The Tsunami

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How to Compare Bonus Offers and Effective Rakeback

PokerStars and Full Tilt both have a big tournament series coming up. WCOOP at PokerStars begins this Sunday (9/5/2010) and features events with buy-ins ranging from $109 to $10,300. Meanwhile, MiniFTOPs begins next Wednesday (9/8/2010) and will be catering to players who prefer tournaments with smaller buy-ins: $11 to $216.

PokerStars and Full Tilt aren’t just competing head-to-head with WCOOP and MiniFTOPs; they are also offering competing bonuses to their players. PokerStars has a 20% deposit bonus up to $100 (i.e. if you deposit $500, you’ll get the maximum bonus of $100). Full Tilt has a Fast $50 bonus, where players can opt-in to receive a bonus that’s at least $50 (I was offered $50, but I know players who received bonus offers as high as $300). Unlike the PokerStars bonus, there’s no deposit requirement; all you have to do is opt-in (you’ll get a pop-up when you first start Full Tilt’s client directing you to Requests -> Check My Bonus Offer).

I’ve been crushing my competition at Full Tilt. In fact, I’ve transitioned to playing almost exclusively at Full Tilt because:

1.) The competition in SNG MTTs and ring games is noticeably softer.

2.) There’s no pressure to maintain a certain amount of play per month to get a decent effective rakeback percentage. Even if I don’t achieve Iron Man status, I’m guaranteed my 27% rakeback plus the additional effective rakeback from FTPs (which comes out to around 35%). I enjoy having a life away from the online felt, so it’s nice not being a slave to an online poker room’s VIP program.

The past few months, my only play at PokerStars has been an occasional scheduled MTT or $12 180-man turbo SNG. As a result, I’m now a lowly Bronze Star. Also as a result, I had to figure out whether it was worth it to try to clear the entire $100 deposit bonus or simply to deposit and be happy with getting extra rakeback on the random tournaments I play over the next few weeks.

Effective Rakeback of the PokerStars Deposit Bonus:

The bonus clears at $1 per 20 VPP earned. For tournaments and 6-max cash games (which are the games I typically play), you receive 5.5 VPP per $1 in MGR. This means that you get $1 for every $3.64 in MGR (27.47% effective rakeback). From prior analysis that I’ve performed on PokerStars’ VIP program, I know that Bronze Star status adds about another 12% effective rakeback and that Silver Star adds about another 15% effective rakeback. The bonus would take 2,000 VPP to clear, meaning that about 37.5% of my play would be at Bronze Star and about 62.5% of my play would be at Silver Star. I’d get effective rakeback of about 39.47% for about 37.5% of my play. I’d get effective rakeback of about 42.47% for about 62.5% of my play. In the end, I’d receive about 41.35% effective rakeback while clearing my bonus.

Effective Rakeback of My Normal Play at Full Tilt (Without Fast $50 Bonus):

With my 27% rakeback account at Full Tilt, I receive about 35% effective rakeback when including FTPs and not including Iron Man freeroll equity or medals (I know this from analysis I’ve performed on Full Tilt’s player rewards – which properly accounts for FTP purchases being deducted from MGR). Including Iron Man freeroll equity or medals adds an uncertain amount of effective rakeback (at Full Tilt, effective rakeback is a huge function of MGR). However, even without Iron Man, I’d be willing to take a 6.35% hit on effective rakeback because my increased win rate at Full Tilt more than compensates. As a result, my decision is to continue hammering away at Full Tilt while playing an occasional tournament at PokerStars (happy to be getting a 40ish% rebate on my PokerStars tournament rake the next 20 days).

My Recommendations

The Full Tilt Fast $50 bonus clears at about 35% effective rakeback. Given how much I typically rake in a single session, I don’t have to worry about choosing between clearing the bonuses (which is why I didn’t include the Fast $50 bonus in my analysis above). However, if you are choosing between clearing the two bonuses, then my recommendations are as follows (assuming your hourly win rate before effective rakeback is similar on both sites):

Spend your time clearing the Full Tilt bonus if:

1.) You have rakeback at Full Tilt.

2.) You don’t have rakeback at Full Tilt, but you have Iron Man status and aren’t something like Platinum Star or above at PokerStars

Spend your time clearing the PokerStars bonus if:

1.) You have neither rakeback nor Iron Man status at Full Tilt

Meanwhile, if your winrate before effective rakeback is different at the two sites, then you need to account for that in your playing decision. In the end, your decision on where you spend your time playing should be based on where you have the highest $/hour. And $/hour is a function of effective rakeback and win rate.

The biggest lesson of all from this is that you need to do your homework regarding poker site bonuses. Though all bonuses tend to look attractive on the surface, it’s really important to dig beneath the surface. In the end, you want to make sure that you’re spending time clearing bonuses that:

1.) When combined with your win rate and other player benefits, result in you playing at the highest $/hour possible

2.) Are clearable. Bonuses that clear in small increments don’t typically have this problem because, in the worst case, you simply get part of the bonus cleared at a good rate instead of the entire amount cleared at the same good rate. Bonuses that don’t clear in small increments can be problematic. Suppose you need to play 50,000 hands at your usual limits – and that you need to do so in 2 weeks. If you’re incapable of playing 50,000 hands in 2 weeks, then you’re not going to clear the bonus.

May Your EV Always Be Positive!

The Tsunami


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