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Power Bankroll Building

By Tony Guerrera

Pretty much every online poker room offers generous deposit bonuses to new players, and many online poker rooms also offer deposit bonuses to their existing players. While free money is always great, not all bonus offers are created equally, and if you’re going to efficiently build a small bankroll into a massive one, you need to choose your deposit bonuses intelligently (note that this article presumes that you’re at least a break even player…if you’re a losing player at a per-hand rate that’s faster than the per-hand rate you get compensated for your deposit bonus, deposit bonuses obviously won’t help you build a bankroll).

Most sites offer matching bonuses. Matching bonuses are given as a percentage of your deposit. For example, a site offering a 50% matching bonus up to $100 will give you 50% of your deposit, and the maximum amount of money you’ll be given is $100. If you deposit $100 with this site, you’ll get $50. If you deposit $200, you’ll get $100. If you deposit anything more than $200, you’ll also get $100.

A few sites also offer fixed bonuses, meaning that you get the same amount of money no matter how much you deposit. For example, if a site offers a $50 fixed bonus, you’ll get $50 regardless of whether you deposit $25 or $1,000.

It’s tempting to say that the deposit bonuses that give you the most money are the best. However, that’s not actually true. When you get a deposit bonus from an online poker room, the bonus is not usually deposited into your account immediately. Instead, the bonus is typically given to you as “bonus cash.” Bonus cash is converted into real cash as you play hands.

Two possible ways exist for the cash to be released: it can be released on a per-hand basis, or it can be released as a lump sum once you’ve met the necessary playing criteria for releasing the bonus. Suppose you make a deposit and get $200 bonus dollars. The condition for clearing your bonus is to play 2,000 raked hands, meaning that every raked hand you play is effectively worth $0.10. If your bonus is released on a per-hand basis, you’ll receive $0.10 per hand until you have no more bonus cash remaining. If your bonus is released as a lump sum, you get nothing until you actually play 2,000 raked hands, at which point your account will be credited with $200.

Per-hand bonuses aren’t necessarily better than lump-sum bonuses; however, you should be aware that some bonuses have expiration dates. Suppose you have $500 bonus dollars, and you need to play 10,000 raked hands in a week before your bonus dollars expire. Furthermore, suppose you only end up having enough time to play 9,000 hands. If your bonus is released on a per-hand basis, your account will have been credited with $450 in actual cash. Meanwhile, if your bonus is released as a lump sum, you will have ended up with $0. That’s right…if you play anything less than 100% of the hands required, you get absolutely NOTHING!

A big part of evaluating bonuses is determining the ease and efficiency in which you can turn your bonus money into real cash. If you are starting out with a small bankroll online, you need to take the bonuses that pay you the most efficient hourly if you want to build your bankroll as quickly as possible.

Suppose you want to deposit $250 into an online poker account. Poker Room A offers a 100% matching bonus up to $250. Poker Room B offers a 50% matching bonus up to $100. Poker Room A and Poker Room B both release their bonuses on a per-hand basis.

Initially, it looks like Poker Room A would be the place to put your money because it gives you $150 more in bonus cash. However, consider this. With $250, you’ll need to play $10NL. You can initially try a session of $25NL if you’re willing to move down to $10NL after a bad session, but let’s just assume you won’t play $25NL until your bankroll is $500. Assuming your win rate is the same number of big blinds per hand at $10NL and $25NL, your goal should be to get to $25NL as fast as possible so that you can increase your hourly EV (expectation value…the amount of money your expect to make on average in the long run).

Assume that you’re capable of two-tabling $10NL in both poker rooms for a profit of $7/hr. Furthermore, assume that Poker Room A’s bonus will clear at a rate of $2/hr if you two-table, and Poker Room B’s bonus will clear at a rate of $6/hr if you two-table.

After about 16 hours and 40 minutes of play in Poker Room B, you’ll clear the $100 bonus. Additionally, your expected profit from playing will be about $116.67. To get your bankroll to $500, you need to play just under 5 more hours. In other words, if you start in Poker Room B, you will have a bankroll sufficient for $25NL in about 21.5 hours.

Meanwhile, getting to $500 in Poker Room A will take just under 28 hours. If you were to start off in Poker Room A, you’d miss out on 6.5 hours of $25NL action, which means you’d be missing out on 6.5 hours of higher EV.

Of course taking advantage of Poker Room B’s bonus doesn’t preclude you from taking advantage of Poker Room A’s bonus. If you’re really smart, and you want to build your bankroll as quickly as possible, here’s what you do:

1.) Deposit $250 into Poker Room B. Play until you completely clear the bonus (about 16 hours and 40 minutes).

2.) At this point, you expect to have $466.67 in Poker Room B. Now, you could withdraw all $466.67 and put it into Poker Room A. However, transferring money from Poker Room B to your financial intermediary of your choice, and then transferring money from the financial intermediary of your choice to Poker Room A usually takes something like 2-3 days. Therefore, just withdraw $250 from Poker Room B, leaving Poker Room B with $216.67.

3.) While waiting for money to go from Poker Room B to your financial intermediary, hammer out $31.50 playing $10NL in Poker Room B to bring your total bankroll to $500.

4.) Play $25NL in Poker Room B if funds still haven’t gotten to Poker Room A. Else, use the $250 you deposited into Poker Room A to start playing $25NL there.

5.) While you’re playing $25NL in Poker Room A, you don’t need money in Poker Room B, so withdraw the remaining money from Poker Room B and put it into Poker Room A

6.) Play lots of awesome $25NL poker. If you can beat the game for $15/hr and get an additional $2/hr while clearing the bonus, your hourly will be $17. Clearing all $250 will take 125 hours. 125 hours at $17/hr is $2125. Honestly, once you’ve played for only about 29-30 hours in Poker Room A, your bankroll will already be above $1,000, at which point, you can start terrorizing the $50NL tables.  

By intelligently choosing the order in which you take advantage of deposit bonuses, you can optimize your hourly profit by being able to move up in stakes faster (assuming that the higher stakes games are still easy enough such that your hourly win rate will be higher in them). If you’re just getting started playing online, or if you’ve taken some time off and want to make a small initial investment, pay attention to the hourly rate for each of the bonuses you are taking, and initially take the bonuses with the best hourly rates at small stakes, so you can get to the bigger games more quickly.

Tony Guerrera is the author of Killer Poker By The Numbers

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