Analyzing a Poker Bonus

There’s free money to be had in the online poker world, and not all of it is from fish. For as long as there has been internet poker, there have been deposit bonuses. Deposit some money with the poker room, and the poker room will match it up to a certain percent and dollar amount. And while the big, flashy, “100% UP TO $600!!!” may be enticing, there is more to a poker bonus than just the dollars.

First, let’s look at how online poker rooms make you earn your bonus. That’s right, earn. Bonuses may be “free” money, but they are not really free. You can’t just take them and cash out. Online poker rooms give us poker players bonuses so that we will populate their tables. By playing at their tables, we help build pots and, in turn, build rake for the rooms.  And it is rake that is the key part of the equation here. The poker room may give you money, but in reality, you are paying for that money through the rake that you pay at the tables. Thus, you won’t actually be able to touch your bonus money until you have satisfied the poker room’s rake requirements. 

That may sound like a rip-off (and yes, sometimes it is) but remember, you are still playing poker. The bonus is just that – a bonus. If you didn’t have a bonus for which to work, you would still be playing somewhere, right? All things being equal, you are going to make more money with a bonus than you would without one.

So how do you know how you will earn your bonus? By looking at the “play-through” requirements set by the poker room. Rather than making the financial formula transparent and giving you a rake counter, poker rooms will give you something else to watch -- raked hands or points.

Raked hands are pretty much what they sound like: hands in which the online poker room takes a piece of the pot. Some sites require the rake to reach a certain amount in the hand for it to count as “raked,” whereas others will count it as a raked hand as long as a rake is taken, period. Today, though, the raked hand method of calculating play-through requirements is becoming an endangered species. Three to five years ago, Party Poker, in addition to being the largest online poker room, was the site that most players thought of when it came to raked hand bonuses. Players eagerly looked forward to reload bonuses from Party Poker, anxious to see how many raked hands they would need to play to earn some “easy” money. The poker rooms on the Microgaming Network, such as Gnuf Poker and DoylesRoom, also used the raked hand method.

The prevailing bonus progress counting method nowadays is poker loyalty points. Poker points are calculated differently from site to site, but they all boil down to counting how much rake you bring into the poker room. Points, at their core, are essentially like raked hands, just disguised a little bit. There are a couple primary variations used around the internet poker world. One variation awards points based on how much rake is taken from a hand, while the other awards points simply if the hand is classified as a “raked hand.”

For example, at Full Tilt Poker, players earn one point for each dollar that is raked from the pot, with fractional points allowed (so, $1 = 1 point and $1.50 = 1.5 points). Hollywood Poker also awards points based on how much rake is taken, but does it in stages – if the rake is 10 to 19 cents, one-tenth of a point is awarded, if the rake is 20 to 29 cents, two-tenths of a point are awarded, and it goes on from there up to the maximum rake. On the flip side, at rooms such as Absolute Poker and Gnuf Poker, it doesn’t matter how much rake is taken on a given hand; it just matters that the rake hits a certain threshold. At these rooms, if that threshold is hit, points are awarded, and the same number of points are awarded no matter how much over that threshold the rake reaches.

With the majority of those rooms that award a flat number of points as long as the hand is raked, those points actually increase at higher stakes in order to reward those players who contribute more money to the site. Going back to the Gnuf Poker example, if the rake hits 25 cents in a $0.50/$1 fixed limit cash game, a player will receive 1 point. In a $1/$2 fixed limit cash game, however, a player will receive 1.4 points.

The next part of the equation is whether or not the online poker room makes you actually put money into the pot in order to get credit for a raked hand. Those that do make you put money in are said to use the “contributed” method. Those that only require you to be dealt cards are said to use the “dealt” method (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Titan Poker). Additionally, some rooms that use the contributed method count a contribution as any time you put money into the pot, even if it is because you are in a blind (Bodog Poker, Hollywood Poker). Others, like Absolute Poker and its sister site, UltimateBet, require you to voluntarily put money into the pot; the blinds do not count (although if you complete from the small blind, that would count). 

While there are exceptions, the dealt method is typically more favorable than the contributed method because you can earn points every single hand. Many players feel compelled to loosen up and play more hands if they know they must contribute to the pot to earn points (this, of course, is what the poker rooms want). The dealt method allows you to play your game, be it tight, loose, aggressive, or passive, and not really worry about having to splash chips around if you don’t want to. 

Many, but not all, poker rooms also distribute points for playing in tournaments. Points are earned in both sit-and-gos and multi-table tournaments based on the entry fee. The pricier the tourney, the more points you get. 

Now, it doesn’t matter how points are calculated if you don’t know how many you will need to earn the bonus. This is the final piece of the play-through requirements. Usually, online poker rooms will make you accumulate a fixed number of points per dollar of bonus. For example, a room might require you to earn 10 points per dollar of bonus. Some rooms require you to earn all of the points before you receive anything, upon which you will receive the entire bonus (ex: $200 bonus at 10 points per dollar means that once you earn 2,000 points, you receive the entire $200). Other rooms release the bonus in increments (ex: “$200 bonus at 10 points per dollar released in $20 increments” means you will receive the first $20 when you earn 200 points). One big exception is Bodog, which actually gives you your bonus up front, but if you cash out (even your own deposit) before earning the points, you forfeit the bonus.

So what does it all mean? It means you need to do your homework. If you are using bonuses to help determine which online poker room to try, read up on their bonus terms. Understand whether or not you must contribute to the pot to earn points: does the method suit your playing style? Figure out how points escalate as you increase or decrease in stakes. Bonuses have become harder to earn over the last couple years and are structured so as to be much more favorable to higher stakes players. At some rooms, it is almost pointless to try to earn a bonus as a micro-stakes player. Is the bonus released all at once or in increments? This may be important if you don’t think you will be able to earn it quickly. Also, check to be sure you know how long you have to earn the bonus – you don’t want to be stuck holding the bag.

And, since you are at, you have probably read a little something about our free poker gifts and free poker money. The free gifts are essentially a bonus on top of a bonus. If you opt to play at a room through Poker Source, you are not only still eligible for any deposit bonuses offered, but also for whichever free gift you would like. Whether you want free poker chips, free gift cards, a free poker dealer kit, or free poker books, it’s up to you. There are play-through requirements for the free gifts just like there are for bonuses, but the gifts are earned concurrently with the bonuses, so you don’t have to any extra work to do. And if you are a little nervous about using your own money, use ours! With our free money promotions, we’ll deposit money for you, and you just have to complete the play-through requirements in order to cash it out.

For someone new to online poker, all of this information about bonuses can be a bit daunting. Like we said before, just do your homework and read up. If you want more information and the best possible poker bonus information visits They are a very well respected bonus resource site and have been online since 2003. Best of luck at the tables!