I wrote the original version of this guide quite a while ago. However, there have been many recent changes, including the Party skin shakedown and changes to the granny bonus that invalidate some of the information in my old version and in Greg J’s guide. I figured an update was warranted. I certainly mean no disrespect to Greg J, or to Homer, who wrote the solid old school guide contained in the FAQ. Without further ado,
Getting Started Playing Poker Online and Building a Bankroll for Newbies
The purpose of this guide is to outline a successful strategy for building an initial poker bankroll from scratch, taking into account bonuses, initial investment, and the player's comfort level, as well as moving up to higher limits. This was written for limit ring players, applies to No Limit as well. This is not particularly relevent to tournament players because bonuses generally clear much differently for tournament play, and bankroll considerations differ.
The views expressed in this guide reflect my personal experiences as well as general sentiment expressed by posters in this and other 2+2 forums. They do not necessarily reflect the views of twoplustwo.com, and as always, YMMV.
This guide is broken down into the following sections:
1. Initial Investment 2. Making Your First (and Subsequent) Deposits 3. Moving Up in Limits ----------------------------
1. Initial Investment
Even before you make your first deposit, it is highly recommended that you shell out a little cash for the following:
Getting Started in Hold’em, by Ed Miller ($15-$25) - This book contains great information on taking your play from clueless losing to mildly winning play. It is clear and easily accessible for people learning the tight-aggressive style of play.
Small Stakes Hold'em, by Ed Miller et al. ($15-$25) - This more advanced book builds on the fundamentals outlined in GSIH, outlining the methods needed to maximize profits at looser low limit games. It is the most cited book in these forums and mandatory reading.
Poker Tracker($55) - This invaluable piece of software will let you track your own play, and, at least as importantly, the play of your opponents. You can see if the statistics of your play style are in the ballpark of generally accepted values for solid play and track the play styles of your opponents to get a better idea of the correct course of action. More information about Poker Tracker stats can be found in btspider's Microlimit Guidlines and FAQ. You'll also want to get PokerAce HUD. PAHUD will overlay the statistics of the table and each player on the poker screen, giving you an instant glimpse at the playing style of your opponents and letting you make more informed decisions. It is currently free, but will soon cost $25. It is worth every cent. Gametime+ is a free, but generally inferior alternative that one could use for a while if strapped for cash.
That comes to an initial investment of $85-$130, depending on where you shop for your books and if you pick up PAHUD. However, considering that many players flush that much money down the toilet due to poor play before they figure out that they need to learn the information in those books and buy Poker Tracker, it is money well spent. You can consider picking up some of these after you’ve logged some hands and earned some winnings and bonus money (Poker Tracker will import 1000 hands before you have to buy it, for example), but you’ll certainly want to have some literature under your belt before you get going.
2. Making Your First (and Subsequent) Deposits
The main things to consider when choosing where to make your very first deposit are how much money you have to lose (naturally, only invest as much money into this as you could afford to take into your back yard and light on fire) and what sort of risks you're willing to take with it. The options below represent a spectrum of options of low to moderate risk for initial deposits of $25-$500.
First off, it's a good idea to get a NETeller account. This will allow you to quickly and easily move your funds between sites to take advantage of bonuses, building your bankroll both with profits from play and the numerous bonuses available around the web.
The thing to keep in mind when chasing bonuses like this is that a number of posters here have observed that chasing bonuses can be -EV if not done well. It's not that the bonuses are bad, or that the sites are too tough. It's that people can get wrapped up in chasing bonuses rather than learning how to play poker. Sometimes, people focus solely on playing a large number of hands quickly so as to move onto the next bonus. This leads to playing too many tables at once on autopilot without focusing on playing well. Consequently, the players haven't learned much in that block of time and are ill-equipped to move up in limits. This is compounded when those players take all their bonus funds, look at their gigantic bankroll, and conclude they're God's gift to poker. They move up, get crushed, and then move back down to whore bonuses and rebuild, still not learning anything.
Instead, this guide is geared as something to use to maximize your earn while playing normally. I'm not speaking out against multitabling. Some people multitable just fine, but don't take on 4 more tables than you're comfortable with in order to clear bonuses quickly. Most of these bonuses clear on a timescale that's easy to meet with typical levels of play for micro posters. And, indeed, it's much better to be crushing your opponents AND earning bonus money. It's better still to be doing this at 30/60. The end of this guide has some thoughts on metrics to use with respect to moving up in limits.
Without any further ado, let's get down to business.
A. For the player with $25 wanting to play in a low risk environment:
Head over to PokerStars and play at their $0.02/$0.04 tables. This is the lowest real money limit available, and $25 (their minimum deposit) gets you a 625 BB bankroll, well over the recommended minimum of 300 BB. You’ll have plenty of money to lose 200 BB, reevaluate and fix your play, absorb another 200 BB downswing due to variance in spite of good play, and then still claw your way back into the black. Deposit this when PokerStars is offering one of their periodic reload bonuses of 20-25%, and you can have an additional few bucks of bonus money to supplement your bankroll, although you won’t be able to clear that bonus until you move up to $0.50/$1. PokerStars doesn't have a large, one-shot first deposit bonus, instead offering periodic reload bonuses, so while the money you'll glean off this bonus is small, taking advantage of it won't preclude you from getting bigger returns off of future, larger deposits (the max bonus for a given reload is usually achieved with a $600 deposit).
There are a few more things to consider about PokerStars. First of all, while Stars doesn’t rake limits at limits below $0.25/$0.50, the “nano” limits, at higher limits where they start raking the pot, Stars has low rake relative to most other sites. Some players complain that Stars doesn’t offer rakeback (see below), but by having lower rake, they’re effectively giving every player rakeback. The next thing to keep in mind is that the microlimit forum often has tournaments on Stars. These are frequently low stakes, but highly competitive and highly fun events. If you wish to participate in these, you’ll need to get a Stars account, even if you don’t play there much. Finally, Stars bonuses never expire. If you see Stars offering a reload, but you want or need to play elsewhere, drop in money to maximize the bonus and withdraw it 48 hrs. later. The bonus will be waiting for you as soon as you come back. You can even have multiple bonuses queued up at once, although you can only clear one at a time.
B. For players with $200 and at least a little confidence in their play:
There used to be an ad in the classifieds for a Paradise Poker affiliate who, if you signed up with him, you’d get you a 50% bonus on your $200 deposit, a very juicy bonus even for players of limited bankrolls. Paradise had that affiliate take the ad down because too many 2+2ers were hitting up the lucrative bonus and then leaving Paradise for other sites. However, other affiliates not associated with 2+2 still offer the same bonus. Simply typing “Paradise Poker Bonus” into Google should give you what you want. Anyway, at this stage, you’re 200 BB bankroll makes it fairly safe to play $0.50/$1 (the bonus will get you the recommended 300 BB with break-even play), but if you’re concerned about your play, you can play at the $0.25/$0.50 table where the bonus will clear much more slowly until your bankroll hits $300. This is a highly recommended stop for all players. Paradise has decent software and good support. The games here are generally softer than Stars.
C. For players comfortable playing $.50/$1:
UPDATE 2/20/06: Replaced Bet365 with Golden Riviera.
Hit up Golden Riviera. Golded Riviera is a skin of the Prima network, the third largest network on the internet. Their $50 sign up bonus clears very quickly even at $0.50/$1, making it a great stop on your way to a bigger bankroll that will enable larger bonuses. What is more, as of the time of this writing, Golden Riviera is offering a 30% rakeback program that doesn't require an affiliate. The earnings from this are pretty piddly for micro players and you may be able to find a better rate on a different skin from an affiliate, but it's something, and it requires no effort. This first deposit bonus should not be missed by any means. The quality of the games is comparable to Paradise.
D. For players with $500:
If you’ve completed steps (B) and (C) while playing break-even poker, you should be a this stage on bonus alone. It’s time to start up at Party Poker. Party’s initial sign up bonus is incredibly easy to clear. Party also features some of the softest games on the internet. Since you’ll be playing for the first time, you’ll have the option of playing at their beginner’s tables for your first 45 days. Play as much as you can here during those 45 days! The players at these tables are truly awful, and this experience can be highly profitable. This is probably the only place on the internet where it is worth your while to play without earning a bonus. Once your 45 days up you’ll still be up against poor players, but they won’t be as bad, and there will be more decent players mixed in. Party also features a second 20% bonus up to $100 for your second deposit using IGMPAY. More information about this bonus can be found at BonusWhores.com.
E. Still Hunting:
Placeholder for B2B skin info.
F. To infinity and beyond:
There are lots of poker sites out there, and consequently, lots of bonuses to be picked up while building your bankroll the old fashioned way, including many that can be maximized with $500. Before mentioning some of them, it’s time to talk about affiliates and rakeback. Affiliates are people paid by the poker sites to recruit players for them. Typically, these affiliates are paid a percentage of the rake you generate while at the tables. If the affiliate is getting paid with a percentage of your rake, an obvious way of enticing players to sign up for the site under them is to offer them a percentage of what they get (none of the above sites offer rakeback, so you are not foregoing any rakeback funds by taking the track described). This sounds like a fantastic deal, essentially free money for something you’re doing anyway, but you should know that any money you earned through bonuses is typically subtracted from any money you’d get from a rakeback program. The notable exception is Absolute Poker, which does not. You can earn bonus and full rakeback at the same time there. Since Absolute offers virtually unlimited reload bonuses ($20k or more per year; it’s nigh impossible to keep up) that clear at a moderate rate (not as good as the above bonuses, but better than many), this can be quite profitable. Be sure to sign up with an affiliate if you choose to play there. Unfortunately, the full ring games there are somewhat tough, but the 6 max games are noticeably softer.
Other sites worth checking out for rakeback deals include Ultimate Bet, BetOnBet (a PokerRoom skin), and Battlefield Poker (a Prima skin). The thing to keep in mind, though, is that at low limits, the earnings from rakeback will be small compared to the potential earnings from bonuses. On the other hand, even if a site deducts bonuses from rakeback, the combination of rakeback and bonuses is always greater than or equal to the earnings from rakeback alone, or bonus alone. Also, if you neglect to sign up for rakeback at a site that offers it, you may preclude yourself from getting it in the future when it’s more lucrative.
How do you find a good, reputable affiliate? Many around the web can be shady, or at least not helpful when you have questions or issues. One way to find a good one is through www.RakeRebateReview.com . It’s run by a 2+2er, and it only lists affiliates with sparkling reputations. It also lets you compare a range of offers to find the best. Alternatively, you can check out the Affiliate/Rakeback forum here. The last way to find a good one is to send a PM to a forum member for a recommendation (please don’t make a post in the forum looking for an affiliate). Most people will be happy to help you out.
Now, where to find other good bonuses? I’ll mention the ex-Party skins. Empire Poker offers an initial sign up bonus identical to Party’s, but the bonuses from Intertops and Eurobet aren’t quite as good. Unfortunately, these games at these three sites aren’t nearly as good as they were when they were tied to Party’s player base. I’ll also mention the Cryptologic sites as a good option that each have bonuses that are easy to clear, particularly if you play 6 max (full ring games there can be tough). The downside is that they can tie up your funds for a while you wait for a PIN from them. This PIN comes in the mail, and is necessary for cash outs. You may want to hold off on whoring these sites until you can divide your bankroll up into several locations at once rather than having it all stuck at one site. Other than them, BonusWhores.com is a great resource for finding the best bonuses. TheirBonus Grid is an easy way to sort for the bonuses that are the easiest to clear at whatever limit you happen to be playing at the time. Checking back at BonusWhores.com periodically is a good idea, since they’ll always keep you posted on the various reload bonuses around the web.
3. Moving Up in Limits
Even by just completing the track above, you’ll have earned $300+ in bonus money playing break-even poker on a initial deposit of anywhere from $25-$500. At this point, you could easily have the 300 BB bankroll recommended to move up to the $1/$2 limit without needing any funding from any actual poker winnings. Why not move up to the land of bigger pots? Well, the obvious answer is that you’re only playing break-even poker at $0.50/$1. What makes you think you’ll start winning at the higher limit with tougher opponents?
Gauging when to move up in limits is something that is oft discussed here with many widely varying opinions. Different players use many different metrics to say they’re ready. Some say they’re ready after they’ve earned their way to 300 BB from their poker winnings alone. Some will play ten or twenty thousand hands, and, if they’re winning, call it good and move up. Some will test the waters a bit by adding one table of the higher limit into their multitabling routine, and if they don’t get wrecked, add more tables progressively until they’re entirely at the new limit. The paranoid will stick around at the lower limit until they’re sure they’ve learned all they can. The bold will plow ahead, and, if they get destroyed, back down a level to lick their wounds. For everyone who announces they’re ready to move up, there’s someone who thinks they should play some more hands first, and someone who wonders what they’ve been doing at $0.50/$1 so long.
My personal metric is, for play at a particular level, to know to within two standard errors (about 98% confidence) that I am a winning player. That is, that my win rate is twice or more as big as the uncertainty of my win rate. To compute the uncertainty of your win rate, take your standard deviation per 100 hands, usually about 15 BB/100, and divide it by the square root of the number of hands you’ve played divided by 100 (the number of 100 hand blocks you’ve played). Playing 20,000 hands with this standard deviation will yield an uncertainty in your win rate of 1.06 BB/100. Thus, you’d need a win rate of 2.12 BB/100 to know with 98% confidence that you were a winning player. Depending on your personal level of boldness or paranoia, you may be satisfied with 84% confidence (uncertainty = win rate) or 99.9% confidence (uncertainty = win rate / 3). Of note is that 20,000 hands at a win rate of 2.12 BB/100 will net you 424 BB, which, combined with the 300 BB you started with, gives you a bankroll sufficient to play at twice the current limit. An interesting side effect of this metric is that players who are truly crushing a particular level will advance more quickly, since they will need fewer hands to reduce their uncertainty to half (or whatever) their win rate, while players winning less are encouraged to stick around longer, hopefully learning new lessons that bring their win rate up along the way.
The other thing to consider is that at the nanolimits, the going will be slow, and you won’t be able to earn bonuses. You may want to consider taking a calculated risk and moving up when you have 200 BB for the next limit, before you’ve logged all that many hands. The players will still be quite terrible and there is no rake, making it a very small risk of going bust, but you should be prepared to drop back down if you lose 100 BB at the new limit.
The last part of ensuring that I’m a winning player is posting in the 2+2 forums, either my own hands or commenting on other’s hands. No need to always get the answer right. I learn more from getting the answer wrong and getting slapped around than from posting a straightforward hand or responding to one with a simple “Well played.” It might also be a good idea to pick up 2+2’s own Theory of Poker and Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players, particularly as you move up in limits, or perhaps towards the 6 max tables, since they have some thoughts about short handed play not discussed in SSH.
With that, you should find yourself in the golden city of small stakes, churning in quite a decent profit on your hobby when taking into account both bonuses and winnings. Put on your graduation cap and stand proud. And, whether you believe in it or not, best of luck to you.
Edited by MrWookie (02/20/06 02:02 PM)
Building a Bankroll For Newbies, Version 2.0 (rather long)