The following material was contributed by John Mehaffey (aka Pokeraddict in Casinomeister’s Poker Forum). Our regional expert on the field of Poker has these tips and guidance:
When looking for a poker room, there are many important things to look for before depositing. These include game selection, bonus offers, bonus structures, rake, software, promotions offered, limits available and tournaments. With an estimated 175 poker rooms online there is plenty of comparisons to do to find the one that best fits you and your play.
In my opinion the most important thing to look for is game selection. This means do they offer the games you want to play in such as if you prefer Omaha, Omaha High/Low, Seven Card Stud, or Seven Card Stud High/Low. Also this would include tournaments and structures you would want to play. Tournaments come in several versions. There are single table, two table, three table, multi-table and satellites where the highest places advance to a much bigger tournament such as the Worlds Series of Poker. Usually only the biggest online poker rooms will offer all of these. That does not necessarily mean smaller rooms are to be avoided though. In addition to finding the games and structures you want to play you must decide if you can beat the games. For an average online player to beat a game there must be a flop percent of 35% or higher and/or a pot size of at least six big bets. By big bets I mean that in a $2/$4 Holdem game the pot would need to be $24 or higher for this game to be considered relatively loose. A poker room can offer all the games in the world at every limit but if the flop percentages are 20% and the pots three or four big bets then the games will be very difficult to beat although a player that is learning will definitely get better in these games.
Most rooms offer a signup bonus. These range from a flat amount of anywhere from $10-$50 but usually they are 10%-35% of your initial deposit. Always deposit the highest amount possible for the maximum bonus. Usually the maximum bonus will be $100. If you decide the room you are depositing into is reputable and you can afford the max then there is no reason to deposit less. You may never get another bonus at that room. Many rooms do offer reload bonuses from time to time. Also many poker rooms have skins. These skins will load into the same tables as the parent poker room. Most parent rooms will also allow you to sign up at their skins and receive a first time deposit from this room too.
The bonus structure can be tricky at online poker rooms. Some are easy though. Many rooms say you must play ten raked hands for every $1 in bonus you have. Several rooms have a point structure for bonuses where a raked hand equals a point and a bonus has a certain point requirement to work off. Some rooms go by what they call theoretical rake where figure out the percent of the pot you contributed to and the rake taken off that and work off your bonus that way. This last way can be very difficult to work off. If you are a tight player then you may not put much money into pots thus making it very hard to clear this type of bonus where the rooms that have a raked hand requirement count whether you folded or not as long as the hand was raked in the end.
Another big factor in poker is the rake. Rake is the money taken out of the pot by the house. The rakes can vary greatly. Brick and mortar poker rooms usually rake 10% up to a $4 max which is higher than online rooms are. Generally online rake is 5% but the increments can vary greatly from room to room. If you are just signing up and learning to play poker you will find many rooms that offer penny limit poker without any rake but once you get to ten cent limit they generally rake 5 cents per $1. Most limits up to $.50/$1 will rake this way. It is best to check out every room within these limits though. Some will not rake until the pot reaches $5 creating many rake free pots in micro limits. One room does rake 10% from a $5 pot making it very hard to beat. At the $1/$2 limit most rooms will rake $.25 per $5 and max at $1. Any room that rakes differently will be a tough game to beat at this limit. At limits of $2/$4 and $3/$6 the best rake is where the house takes $1 at each $20. Some rooms rake $.50 per $10 or even $.25 per $5. These rakes will create another 1%-2% in house advantage; the games will need to be that much more loosely played to beat. Generally $5/$10 and higher will all rake $1 per $20 and I would avoid any room that rakes in lower increments then that. Generally no limit and pot limit games are raked 5 cents per $1. There are some rooms that have a more player friendly $.25 per $5 rake. The max rake in no limit, pot limit and $2/$4 and above is always $3. Although some of the rakes sound the same they are not. At the $2/$4 limit, one poker room charges $.25 per $5 and another $1 per $20. A $15 pot at one will have a $.75 rake while the other room will not have raked yet. The same will occur when the pot reaches $35 and $55. The extra $.25-$.75 per pot will add up very fast.
Software is another big deal to me. Some software uses too much of the system resources and thus are slow and lag. Others have poorly laid out designs or buttons. For example you will find out that all rooms have advanced action buttons that can be pressed before the action gets to you. This is especially good for people who play more then one table. If these advance action buttons are in different places then the buttons are when action is on you, then this can cause a lot of misclicks causing accidental raises or folds. Some lobbies do not update often if at all so this will make it harder to find games or have current stats on games such as number of people and average pots. Also the statistics offered vary greatly from one room to another. One last major thing I look for is ease of getting hand histories and using them with Pokertracker. Any online semi-pro or pro player will need this program or a similar one. Pokertracker has the ability to load hand histories and give you stats on your game as well as your opponents from virtually any medium or large size poker room.
Promotions are very important. Some rooms offer a bad beat jackpot where if four of a kind or better is beaten there is an amount of money set aside to be split among the table. Some offer high hands per hour or day. Others offer money added tournaments. Also rooms will offer a chance to play with celebrity players. The creativity some of the rooms have is great. Be sure to check all rooms you are interested in out often for their promotions.
Be sure when choosing a room they offer the limits you want to play. Most new players will want to play two cent or 10 cent limits that many rooms do not offer. Look closely at the increments of limits too. Some rooms may offer one very small micro limit and jump up to higher limits without anything in between. Availability of these lower limit rooms does not guarantee action in these rooms. Check for action in these games at smaller and medium sized rooms several times before your first deposit.
There are so many rooms to choose from and many online players play at several different rooms. Be sure to check out as many as possible when looking for a new room to play in. There are so many different features offered that you will find what fits exactly what you are looking for without too much effort. Good luck at the tables!
Questions or comments? Pokeraddict can be easily contacted via our Poker Forum.