
offers a 25% initial signup bonus, up to $100 (deposit $400 to get the full bonus). They use a slightly unique system to clear it, as you can only withdraw the bonus once you wager a total of 20 times the bonus amount (total wagering of $2,000 if you get the full $100 bonus).
The only catch is that Pacific's
software doesn’t allow for multi-tabling, so you’ll only be able to play at one table. This slows down clearing the bonus slightly but not horribly so. The redeeming factor is that the players here are truly terrible, as many come through the casino sister site of Pacific Poker
Decent software, plenty of games available, all that jazz. Cashouts are pretty slow, taking up to five days sometimes, but they’ll eventually come through.Party/InterTops/Empire/PokerNow
Many of you likely already have accounts on Party or one of its skins, so you probably know the drill with these. I’m not going to break down the terms for each site, as they’re all roughly the same. Each typically offers a $100 initial signup bonus (usually requires a $500 deposit for the maximum bonus) based on playing a set number of raked hands. These bonuses clear pretty quickly and these sites are the highest traffic ones out there, with tons of players at every limit.
What you may not know is that you can have accounts (and get signup bonuses) at all of these sites, including Party
. Technically speaking, they claim you can’t, but in reality there’s nothing stopping you, as long as you use a different email address/computer when signing up. You can use the same address, same Neteller account, same everything except for email address, as that’s the only piece of data they check for to prevent multiple accounts. To be safe, signup on different computers that have never had one of the skins installed on them. Or, if you’re comfortable editing your registry, simply uninstall existing programs, and in the registry editor window, on the lefthand side, go to these folders:
In the MODE folder, on the right hand side, you’ll see a field named UCID. Right-click on UCID and delete.
Collect the initial signup bonuses on all these sites. Then wait for reloads, as they’re pretty good about offering decent reload bonuses over time.Caribbean Sun
This is another Crypto site, just like InterPoker and Will Hill. They offer a monthly recurring bonus of $40 for playing 250 dealt hands. Pretty easy and painless to clear, especially if you multi-table. Not the biggest bonus in the world but it takes a minimum of effort to clear and it’s there every single month.
Like all the Cryptos, the players are pretty bad, willing to gambool it up. Also like almost all the Cryptos, you’ll have to wait for a pin number to be snail-mailed to you before you can cashout. Cashouts are processed quickly, usually within 24 hours.
This is exactly like Will Hill
, in every way but one. TotalBet
offers the same monthly bonus, paying you £5 ($9.68) per hour that you sit at a table, up to a maximum of £25 every month. It’s strictly based on your time at the table, not raked hands, nothing else.
Same bad Crytpo players, same cashout process. Available each and every month. You’ll have to wait for the pin number to be snail-mailed to you before you cash out. UKBetting
Exactly the same as TotalBet and Will Hill
. Monthly bonus of £5 ($9.68) per hour that you sit at a table, up to a maximum of £25 each and every month. Pin number required to be able to cashout at UKBetting
offers a $50 monthly bonus for playing 300 dealt hands. ‘Tis another Crypto site just like all the others, same soft players, same nice recurring monthly bonus. Like the others, you can only cashout when you get the pin number snail-mailed to you.AbsolutePokerAbsolute
is a bit unique in the poker bonus world. On the one hand, they offer one of the largest initial signup bonuses out there, a 35% bonus up to $210 (deposit $650 to get the full signup bonus). They also offer regular reload bonuses nearly every weekend, up to $200 maximum in total bonuses. The bonuses are also released to you in $10 increments as you clear them, so you don’t have to wait for one lump sum bonus payment.
On the down side, their bonuses are difficult and slow to clear, as they require you to play a lot of raked hands to unlock them. Their software is also pretty terrible, as it’s resource intensive and slow to act. It’s also occasionally hard to find a game to play at, as their overall site traffic is fairly low. Players in general are fairly tight, as many are here for the bonuses, and are in general savvier, tighter players. Cashouts are really fast, usually within a few hours.
So this one is a mixed bag. I usually play at Absolute
only when I run out of other juicier bonuses. That said, Absolute can be a great site to build a bankroll at, if you’re willing to sit and grind and grind. Because they release the bonus in increments and because they offer regular reloads, you can use this site to build a bankroll quite easily. Ignore trying to maximize the initial signup bonus and deposit what you have. You’ll get a 35% signup bonus on it. Clear that bonus, withdrawal, and wait for the weekend, when they offer reload bonuses. Deposit your bankroll (which is hopefully larger now from the bonus you just cleared) on the weekend, get the reload bonus money, clear it over the next week, and withdraw before the weekend. Re-deposit, get a new reload bonus, repeat until you build a roll to go after other bonuses. You can only do this at Absolute, as no other site offers as many regular reload bonuses.
You won’t make as much per hour at Absolute
as at other sites, given that the bonuses take longer to clear, but you are guaranteed a steady stream of bonuses, if you’re willing to sacrifice some hourly earn rate for building a bankroll.The Gaming ClubThe Gaming Club
offers a very nice initial signup bonus, up to $300. Even better is the fact that they only require a $50 deposit to pursue it, as the bonus is released to you in increments of $20 when you acquire enough points on their system (which gives you points based on both the limit you’re playing and whether the hand was raked). So while you can deposit whatever you want ($50, $100, $300, etc.) you’re still eligible for the same total $300 in bonus money.
That said, The Gaming Club
loses points for constantly changing the terms of their promotions and for making it difficult to track your progress towards. As I type this, they’ve recently changed the terms on the signup bonus, so that you can only unlock a certain amount of the bonus at certain levels (i.e. only part of the total bonus can be claimed by playing at .50/1 tables, while an additional part can be claimed at ½, and even more at 2/4).
Players are pretty loose and game selection is decent. Cashouts are processed fairly quickly, usually within 48 hours.
Just make sure you check the terms and conditions before signing up and that you understand them. It’s a good bonus, especially if you’re building a bankroll, since you can potentially get $300 in bonus money on a $50 deposit. It’s also released in $20 increments, which always helps. I’d move this bonus much higher on the list if the terms were more straightforward, less-complicated, and not changing constantly.Aspinalls PokerAspinalls Poker
offers a 25% initial signup bonus, up to $100 (deposit $400 for the maximum bonus). You clear the bonus by accumulating Action Points, which are given to you for contributing money to a pot. This is slightly annoying, as you have to contribute money to a raked pot, not simply be dealt cards in a raked pot as at most sites.
The bonus clears reasonably quickly and the players are pretty terrible. Again, this poker room is tied to a casino so you get some truly bad players willing to throw all sorts of money around. The software is decent and they offer a good number of games at all limits.
One negative is they have a casino mentality as far as cashouts, which take days to processs and which you often need to email them a scanned copy of your driver’s license and utility bill to receive. They’re completely reputable and they will pay you, they just take awhile to do it and require identification documentation.PokerStars
You all likely know PokerStars, so I won’t spend much time here. Great site, tons of players, all sorts of games. They don’t offer a signup bonus but they do offer a decent number of reloads throughout the year. If you don’t have an account, create one and deposit a token amount in there. Play a few hands then withdraw. The point of that is that you’ll be eligible for future reloads they offer, which are generally in the $100-$150 range. They’re similar to Party reloads in structure, taking a bit longer to clear, and against slightly tougher/tighter players.PokerRoom
Good site, decent number of players, and it’s one of the few sites out there that Mac fans can play at. They offer a decent 20% initial deposit bonus, up to $100 (deposit $500 for the full bonus). You’ll accumulate points based on raked hands, which unlock the bonus in one payment.
The only downside to the PokerRoom
bonus is that it’s very slow to clear at lower limits. If you multi-table 2/4 it goes pretty quickly but it takes a good bit of grinding at lower limits. Players are decent, not too loose, not too tight. Cashouts are usually processed within 48 hours.
Not a bad bonus, not a bad site. Definitely worth doing if you’re finished with juicier bonuses.Bodog
Not a bad site and they offer decent signup and reload bonuses. The players are pretty bad and loose, as many come from the casino and sportsbook. The only major downside to the bonuses are that they require you to contribute to a raked pot to make progress towards clearing them. Because the site traffic is fairly low in general, you’ll have to play quite a few hands to clear the bonus, since there are almost never many stud games running. The loose players, though, make up a bit for the slow clearing bonuses. Cashouts are really fast, sometimes in just an hour or two. TigerGaming
While they do offer a signup bonus, this one is only probably worth it when they offer a 100% signup bonus match, as they do periodically. This site is a very low traffic site, sometimes with no low limit games at all during off-peak hours. They also use a homegrown system to track your progress towards bonuses, which only gives you points towards clearing the bonus when you win a hand.
On the bright side, the average player on TigerGaming
is really, really bad. It can be a lucrative bonus but you have to play many, many hands to clear it (and win hands, not just contribute to the pot), given the nature of the points system. Cashouts are quick, processing within 24 hours.UltimateBet
Slooooooooowwww. Great site, great software, lots of tables available, but man, this bonus clears slowly. They offer a nice signup bonus and decent reloads but man, it takes forever to clear the bonus here.