You've watched some poker on television and read some books. You've studied your poker fundamentals, played dozens of hours at your local card room and even picked out an online poker site you think you'd like. You're ready to play, right?
Not quite! You're not ready to play online poker until you've researched and picked out a great online poker bonus. But what is an "online poker bonus" and everything it entails?
If you don't know, don't sign up with any poker site until you've read this page!
An online poker bonus is your incentive for signing up and playing on any online poker site.
The main poker bonus most poker sites offer is the "sign-up" bonus or "welcome" bonus. You get this bonus simply for creating a new registered account with a poker site.
Some of these can be "no deposit" bonuses but most you are entitled to only after you make your first (often minimal) deposit. In some cases you might need a bonus code to ensure your eligibility so be sure to locate the field for the bonus code and enter it if you have one.
Once you've entered it and submitted your deposit, you're ready to collect your poker bonus!
Your sign up bonus will likely be a match bonus -- preferably a 100% match bonus (or better). Sometimes the match percentage can be as high as 200 or 300%.
This means that the site matches the amount you deposit. So for example if you deposit $50 the site will match that $50 given you play a certain amount of hands.
No Deposit bonuses can also be offered and typically are given out as tickets to small buy-in poker tournaments or free spins at a slot machine (if the poker site has an attached casino). Both are good but the match bonus will pay you out more money in the long run.
A poker site will often give out "loyalty" bonuses or reward bonuses for continued play on a site. These may be match bonuses but can also be free tournament tickets or freeroll entries.
Reward match bonuses will usually be smaller percentages than the sign up bonus.
You can also get a bonus for referring other players to the site and getting them to create their own accounts. These may be small match bonuses or fixed bonuses, meaning you get a flat rate for every person that you sign up.
"Reload" bonuses are also commonly offered which give you a match percentage on any new deposits you make.
Online poker sites began offering poker bonuses at almost the exact same time the poker boom occurred in the early 2000s. At that time, the race was on to attract new players and competition was fierce between the hundreds of new online poker sites trying to gain a foothold in the industry.
The end result is the now-standard "poker bonus," which offers players real cash in their poker accounts and some serious incentive to sign up for a particular poker site. In many ways the poker bonus is the equivalent of "player rewards" or "comps" that brick-and-mortar casinos offer their loyal players who spend time gambling in their casino.
If you pick the right one a good poker bonus can be a huge boost to get your poker bankroll started and give you a chance to move up to some decent stakes online for much less risk.
As one of the longest-standing online poker guides PokerJunkie prides itself on acquiring the very best bonuses for our players - including some as high as $2,000 - and we offer exclusive poker bonuses at some of the best online poker sites in the world.
It's not hard to find an online poker bonus. Poker bonuses are listed on virtually every poker platform and you can even usually find poker bonus codes advertised and posted in major offline poker magazines.
A lot of the time these offers are for potentially large amounts - some as high as $1,000 or $2,000. But before settling on a poker bonus, you should ask yourself a couple of questions.
The first is, How much of this sign-up bonus am I actually goIng to get?
The second is, How do I know this is the highest poker bonus available to me?
The answer to the second is easy. As one the the oldest online poker guides Poke Junkie can often offer its players exclusive bonus deals and freerolls at major online poker sites.
All of these bonuses are higher than the normal bonus you would get from the online poker site itself. Our editors also scour the Web relentlessly so any of our non-exclusive bonuses you can be assured are listed at the highest bonus rate available.
Poker operators do offer new players bonuses but the ones offered on the poker site itself tend to be smaller than what you can find elsewhere online. You're already at their poker site, ready to sign up, so why offer you more money than required, right?
A lot of potential poker players prefer to go to a site like PokerJunkie where they can compare poker room reviews, find the best possible poker bonus at every site and then make a decision on where to sign up.
Thanks to this PokerJunkie has been able to negotiate with a large number of poker rooms to get better bonus deals than they promote on their web pages. In other words you, as a player, get a superior deal when signing up through Poker Junkie than you would if you went to the poker site.
How does the site know that you came in via PokerJunkie? This is where the online poker bonus code comes in.
In most cases the poker site you signed up with will know automatically that you came to them via a link on PokerJunkie. However, sometimes you need to type in a bonus code that you find in our poker-site reviews to make sure that you become eligible for the exclusive deal we've negotiated.
The bottom line is: If you find a bonus code in the review, make sure you use that when creating an account and making a first deposit at a poker site. On the other hand, if no bonus code is specified in the review, you'll get the bonus automatically.
Now you must clear your online poker bonus. You do this by simply playing real-money cash games or tournaments on the poker site.
The more you play on the site, the more points you earn. Once you earn enough points, determined by the size of the bonus, the bonus clears in increments and is deposited in your player account. Once it clears, you can play more poker with it or withdraw as you see fit.
In the toplist above our editors have ranked and listed the top poker bonus deals currently available online. Because it's such a competitive industry, though, that list can and does change frequently so it's worth it to check back regularly for new deals.
In an effort to bring in new players a poker site can, in the short term, boost its poker bonus offer up considerably - up to $2,000 or more even at times.
It's worth your while to take advantage when the deal arises. And when one poker site jacks up its bonus offer it's virtually guaranteed other sites will try and keep pace and at least match the increase, if not try and beat it.
Players constantly on the lookout for new bonuses can often jump on an opportunity other players might miss. For experienced poker players, it's also a great opportunity to take advantage of the influx of new players a big poker bonus provides.
The top poker bonus deal isn't necessarily the one with the biggest cash payout. A high bonus match percentage, for example, can be just as important - if not more important.
For example, a poker bonus where you deposit $50 and receive $500 could be more attractive than one where you deposit $500 and receive $1000. It really depends on your playing preferences, expected playing schedule and your preferred stakes to determine which poker bonus is optimal for you.
Another factor that could potentially push a bonus onto the toplist is the overall clearing requirements. A smaller overall poker bonus that is really easy to clear could place higher than a larger overall bonus with more advanced clearing requirements.
Signing up for a poker bonus is generally very easy, but actually earning the bonus can be a more challenging task. A standard online poker bonus is usually offered at "100% match," which means you will be eligible to receive an amount equal to your deposit.
So for example if you deposit $100, you will be eligible for an extra $100 on top of that. What many players don’t understand, however, is that the cash will not usually be immediately credited to your online poker account.
Online poker sites want to make sure that players who sign up actually stick around and play on their software for a while, so they keep track of how many real-money hands you actually play and pay your bonus out accordingly.
To get your bonus cash you'll have to play a set number of real-money poker hands on site. This isn't really a big deal for most online poker players as that's what they signed up at the poker site to do anyway - play poker.
Players who signed up hoping to fool around on the play-money tables for awhile and take the money and run will of course leave disappointed.
Most online poker sites will release the cash in $10-$100 increments as you play and it's usually very easy to reach the first instalment requirement - often less than 100 hands.
In some cases you will have to play well over 1,000 hands to clear a $100 bonus, but most are relatively easy to unlock. Some sites also pay out a lump sum of your total bonus after you’ve completed your required hands instead of in increments.
Before signing up for a poker bonus it’s important to figure out how many hands you’re looking to play and if you’ll actually be able to clear your bonus in the timeframe allotted.
Check your bonus status whenever you can. Frequent status checks will let you know just how well your bonus clearing efforts are working. You can calculate how many points you are earning per hour and check that against the amount of time you have to clear the bonus to see whether or not you are making good progress. Most online poker sites make it fairly easy for you to check your bonus status. You will usually find a button or drop down menu option that will take you instantly to your bonus status page.
If you only play tournaments, you should not switch your focus just for the sake of the bonus. However, if you already play a mix of tournaments and cash games, you should probably consider weighting things towards the cash games during your bonus clearing period. The reason for this is that you earn bonus clearing points for every single raked hand you play, while you can only earn a fixed amount for each tournament. Since a tournament can take a long time to finish, you may be cheating yourself out of a lot of bonus point opportunities where you could have been playing raked cash hands.
Except for shifting things towards the cash games, you shouldn't stray too much from your normal poker routine while trying to clear an online poker bonus. Playing extra hours, higher stakes or different games could disrupt your win rate and increase variance and you may end up losing more money than the bonus is worth in your efforts to snag the bonus faster.
If you're playing low-stakes poker (and cash games in particular) it can take you a long time to clear a poker bonus. To release a pending bonus you have to play a number of raked hands and the lower you play, the more hands you have to play before the bonus is in your real-money account.
Given how much or how little you actually play online, you may not even have enough days of bonus eligibility to collect the whole thing. But there is one form or poker that significantly speeds up the bonus clearing process: Fast Fold Poker.
If you've yet to try out fast-fold poker, here's how it works:
All players who are active in a specific game, say $1-$2 short handed Texas Hold'em, sit iat "the same tables." When you fold a hand you're instantly moved to another table where you'll get a new seat, a new hand and against new opponents.
In fact, as soon as you tick the "fold in turn" button, you will be moved (but the players at your old table still think you're there.) There's no waiting and you can play around 250 hands per hour!
Each and every one of these hands will work you towards your pending poker bonus. It more than likely means you will have clear your bonus 5x-10x faster compared to normal poker play.
Obviously, if you normally base your play on other players' actions and play a lot differently depending on who you're up against, your edge gets lost a bit with fast-fold poker. But if you base your play on a solid, straightforward strategy and always act the same way no matter who you're up against, Fast-Fold Poker is a great format.
If you're hunting bonuses, it couldn't be better. So if you want to clear a bonus quickly play fast-fold poker in any of its formats as listed below:
It's also worth noting that your bonus clearing may be under a time constraint. Most poker sites offer a very reasonable amount of time to clear your bonus (typically around 90 days), but it's always good to check your account to see how much time you have to clear the bonus.
If you're running out of time you may want to play more quickly or on more tables, even if you play at lower limits. If you fail to clear the bonus in the time allotment you could forfeit either some or all of the bonus money you've earned.
Also remember that even the best online poker bonus is only good for play at the site that offers it. Once you've cleared the bonus you can withdraw that money and move it to another poker site if you're so inclined.
You can also earn credits towards your bonus by playing real-money poker tournaments. If you're a tournament player, it's a good idea to check and make sure the poker site you choose has plenty of tournament options at your chosen stakes so you can be sure you get enough action in to clear your bonus.
There are winners and losers in the game of poker. That’s just the way it is. There are players, however, who are what are called "break-even" players - meaning they don't necessarily turn a profit, but they're good enough players to not lose money.
If you’re one of those chosen few, a good sign up bonus can mean the difference between making a profit and simply treading water. Getting a good sign up bonus can also help lessen the impact of rake, since most online poker sites take 3-5% from pots that reach a flop so that they can turn a profit.
For some players, the rake is the only thing that keeps them from being winning players, and a decent sign up bonus can actually go a long way to putting a break-even player in the black.
Finally, a solid sign-up bonus can give you time to get your feet wet with real-money play and reach the point of making a profit at your chosen stakes without actually risking your own cash.
Although every poker bonus sounds great (free cash!), there are some factors you should consider before signing up for any poker site. First of all, there are some poker sites that offer massive poker bonuses but require playing so many raked hands they are nearly impossible to unlock.
This is the exception rather than the rule, but it's still something to keep in mind. If a massive poker bonus sounds "too good to be true," it usually is.
Second, a good poker bonus on a bad poker site is still a bad bonus. Make sure the room you’re signing up is secure, reliable and offers the games you are looking for.
As mentioned, if you’re a tournament nut then you’re going to want events starting all the time to make sure you can get enough action to clear your bonus. Cash-game players typically have more options, but if you’re looking for high-stakes cash games to clear your bonus quickly, you may be limited to a select few sites.
Finally, at its very base, the poker bonus is a marketing tool for poker sites. Keep this in mind as you’re signing up, as it will help you avoid mistakes that beginners usually make.
For the skilled poker player, a good poker bonus just means more cash in his or her bankroll.
A great online poker bonus won’t make you a winning player, but it can definitely help you along the way. When you make a first deposit at a poker site, you can (almost) always clear a poker bonus – sometimes quite a sizeable one even.
These bonuses are perfect for building your first poker bankroll. That bonus can cover up for a lot of simple mistakes new players make, or it can just be extra cash on top of your winnings. Either way, if you play online poker and choose not to clear your poker bonus, you're missing out on a lot of money.