Sunday, January 02, 2005

Poker Bonus Strategy Guide

The main purpose of this poker bonus strategy guide is to get into the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of taking maximum advantage of poker bonuses. If you’re completely new to poker bonuses, click here for a general article of how they work. For the purposes of this strategy guide I’m going to assume that you’re familiar with how they work (the differences between initial signup bonuses and reload bonuses, what raked hands are, what deposit method to use, etc.) and are looking for a comprehensive, solid strategy for getting the most value from them, as well as avoiding trouble sites that might derail you. I’ll cover some general principles first then give you a specific strategy for players starting with a bankroll of $100.

The other big assumption I make in this guide is that you’re at least a break-even poker player, skill-wise. Or even a marginal loser, as the bonus money will be enough to overcome that. If you’re losing money hand over fist, well, you have my sincere apologies, but no bonus strategy guide is going to help that. Yeah, I know, we all suffer through bad streaks, but this guide has some fallback plans for that, to get you back to the bankroll level you need to move forward with bonuses. Bad luck can be overcome but bad play can’t. It’s just the way it is. If you’re constantly losing money you need to stop and re-examine your game, not chase bonuses.

In general, I think poker bonuses are pretty invaluable to most players, and definitely worth the effort of pursuing. It may seem like a lot of hassle and that it's easier to just play at your favorite site that you're used to, but in the end, poker is poker is poker, and you should always be playing with a bonus overlay if possible. Given the boom of poker and the number of sites offering bonuses, always playing with a bonus pending is really, really easy. Not only is it free money, but it can be invaluable to helping you build a bankroll (or even just tread water) when you're just starting out, learning, polishing your game. Bonuses can speed up the process greatly, especially as far as building the necessary roll to move up in limits much, much faster than you would normally be able to.

(Although it's a bit of a sidetrack, don't forget online casino bonuses, either, when building a bankroll. While yes, indeed, the house always has the advantage, even at an online casino, some sites offer bonuses that are so large that you can show a nice profit by simply playing basic strategy at blackjack and betting the minimum. Click here for a complete guide to getting started with casino bonuses.)

There are two key factors to consider when chasing poker bonuses: 1) what maximum deposit is required and 2) how quickly will the bonus clear.

(Notice that I don’t include what the total value of the bonus is. That’s a mistake a lot of people make, assuming that the larger the dollar value of the bonus, the better the bonus is. While in many cases that’s true, it can be very misleading and the real issue to pay attention to is how quickly you can get your grubby hands on the bonus money. A $50 bonus you can clear in two hours is much, much better than a $100 bonus that takes you twenty hours to clear.)

1) Most of the better bonuses are initial signup bonuses given when you create a new account and deposit money. You only get one shot at these. Be sure you always deposit enough to get the maximum bonus. If it’s a 20% bonus match, up to a maximum of $100 in bonus money, always deposit at least $500. Always, always, always. Never leave bonus money on the table by depositing less than the maximum. You can always build your bankroll by grinding on sites that offer constant reload bonuses (more on this later). For now, repeat after me: I will never, ever get less than the maximum bonus for an intial signup bonus.

2) Always understand the terms and conditions of bonuses, especially in relation to what you need to do to receive the bonus money. Different sites have different systems, some requiring you to simply participate in a certain number of dealt hands, some requiring you to participate in a certain number of raked hands, and others requiring you to accumulate points under their own unique system. These requirements will determine how quickly you can get a bonus on a site, and how quickly you can move on to the next site and the next bonus. The real money in poker bonuses comes from clearing many of them in a month, as no one site offers truly large bonuses. Make sure you have a firm grasp on how a particular site’s system for clearing bonuses translates into actual hours at the tables.

Those are the two key principles that you must keep in mind, which dictate what a “good” or “bad” bonus is, and what order you should pursue bonuses in. In addition to those principles, though, are some other related factors to keep in mind:

  • How many tables can you successfully multi-table? How many tables does the site allow you to simultaneously play? This is very important, as you will clear bonuses much, much faster when multi-tabling.

  • What is the general player makeup of the site? Is it tied to a casino site, with lots of loose, bad players? Does it aggressively advertise in the mainstream media, thus attracting fishy players? Is it only frequented by tight, rock-like players chasing bonuses? This obviously has nothing to do with the bonus itself, but affects what you can expect to make from your own stellar poker play while at the tables.

  • How long does the site take to process cashouts? You’ll be moving money from site to site fairly regularly and the last thing you want is to have dead time, where you want to play poker but have your bankroll tied up on one site. To get the most value from bonuses you’ll have to plan your attack so that you never have any wasted dead time.

  • How comfortable are you playing on sites you intuitively don’t like? You’ll be playing on many sites, some with interfaces you may not like, for whatever reason. This is just a fact of life and something you’ll have to get used to.

  • What limits do you normally play? For the most part, the optimal limits for clearing bonuses are $1/2 and $2/4. $.50/1 is also fine, although it’ll take you slightly longer. If you typically play at limits below or above those, you may find chasing bonuses to be counter-productive. Either the amount you’ll make from a bonus won’t be worth it or you’ll be playing at limits that either bore or scare you.

  • Are you good at keeping records? You’ll be playing on some sites that don’t support PokerTracker, as well as shuffling money around a good bit on different sites. In order to accurately track your progress you’ll likely need to use a simple spreadsheet and stick to using it, so that you know just how profitable the bonuses are for you.

  • With all that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this strategy guide. I’m going to pretend that you only have $100 to start with, so the order of sites will be dictated by that, to some extent. Many people like to start chasing bonuses as an experiment with less than their full bankroll, keeping most of it on their favorite site, which is why I’m working under the assumption of a $100 bankroll. If you have at least $500 to start with, you can basically start anywhere you like on the list. I'd recommend following the general order, by and large, but if you really want to play on particular sites on the list, knock yourself out.

    One last thing to note is that the terms on these change all the times, so check yourself before depositing, etc. I try to keep up but don't assume the info you find here is 100% accurate, as sites change the terms of their promotions pretty regularly.

    Hitting the Poker Bonus Trail with $100

    1) Deposit $100 at Absolute Poker. They usually offer anywhere from 100-200% signup bonuses when creating an account, as well as lots of reloads, nearly every week.

    The downsides here are that the bonuses clear fairly slowly and that a lot of players on the site are there just for bonuses, so the play at the tables tends to be pretty tight and rocky. You won't find too many crazy maniacs here that play badly and donate tons of money, like you will find at Party and other sites.

    Playing here is a bit of a grind due to those facts, but the generous bonus offers more than make up for it, especially when you're just starting out. Because of all the reloads, you aren't sacrificing any potential bonus money by starting here with a $100 deposit, as you would with other sites where you need a bigger deposit to match the signup bonus, which is usually the best bonus most sites offer.

    2) Deposit $100 at InterPoker. InterPoker has a nice bonus 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 months). In order to claim it you have to play 1200 raked hands.

    That's a fair number of hands, so you won't blow through this one in a few hours. Such is life sometimes on the poker bonus trail. The real value here is that you get the bonus each and every month, so you can basically pencil this one in and work it into your routine. The bonus is also fairly slow to clear at $1/$2 limits and below. So you most definitely won't blaze through this bonus quickly.

    Their cashout system uses 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 a little 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. When you clear the bonus, cash out entirely.

    3) Deposit $100 at Will Hill. Will Hill offers a monthly recurring bonus like InterPoker, 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 two or 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. It’s also easy to knock out, build your bankroll, and get ready for the next stop on the bonus trail.

    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.

    4) Deposit $100 at Littlewoods. Once again, another Crypto site that offers a great monthly bonus. While these sites can be frustrating to play at sometimes, the monthly bonuses are the absolute best way to build a bankroll when you're starting out, and you don't lose any potential bonus money by depositing smaller amounts. Remember, you're working your way up to some better bonuses later on, that require you to deposit $400+ to get the full bonus.

    Littlewoods offers a £25 bonus every month, which is added automatically to your account after you clear 200 raked hands. That's it. Get in your 200 raked hands and the bonus is yours, each and every month.

    Like most other Cryptos, you'll have to wait for the PIN to be snail-mailed to you before you can cash out the first time.

    5) Deposit at least $100 at PokerPlex. PokerPlex offers a $50 monthly bonus for playing 250 raked 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.

    6) Deposit $200 at Paradise Poker. With bonus code FIRST25 you'll get a 25% bonous, up to a max of $50.

    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.

    7) You should have at least $400 by now in your bankroll. (If you don’t have $400, skip to #7.) Assuming you do, deposit at least $400 at Pacific Poker. Pacific 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).

    That said, they often don't check to see if you've played enough, so you can usually cash out before you've cleared all of the wagering. If you want to cash out it usually doens't hurt to try and see if they'll process it, as otherwise they just refund it to your account so there's no harm in trying.

    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, Casino-On-Net.

    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.

    8) By now you should have well over $500 in your bankroll. If you play break-even poker and collect all the bonus money so far (which isn’t likely, but possible), you’ll be well over that figure. But we’ll be conservative and assume you have $500 and that it’s taken you a month to get this far.

    (If you need a break, consider hitting up some of the juicier casino bonuses listed here. I like to alternate poker and casino bonuses, just so I don't get completely burned out from the grind. Especially if I'm encountering a run of frustrating, bad beats and need to blow off a little steam. Remember, it's not even really gambling if you stick to the +EV casino bonuses and are disciplined.)

    If it’s a new month, double back and do all of the Crypto monthly bonuses. Unless the terms change, the process will be exactly as when you did them the first time. You’ll also want to deposit into two new Crypto sites at this stage, both with monthly bonuses just like Will Hill. Deposit $100 each at TotalBetand UKBetting.

    They’re both like the other Crypros as far as a PIN needed to cash out, available each and every month, etc. They each pay out a 25 pound bonus when you've cleared 200 raked hands.

    9) Now it’s finally time to hit Party Poker, if you don't have an account there. Use bonus code "SCURVY" when signing up for a 20% up to $100 bonus.

    Party is one of the biggest sites out there with some terrible players just waiting to give you money, so it's definitely a great bonus to hit. They also offer reload bonuses from time to time.

    10) Titan Poker is currently offering a 100% match on your signup, up to $500. This is one of the biggest bonuses out there, which is obviously a good thing. Even better is that they have truly horrible players on their site, as they get lots of players who wander in from the casinos of sister sites. The only drawback is that the bonus clears slowly, so it'll take you quite awhile to unlock the full bonus. Still a good site to have in your arsenal, especially if you're patient, as the fishy players more than make up for the slow clearing bonus.

    11) Full Tilt is another one with a big signup bonus, but one that's hard to clear quickly. It's a 100% up to $500 signup bonus, so it's a nice one to go after and chip away at, when you need another big signup bonus.

    12) Noble Poker offers a 50% signup bonus, up to $250, and is on the same network as Titan Poker, with the same terrible players.

    This one takes awhile to clear but it's a nice bonus and you get to play with some truly godawful players while clearing it, which should add to your bottom line.

    13) 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.

    14) PokerRoom offers a 40% initial signup bonus, up to a maximum of $200. Good site, decent number of players, and it’s one of the few sites out there that Mac fans can play at. You’ll accumulate points based on raked hands, which unlock the bonus in one payment. They also offer a decent number of reloads throughout the year.

    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, just a little slow to clear the bonus.

    15) Crazy Poker is next, and is the first stop on the Prima network. They offer a decent small signup bonus that clears very quickly, plus they're currently running a deal the offers you 33% of your rake returned to you each month as a bonus. Fishy players, decent software, plus a monthly bonus is always a good thing.

    16) Ultimate Bet has some nice bonuses, including a 20% initial deposit bonus (up to $100 max) as well as some nice reload bonuses from time to time. Nice interface, lots of players, great tournament structure.

    The only downside is that bonuses take forever to clear here. Forever. They're worth doing if you like the site and are a regular here, but if you're just hitting the poker bonus circuit these may bog you down too much, as they take a long time to accumulate enough points to release the bonus.

    17) Bugsy's Club also offers a 20% bonus on your first deposit, up to $100 (deposit $500 for the maximum). It's a decent bonus but the site can be low traffic at times, so it's sometimes hard to find a game. The site is also tied to an online poker school so the players aren't quite as bad as those you might find on other sites.

    And that, my fellow poker bonus fiends, is a brief overview of the major sites out there that offer nice poker bonuses. It's not, by any means, a comprehensive list, but it's all the major players on fairly high traffic sites that offer bonuses that normal human beings can clear without a superhuman effort.

    Between the monthly Crypto bonuses and reloads at Party/skins, you'll have plenty to keep you busy, once you plow through all the bonuses above. Keep in mind, too, that there's lots of free money on the table at online casinos, as well. Not to beat a dead horse, but casino bonuses can be just as valuable (maybe even more so) in building a poker bankroll. Click here for a complete guide to getting started with casino bonuses.

    If that's not enough for your insatiable bonus appetite, though, there are indeed more bonuses out there. I'm simply going to list them here, along with the current bonus offered, for the sake of being comprehensive. Please note, though, that some of these sites are low-traffic and off the beaten path, which means that it usually will take you slightly longer to clear the bonus.

  • Tiger Gaming: 30% bonus on first deposit, up to $120

  • Golden Tiger Poker: $30 free bonus

  • Virtual City Poker: $30 free bonus

  • River Belle Poker Room: up to $300 bonus

  • GoldenPalacePoker: 25% bonus up to $100

  • CD Poker: 25% bonus on first deposit, up to $100

  • Hollywood Poker: 20% bonus on first deposit, up to $100

  • Doyle's Room: 35% bonus up to $135 or free copy of SuperSystem2

  • 7 Sultans Poker: up to $200 signup bonus

  • Royal Vegas Poker: 40% signup bonus up to $100

  • Golden Riviera Poker: up to $50 signup bonus

  • Bet Holdem: 25% signup bonus up to $100

  • Colosseum Poker: 25% signup bonus up to $100

  • City Poker: 25% signup bonus up to $100

  • Poker333/Pigg's Peak Poker: get up to $75 signup bonus

  • Captain Cook's Poker: get up to $50 signup bonus

  • Poker Metro: up to $50 signup bonus

  • 25% signup bonus up to $50

  • Bet365: up to $50 signup bonus

  • Wild Jack Poker: up to $30 signup bonus

  • Grand Bay Poker: get up to $30 signup bonus

  • Trident Poker: get up to $30 signup bonus

  • Roxy Poker: get up to $50 signup bonus

  • Aztec Riches Poker: up to $50 signup bonus

  • Poker: 25% signup bonus up to $50

  • 32 Red Poker: up to $25 signup bonus

  • Big Dollar Poker: get up to $30 signup bonus

  • Spin Palace Poker: up to $30 signup bonus

  • BetonUSA: 20% signup bonus

    Anonymous said...

    This is a great write up. Would it be OK to permanantly link this to my web site?


    ScurvyDog said...

    By all means, link away. And thanks for the kind words.

    JD said...

    Might want to revise the Golden Tiger Poker bonus. I just played like a hundred and fifty hands there to get the hundred raked hands and was told I couldn't cash out. Their definition of a raked hand is now one in which you contribute to the pot in some way and the rake is greater than .25 cents.

    JD said...

    I'd actually take Golden Tiger off altogether the way they're doing business now. They're telling me that their system is up to date an hour or two after you're finished playing which is a complete crock.

    I had a woman tell me I had played 88 hands last night, despite counting off raked hands with a card and playing to 110. I figured ok, maybe some of the pots weren't big enough to be raked, even though I was playing PL.

    And now they're saying I can't withdraw my original $50 until I meet their wagering requirement. Which I apparently can't do.

    Maybe others have better experiences, I don't know, but Golden Tiger is severely pissing me off.

    So I played another 20 hands, withdrew the money, and went to bed. Got up seven hours later, decided to be safe and talk to support and guess hwo many raked hands I've played?


    ScurvyDog said...

    Yeah, I'm gonna ditch Golden Tiger completely from the guide. My experience was fine but I've heard other similar horror stories lately. Bonus isn't all that great to begin with.