Poker rooms often have promotions to increase traffic to their poker room. The most common type is a cash bonus, but there are other promotions poker rooms offer as well. It is sometimes difficult to discern the quality of the promotion, and many are just gimmicks that entice players to pay extra rake. This article will go over the common types of promotions, and how to evaluate and utilize these promotions.
Almost all online poker rooms offer deposit bonuses to their players. There are two types of deposit bonuses: signup bonuses and reload bonuses.
A signup bonus is a bonus for a new player at the poker room that makes his or her first deposit. The poker room's goal with the signup bonus is to entice new customers to try out their poker room.
A reload bonus is intended for existing players at the poker room. The poker room's aim is to keep its existing players loyal, or to encourage its dormant players to come back to the poker room.
The quality of a bonus is judged primarily by three factors. The first is the maximum amount of the bonus. Obviously, the more money you can get the better. The second factor is how much money you need to deposit to get the bonus. For example, if you can only deposit $100, a 100% up to $100 is preferable to a 25% up to $100 bonus. In this case, you are able to max out the first bonus, but you are only able to receive $25 from the second bonus.
The third factor is how quickly the bonus clears. Even if you are awarded a $1,000 bonus, the bonus is useless if it takes 1 million hands to clear that bonus. The quicker and easier that you can work off your bonus, the sooner you will receive your extra money.
A very common promotional method is the freeroll. For this type of tournament, there is no buy-in or entry fee. The poker room simply puts up a certain amount of money, and the invited players compete for it.
The quality of the freeroll is judged by how much of an overlay there is. Essentially, this means how much money the poker room is putting up per player. For example, if there is a $5,000 freeroll and 500 players enter, the overlay is $10. Assuming a player is of average skill, the EV of this freeroll is +$10.
Some freerolls are not truly "free"; poker rooms often limit freerolls to their more active players that play a lot of raked hands at the poker room. If someone was going to play this amount of poker at that poker room anyway, then this is not a big deal.
However, qualifying for this type of freeroll might mean playing at this poker room instead of at a different poker room. For example, you may choose to play a lot at a certain poker room in order to qualify for a freeroll but at the cost of not having the time to work off a bonus at another site. In this case, one would have to take into account the quality of the freeroll compared to the quality of the other bonus when making a decision of where to play.
A common technique a poker room will employ to promote its tournaments is to guarantee the size of the prize pool. This means that the poker room will ensure that the prize pool is at least the size of the guarantee by adding money to the prize pool if not enough players enter the tournament.
For example, suppose a poker room hosts a $200+$15 tournament with a $250k guaranteed prize pool. If 3,000 players enter this tournament, the guarantee does not matter. The prize pool would be $600k, which is well above the guarantee. The poker room does not need to add any money to the prize pool. In fact, it makes a sizeable profit off of the entrance fees.
However, suppose only 800 players enter the tournament. In this case, the prize pool would normally be only $160k. Since the poker room guaranteed the prize pool would be at least $250k, they would need to add $90k to the prize pool. This is a great boon for the players in this tournament because all the prizes are about 56% higher than they normally would be.
Most of the time, guaranteed prize pool tournaments attract enough players so that the poker room does not have to add any money to the prize pool. Every now and then, some of the online rooms set the guarantee so high that they do have to add money to the prize pool.
Poker rooms frequently host satellites that award seats in large, land-based poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker. In fact, the winners of the 2003 and 2004 WSOP's won their seat in the event through an online satellite.
Basically, these satellites are just tournaments where the prizes are seats in a land-based tournament event. Most of the time, they are not anything special. Just instead of receiving cash, a player receives a seat to another tournament.
The only times a satellite is special is when a poker room guarantees a set number of seats or the poker room awards extra money or prizes to the players that win.
For example, suppose a poker room is running a $100+$10 tournament that gives away seats worth $12,000 ($10k for the tournament plus $2k for expenses). They give away one package for every 120 players in the tournament. This would be an example of a satellite that is not anything special. All of the money in the packages awarded comes straight from the player buy-ins; the poker room is not adding any money itself. There is nothing different from this tournament than a regular tournament except the prize is a set package instead of cash.
Now, suppose a poker room ran a $150+$15 tournament where they guaranteed 6 packages worth $12,000 each. One in eighty players will receive a package. Additionally, the poker room will pay for peoples' hotel rooms where the land based poker event takes place. This is an example of a very nice satellite promotion. If less than 480 players enter the tournament, the poker room will have to add money to the prize pool, so the tournament will have an overlay. Furthermore, even if there is no overlay, the poker room is paying for people's hotel rooms, so they are adding an extra prize to the tournament. This satellite is much better than the previously mentioned satellite.
A bad beat jackpot awards a prize when one player with a spectacular hand beats another player with an almost equally amazing hand. For example, frequently the requirement for a bad beat jackpot is a four of a kind or better defeating a hand of four of a kind or better. Most of the time, the poker room requires that both hole cards are used to form the final poker hands in order for players to be awarded a bad beat jackpot.
Sometimes a poker room requires no extra rake to fund the bad beat jackpot. For example, the bad beat jackpot promotion is available at all limit tables of $1-$2 or higher at Caribbean Sun Poker. They do not charge any extra rake to be eligible for the bad beat jackpot. Because of this, the bad beat jackpot is of a modest size.
On the other hand, Party Poker has special bad beat jackpot tables, where they charge a rake of $.50 to fund the jackpot. This allows the jackpot to grow much faster. In fact, they set a record for the largest jackpot awarded in the history of poker when the bad beat jackpot reached over $700,000.
Many players avoid the Party Poker bad beat jackpot tables because of the extra rake. However, this aversion will sometimes actually make these jackpot tables a good deal. Generally, sharks and professional players are more sensitive about paying extra rake than fish. Thus, the extra rake generally scares off these players but attracts the fish, who are just hoping to hit the big jackpot. Of course, this does not mean that these tables are always softer than the regular tables, but they may be worth checking out because of this.
Furthermore, the EV lost to this extra rake is quite low. Of the $.50 extra rake, Party Poker only keeps $.05 for itself; the rest goes to funding the jackpot in some way. So the amount of rake one is paying in EV terms is only an extra $.05 per hand won. Thus, while it is highly doubtful that anyone playing at these tables will ever win or receive any money due to the jackpot, the extra $.50 rake should not be viewed as an extra $.50 lost to rake but rather only an extra $.05 lost to rake.
At Noble Poker, there are special promotions surrounding some of their sit-and-go tournaments. For example, their "Million Dollar Challenge" tournaments awards $1 million to anyone who wins six consecutive $10+$2 Million Dollar Challenge sit-and-go tournaments in a row.
For these tournaments, players will win the standard prizes in any one sit-and-go but will win a jackpot if they win a certain amount of tournaments consecutively. What's the catch? Basically, the poker room charges a slightly extra tournament fee. Instead of $10+$1, this tournament is $10+$2. That extra dollar essentially goes to funding the jackpot.
This doesn't necessarily make the promotion undesirable. As stated in this news article, the promotion results in an overlay for skilled players, while average and lesser-skilled players end up paying more in tournament fees.
Furthermore, a jackpot promotion like this may result in poorer play from one's opponents. Players may be prone to throwing their chips around too easily in the hopes of quickly winning the tournament. This allows a smart player to more easily sneak into second or third place.