Online poker rooms will give you free money to play poker.
As hard as it might be to believe, you read that right. In an ongoing mission to bring in new players, online poker sites invented the concept of a “poker bonus" - which to you means free money deposited into your online poker account.
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As with all things that might seem too good to be true, there's a small catch. You'll likely have to deposit some money first, and play a certain number of hands before you'll see it.
But a poker bonus is very real money.
For instance a common poker bonus would be 100% match up to $500. That means if you deposit $300 for instance, the online poker site will award you another $300 if you play enough hands on the site.
Sound amazing? It is.
Essential Tool for Building Your Bankroll
If you’re just starting out and only want to invest a very small amount of money, your online poker bonus is crucial to building your bankroll.
Of course online poker bonuses are incredibly varied and it’s important to do your research before signing up because that bonus will help carry you though any downswings.
Check below to learn more about online poker bonuses.
How Do I Unlock My Bonus?
Here’s the secret about poker bonuses and the reason that online poker sites are able to offer them: They take a bit of work to unlock.
It wouldn’t make financial sense for online poker sites to offer bonuses that players could immediately cash in on and then withdraw right away from free money.
Instead most online poker sites require you "unlock" the bonus. Unlocking a bonus is done by playing a certain amount of real-money poker hands.
It doesn’t matter if you win, lose or break even -- as long as you’re playing a decent volume of real-money hands, you should be able to unlock your bonus easily.
Online poker sites slowly make back their money by rake, which is a small percentage taken out of most pots that see a flop. As you play hands, that rake slowly accumulates and at a certain point the bonus is unlocked.
Be warned, though: the bigger the bonus the site offers, the more hands you will have to play to unlock the bonus.
What’s the Best Poker Bonus?
The answer to this question is different for every player.
Are you a high-volume player? Do you prefer tournaments or cash games? Do you play very infrequently?
These are all questions you need to ask yourself before opening an account at an online poker site.
If you love playing massive amounts of poker every month than you’ll want to go for the big, burly, hard-to-unlock bonus. If you’re more of a weekend warrior you’ll likely want to aim for something a little more achievable.
Should I Always Go for the Biggest Bonus?
Not necessarily. While big bonuses are always tempting they can be very difficult to unlock. In other words that 100% deposit match for $800 might not be the best idea.
On the other hand some bonuses are unlocked piece-by-piece so that even if you never get to the end of the bonus you will still have picked up a decent amount of free cash.
Instead of thinking of bonuses as just one big amount of cash, it’s better think about them as getting a certain percentage of cash back from your games for a certain amount of time.
Which leads us to our next point …
Do Online Poker Bonuses Expire?
Almost certainly. Most online poker sites offer you a short 30-day or two-month period in which you can unlock your bonus. Therefore it certainly pays to fire off a bunch of hands as soon as you sign up.
We’ve heard of players signing up for sites and then immediately playing thousands of hands just to unlock their bonus. While that’s not necessarily for everyone, it’s definitely a good idea to try and put in some serious volume right after signing up.
Don’t worry too much about playing poorly if you’re just learning the game and proper poker strategy because you’re getting a bit of cash back to make up for it from the bonus.
It’s actually a fantastic way to learn poker because a real-life casino would never give you a discount when you’re just starting out.
What’s An Instant Poker Bonus?
Some online poker sites switch things up when it comes to poker bonuses. Instead of offering a percentage match, they’ll provide you with an instant cash bonus upon signing up.
These instant bonuses are usually very small (in the $1-$10 range) but they aren’t the worst idea.
If don’t plan on playing a lot of hands then you should almost certainly go for the instant payoff. While you won’t get a huge amount of cash it’s definitely better than nothing.
Be warned that although it’s called an “instant” bonus you’ll likely have to do something to unlock it. Usually it’s very easy to do, however, and sometimes it’s just a matter of playing poker on the site in question for a few weeks.