Exploring the Online Poker Room
The first decision that poker players face is in which poker room to play. There are literally hundreds of online poker rooms to choose between and that which sets them apart from eachother is not easy to know beforehand; and researching them is a very tedious and unwelcome task for the casual player looking to have some fun with the little time and money he/she has to spare. In this article we will explore the poker room basics and help the casual player get the big picture.
To get a good view on the poker rooms you need to look beneath the skin. You need to look at the poker networks. The poker room is actually just a skin; an interface between the players and the infrastructure of the poker network. When you are playing in an online poker room, you are confined to the network and the players that frequent it. There are many poker networks in the world, some of which have many skins and some with only one skin. In the case of networks with only one skin such as Full Tilt Poker, Party Poker and Poker Stars, the network is operating the skin on its own. In the case of networks with multiple skins such as iPoker, the majority of skins are licensed to third parties.
Skins on the same network use the same software and are basically the same thing in so far as poker game performance and functionality. The games and the tables are shared with all other skins on the network. You face the same players regardless of what skin you are playing on, as long as the network is the same. There are basically two things that set networks apart from eachother:
1. Number of players
2. Software performance and functionality and backbone server performance
Obviously you want to play on a network with many players for you are more likely to find players that you can beat there. With the networks out of the way we come to the three things which sets the skins on the same network apart from eachother:
1. Payout and deposit options
Support is not really a big deal as long as the network and payout & deposit options are working as they should and they normally do. The promotions, on the other hand, are a whole different ball game. This is where you find differences that matter. All poker rooms derive their income from rake and tournament fees. Rake is the 5% fee (typically capped at $3) that the poker room takes from each pot in cash games. Tournament fees are paid when entering the tournaments and they are typically 5-10% of the buy-in. All promotions that the poker rooms offer are based on the concept of giving a portion of the fees back to the players who paid them. The more fees a player has paid, the more of a return he can expect, whether we are talking about a first deposit bonus or a rakeback deal. Even in the case of free poker money offers, the player is expected to play enough hands/games to cover the money invested in him.
In the case of first deposit bonuses you need to look at three things:
1. The percentage figure
2. The max bonus figure
3. The bonus to fee ratio
100% is pretty much an industry standard while max bonus figures typically range between $500 and $1000; though figures up to $5000 are not unheard of. However, the poker rooms have deviced complex point systems to hide the true bonus to fee ratio. The best ratios we have managed to decipher are slightly above $0.40 bonus / $1 fee and the worst around $0.20 bonus / $1 fee. This means that the best first deposit bonus deal you can expect is around $0.40 bonus released for every $1 paid in fee/rake.
In the case of rakeback it gets a little more complicated for rakeback deals can not be aquired directly through the poker room. They must be aquired through affiliates with a revenue share deal. The maximum revenue share that the affiliates can get is usually 40% which leaves less than 40% for the player in form of rakeback. Rakeback figures around 30% are standard in the business. Please observe that the revenue share and the resulting rakeback deal encompass both tournament fees and rake. When you start "raking" really big money, we are talking $5,000 per month or more, you should be aiming at a 50% rakeback figure which is possible to get on several networks via special affiliates.
There are also hybrid deals that include both rakeback and a first deposit bonus. Here you typically see 30% flat rakeback and relatively high percentage and max bonus figures although the bonus to fee ratios tend to be low. The flat rakeback and the deposit bonus typically add up to a 50% rakeback but only up to the max bonus figure. These kind of deals are targeted at relatively skilled players and you will only find them via special affiliates.