Poker shot to fame a decade or so ago thanks to coverage of the World Series of Poker on TV. Soon people all over the world were rushing to try out a game normally found only in peoples basements and brick and mortar card rooms.
Poker Networks & Software
In order for online poker to work, you need a decent pool of players to draw from. Poker sites that don’t have enough liquidity won’t be able to run as many tables meaning less games, and less choice for their customers. To get around this, all but the very biggest poker sites tend to belong to a network – where players and games are shared between all sites that operate on that network. For obvious reasons, sites on the same network will also use the same software or poker client.
Below you’ll find a list of networks which are licensed and accept players from the UK, along with details of which sites operate on them. Unlike online casinos, most poker sites tend to only offer one network’s games – so if you don’t like the games or software at one site, you’ll need to find one on another network.
Whilst Texas Hold’em, may be the most well known game (and the one that many people think of when you say ‘poker’) there are actually hundreds of very different games that have been invented, some of which are incredibly quirky. Online you’ll find a small representation of the most popular forms – including versions of Hold’em, Stud and Omaha.
Just like their casino bonus counterparts, poker bonuses come in a variety of different shapes and sizes although for the most part they can be categorised into one of two types – no deposit bonuses and deposit bonuses:
No Deposit Bonuses
Bonuses that don’t require a deposit are a bit harder to come by in the online poker world (compared to casino or bingo), but there are a few kicking about if you know where to look. These kinds of offer are given to you when you sign up and let you try your hand at a few games before risking your own money – although on some sites you may be required to register a debit or credit card to prove your identity. Some poker sites will let you play whatever games you like with the bonus, whilst others might restrict you to a particular type of game that they’re trying to promote (such as ‘fast fold poker’) or issue the bonus as tournament tokens that can only be used to play in tournaments.
These are bonuses that you receive after making your first real money deposit to the poker room. The amount of bonus you are eligible for often depends on the amount you deposit (which is given as a percentage such as 200%), but not always – some will give you the full bonus so long as you make a minimum deposit. With the exception of upfront bonuses, which we talk about below, poker bonuses are usually credited to your account in a ‘pending’ state and are released as cash as you play. Once the the cash hits your account, you’re then free to withdraw (in most cases).
Whilst most bonuses work in the manner listed above (ie: they’re released as you play), some poker sites will give you a small bonus, or portion of a bigger bonus, upfront for you to play with right away. This is relatively rare though as there is a significant risk to the poker site that you will lose the funds before generating enough rake to cover the cost of the bonus.
Understanding Rake & Bonuses
We’ve mentioned ‘rake’ quite a few times in this article, and it’s important for any poker player to understand what exactly it is, and how it affects your bonus.
The rake is how online poker sites make their money and it’s where take a small portion of each pot as a fee for hosting the games. This percentage varies between sites, game types and stake levels but is usually somewhere around 5% for cash games. For tournaments the rake is taken as the ‘fee’ portion of the buy-in – eg: in a £10+1 game the fee is £1.
Whilst this may sound like a lot, if you’ve ever played real money live poker you’ll probably realise that the fees charged online are much less than you would find in your local casino, who tend to charge 10% of the pot (and sometimes an hourly fee on top as well).
So what does rake have to do with poker bonuses? Because the bonuses are paid out as you play, the release rate can be set by the poker site to guarantee them a profit. For example, if £5 of your bonus is paid out each time you rake £10, that means the poker site is still making £5 for themselves.
When comparing poker bonuses, try to figure out what portion of the rake is being paid back to you as a bonus – and the higher this figure, the better. For example, a £100 bonus which is paid out at £9 for every £10 raked is much better than a £200 bonus that is paid out at £5 per £10.
As well as the contributed rake model described above (which is becoming increasingly popular amongst poker room operators), some poker sites choose to pay out bonuses using the ‘raked hand’ model. This is where the bonus is released relative to the number of hands you play that are raked, regardless of how much rake you personally generate.
Whilst it’s fairly easy to compare two bonuses that use the same method for calculating how much of your bonus should be released, it can be tricky to compare sites that use different methods – eg: where one site uses the contributed rake model and the other uses the raked hand system. So have a look through the bonuses and try to come up with an idea of what’s ‘good’ for each type of bonus based on your playing style and stake level – the raked hand model tends to favour lower stake players whilst the contributed rake model will earn high stakes players their bonuses faster.
Welcome Bonuses v Rakeback / VIP Programs
As well as introductory poker bonuses, many poker sites will also offer some kind of loyalty scheme or VIP program to their existing players which repays a portion of the rake that you’ve paid each month. The percentage of rakeback you receive (or equivalent percentage for Loyalty/VIP programs) varies between sites, so don’t be afraid to shop around to find the best deal.
You will often find that loyalty programs have multiple tiers designed to reward the players that play more frequently with bigger cash back, as well as other perks such as merchandise, gadets and entry to live poker tournaments.
But how do loyalty schemes compare to bonuses? Are you better off jumping from site to site claiming bonuses as you go or sticking to one site earning rakeback?
Generally speaking the welcome bonuses pay back a higher percentage of the rake than you would receive from a loyalty program, or at least that tends to be the case for more casual players. However the payout rates for top tier players at some sites actually exceed the equivalent rates for some bonuses – so if you play a lot (or play big) then finding the best VIP program should be your main priority.