Friday, February 11, 2005

Clearing Poker Bonuses

I originally meant to elaborate on this a bit more in the poker bonus strategy guide but never quite got around to it. A combination of clearing a ton of bonuses myself lately coupled with reading SuperSystem 2 finally jogged my monkey brain last night, so I thought I'd finally revisit this topic.

By and large, if you catch the bonus bug you'll be playing at lower limits. While you can clear a bonus at 15/30, it's more than likely that the extra $100 you get from the bonus won't make a huge dent in your bankroll. But, just like all poker bonuses aren't created equal, neither are all low/micro limit games. There are a few considerations to keep in mind in order to maximize the value of the bonus. In no particular order:

  • Minimize your Risk

  • The real value in bonuses isn't locked in any one particular bonus; the true +EV lies in the ability to clear multiple bonuses. Read that again. If you can multi-table and consistently play break-even poker, you'll make money. In any given month there's usually $500-$750 in juicy bonus money available, through reloads and monthly bonuses. Your goal is to get that money, with a minimum of effort, and with as minimal risk as possible.

    By and large, you shouldn't be clearing bonuses at 2/4 or higher. I'm not saying you shouldn't be playing 2/4 or higher, just that you should separate your bonus play from your other play at those levels and above. Look at the bonus money as hit and run missions, strategical strikes to extract the most money possible in the least amount of time, at the lowest limits possible. Yes, I know, it's boring and frustrating as hell sometimes to play .50/1, especially if you're used to higher limits. But your goal in chasing bonuses is to build your bankroll, plain and simple. Recognize it as such. It's an ends to the means, not the means.

    The lower the limit you play, the lower your risk. Variance is a real issue with bonuses because you're typically playing 1,000 raked hands or fewer. Anything in the world can happen in a sample that small. Analyze each bonus and determine the lowest limit you can play that will allow you to clear it in the available time you have. The balancing act is finding the lowest limit that still produces enough raked hands to clear the bonus quickly, so that you can move on to the next one.

  • Plan Your Mission

  • Be like the A-Team, loving it when a good plan comes together. Don't just run around, jumping on this site and depositing for a bonus, getting bored when it's slow to clear, jumping ship and going over here, then there, then back. Take half an hour at the beginning of the month to plan what bonuses you'll pick off.

    You have all the monthly Crypto bonuses available. You also have initial signup bonuses to work through. You usually have reloads from the major sites, as well. For myself, I pencil in all the Cryptos in the middle of the month (trying to avoid the beginning of the month/end of the month influx of bonus chasing players that typically occurs, which causes the play to tighten slightly). I usually slot a new initial signup bonus or two for the first few weeks of the month. The last week or two is usually reserved for reloads that crop up.

    That said, you'll have to be flexible. Sometimes bonuses pop up with a small window of opportunity to complete them in. You can almost always move the monthly bonuses around in your schedule and the initial signup bonuses almost never expire, so it's usually easy to work in time-sensitive reload bonuses.

  • Step Down, Not Up

  • I know people that normally play 5/10 and higher who clear bonuses at .50/1. Remember, you're there for the bonus. Clearing it at lower limits reduces the swings your bankroll will experience, thus increasing the odds that you'll clear the bonus and show a profit.

    What you have to avoid is stepping up in limits, because you think you'll clear it faster since more hands are raked. This is a recipe for disaster, as you'll be playing with slightly scared money, always watching the raked hand total, watching your bankroll, anxious, wringing you hands.

    If you can't easily clear the bonus playing your normal limits (or below), then don't chase after the bonus in the first place. It's just that easy. There are so many good bonuses out there that you never have to step above 1/2, if you don't want to. Again, I'm obviously not saying you can't clear a bonus at 2/4. You can. But only if you feel comfortable at that level, your bankroll can support it, and there are no other better bonuses that you can clear at lower levels.

  • Understand the Bonus Terms

  • This is probably where people make the most errors, and what leads to the most frustration. Always read the terms and conditions for the bonus and understand how that site's bonus system works. It makes a huge, huge difference if the site requires you to contribute to a raked hand, or if you simply have to be dealt cards initially in a hand that is eventually raked.

    Don't jump on a bonus without doing any research, only to discover that what looks like a great bonus will in fact take you twelve years to clear *cough* Full Tilt *cough*. Not only will you get frustrated and likely not play your best, even if you abandon ship and move on it will continue to mock you, always nagging at the back of your mind. Always make sure you understand the terms and that you have a good sense of how long it will take you in real-world conditions to get the bonus.

    Don't focus on the dollar amount, but instead on how quickly you can clear it. A $40 that you can clear in thirty minutes beats the hell out of a $300 bonus that takes you a month to clear.

  • Expand Your Repertoire

  • If you want to extra full value from the world of bonuses, learn how to play Stud and Omaha. There are more than a few bonuses that require you to contribute to the pot for you to get credit for a raked hand, and Stud is great for those situations, as your initial ante counts as a contribution. Micro limit Omaha games usually have six or seven people seeing every flop, so nearly every hand is raked.

    Omaha is also good for multi-tabling as you will insta-muck many, many hands preflop, so you have to make fewer decisions and see less flops, allowing you to focus on multiple tables more easily. (Stud, though, is exactly the opposite, as unless you have a photographic memory you're going to be giving away a lot by not being able to remember exposed cards that have been mucked.)

    Plus learning a new game never hurts and can even be, wonder of wonders, fun.

  • Stick to Full Ring Games

  • This is debatable, and I flip-flop myself, but I think in general you should stick to full ring games when clearing bonuses. Yes, you can clear them more quickly at loose shorthanded games, due to the simple fact that you see more hands per hour. But it's harder to multi-table all short-handed games, and to play short-handed correctly you have to be aggressive to the point that you'll encounter wild fluctuations in your bankroll.

    At full ring games you'll see fewer hands in an hour, but more will be raked. Your decisions are also easier, especially if you're multi-tabling, as you're playing fewer marginal hands than you do when short-handed.

  • The More Tables, The Better

  • You have to multi-table to get the full value from bonuses. Have to. And, honestly, you really have to play four tables at a time, or at least be working up to it. It's hard at first and yes, indeed, you'll make some errors while getting used to it and cost yourself some money in the short-term. But in the long-term it'll greatly increase your profitability if you can manage four or more tables at a time.

    If you can't fit four tables on your monitor without overlap, start setting aside a certain amount of money from each bonus towards buying a monitor that can fit four tables. I was stubborn for far, far too long, thinking I could get by just fine on my wee little monitor. Don't be stubborn. Having four tables on the screen with no overlap will increase your profitability. It will.

  • You Can't Win Them All

  • Variance is a bitch. Even the best laid plains blow up in your face sometimes. Sometimes you're going to chase a bonus, play a ton of hands, and show a net loss for all your efforts. It just happens. If it doesn't happen to you, you're not taking full advantage of all the bonuses out there. Dust yourself off and go on to the next one.


    Pauly said...

    Solid advice.

    -EV said...

    Nice post! We live in a very, very fortunate time for poker players -- think back to the days of the Texas road gamblers. They didn't have bonuses or anything even remotely resembling them. Today, we've got all this free money to fill in the voids often left by variance. What a wonderful thing!