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Online Poker Bonus

Q: What is a deposit bonus?

A: A deposit bonus is really just what it sounds like - a monetary bonus the online poker room gives you when you deposit money on its site. Every poker room has an initial deposit bonus, which is offered on your first deposit after you create an account. The poker rooms also sometimes offer reload bonuses, given when you deposit additional funds once you are an established, real money customer. The bonuses are offered as a percentage of your deposit, up to a maximum amount. For example, Titan Poker has an initial deposit bonus of 150% up to $500, which means that on your first deposit there, the site will give you one and a half times your deposit amount as a bonus, with a maximum bonus of $500 (you would need to deposit $333.33 to get the max bonus of $500).

Q: So, I can just take the money and run?

A: You've heard the saying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," right? No, you can't just take the money and cash out. You must play at the poker room first. In order to pay for the bonus, the poker room needs to collect rake from the tables. By making you play, the site knows that you will help create pots, which will allow the site to collect its rake.

Q: Do I get to at least play with the bonus?

A: Most of the time, no. Almost all of the online poker rooms release your bonus when you have played enough to satisfy their requirements. Some, such as PokerStars, give you your bonus in one lump sum upon completion of the play through requirements. Others, such as Sun Poker, release the bonus in increments, so if you don't complete all the requirements, you will still probably get at least some of the bonus. Bodog Poker is the one online poker room that gives you your bonus up front, so you can use it at the tables. You still can't cash it out until you complete the site's requirements, though.

Q: What are these play through requirements?

A: Nowadays, the most common system online poker rooms use to keep track of your play through requirement progress is a loyalty or poker points system. For each hand that you play in where a minimum amount of rake is taken from the pot (some rooms do not have a minimum as long as any amount of rake was taken), you will receive poker points. Once you accumulate a certain number of points, you will receive your bonus. A few years ago, the raked hand method of calculating requirements was popular. At rooms such as Party Poker, if the hand was raked the minimum amount, you tallied a raked hand. After a certain number of raked hands, you got your bonus.

Q: How do I know how many points I will need to complete the requirements?

A: The poker room will detail this in the terms and conditions of the bonus. Usually, you will need to earn a fixed number of points per dollar of bonus. For example, PokerRoom.com requires you to earn 8 poker points per dollar of bonus before you will see that money. So, if you deposited enough money to get a $200 bonus, you would need to accumulate 1,600 points. The poker room will give you a means by which to keep track of your points either right in the poker software or on its website.

Q: How many points do I get per hand?

A: That varies from room to room. Many rooms give you more points per raked hand the higher the stakes that you play. Over the last couple years, poker rooms have made it harder on micro-limit players to earn bonuses. But, if you can work your way up in stakes a little bit, bonus requirements become very manageable. Some rooms, such as Full Tilt Poker, reward higher stakes players indirectly by distributing points according to how much rake is taken from the pot. The more rake, the more points. In Full Tilt's case, you get one point per dollar of rake. So, while every table earns rake in the same way, the higher stakes tables will naturally have larger pots, which means more rake, which means more points.

Q: Do I need to bet money in a hand to receive points?

A: Sometimes. Some online poker rooms, such as Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, require you to actually contribute money to the pot to get credit for a raked hand. Naturally, this is called the contributed method of raked hand calculation. Other rooms, such as Gnuf Poker, only require you to be dealt cards in order to get credit for a raked hand. If you fold pre-flop, that is fine with the dealt method. Most players like the dealt method the best, as it allows you to play exactly how you would normally play and still earn points. Many players feel pressure to play too many hands with the contributed method, but at the same time, if you like to play fast and loose, contributed can be great for you. One interesting variation of the contributed method that loose players may like is what some sites call the shared method. In this raked hand method, players receive points based on the proportion of the pot that they contributed. So, if you were to put $10 into a $30 pot, you would receive more poker points than a competitor who put $5 into that same pot. Pacific Poker uses this method.

Q: Do I have a time limit to meet the bonus requirements?

A: With very few exceptions, yes. Initial deposit bonuses usually have a deadline of 30-60 days. Reload bonuses can have shorter time limits, but not always.

Q: Can I withdraw my money before I finish the bonus?

A: Sometimes. It just depends on the specific bonus's terms and conditions. Some poker rooms are fine with you making a withdrawal before completing the bonus requirements. After all, it's not like you can earn the bonus without money with which to play. Other poker rooms take a more punitive stance and will make you forfeit your entire remaining bonus if you cash out any amount of money, even if it was money you already had on the site before depositing for the bonus. Be sure you understand the rules before depositing or withdrawing.

Q: How do I know what bonus is best for me?

A: It really just depends on your playing style. If you are a tight, low stakes player, not many bonuses are easy to earn in this post-UIGEA age of online poker, but bonuses that have low point/raked hand requirements and use the dealt method of raked hand counting would be your best bet. If you play high stakes, it generally won't matter too much, as most pots get big enough to qualify as raked, but dealt is still best for most people. Very loose players may find that some bonuses that use the contributed or shared method will be best because they reward those types of players for throwing money around, but this is not always the case. You may need to do some rough calculations to see how fast you think a bonus might be earned.

Q: I have seen "free money" or "no deposit" bonuses mentioned on some sites. What are these?

A: They are essentially what they sound like - bonuses that do not require a deposit by you at all. The most common ones are offered by online poker affiliates, who get paid by the poker rooms for each new customer they send to the site. In return, some affiliates will make your first deposit for you. In order to be able to cash out anything, though (even profits), there will still be play through requirements, similar to standard bonuses. BonusWhores.com is a good resource for this type of poker bonus. They are a trusted poker bonus site and have been around since 2003.