Nowadays, the competition in the online poker industry is quite unprecedented. While the existing poker rooms pull out the heavy artillery to pound their adversaries into submission, new ones appear on the battlefield each day, every one with the intent to capture players' attention and thus attract as many rake-generating contributors as possible.
The competition means that certain marketing tools that were regarded as downright scandalous in the past have pretty much become common-place, and new ones keep popping up.
Every poker room gives its players some sort of sign-up, or first-deposit bonus. Some online poker rooms are more generous about it, others less so, but no matter what, you will get a bonus when you sign up.
Now then, what exactly does this bonus mean to you in terms of gameplay, and why is it so important that you do not settle for anything less than the most advantageous deal?
Online poker rooms make their revenue through the rake that you generate by playing in real money hands. That rake will be taken on every hand you participate in, and win or lose, you will pay rake no matter what you do.
Some people may tell you that you only feel the burden of the rake when you're winning. That's absolutely wrong. Whenever you put money into the pot, you do pay some rake. Simple as that.
All bonuses that you receive for your signing up will have to be unlocked. There are different types of bonuses and different ways to unlock them, but they all need to be redeemed without exception. As long as you're playing to unlock your bonus though, you'll be playing with reduced rake. The better the quality of your bonus the more rake reduction you'll enjoy. That's why hogging an extremely good bonus is of utmost importance.
Never go for what the room advertises though. Their bonus banners and ads are extremely marketing-oriented and they can be (and most of the time are) misleading. If a poker room says it'll give you $500 at sign up, it is possible that they're talking about a 100% match on your first deposit up to a maximum of $500. That's a huge difference.
Pay attention to how your bonus unlocks.
Most poker rooms make the unlocking of your bonus a function of the rake that you generate. That is all right and it is supposed to be like that, but there are other fine-print catches hidden in here. Some poker rooms will not count tournament fees that you pay towards the redemption of your bonus, or they will take it into account, but to a lesser degree.
The way the contributed rake is calculated is also important. If you're an aggressive player, and you generate a lot of rake, you won't be too happy to play with dealt rake, because you'll be basically unlocking bonuses for other people.
The best kind of bonus out there is the recurring bonus, which many poker rooms offer in the shape of rakeback. Rakeback deals offer a return on the rake you generate indefinitely. You don't have to unlock anything, you just play, and at the end of the month (or weekly or even daily) you pocket the rakeback due.
Poker propping is just about the best possible setup bonus wise. You can earn well over 100% rakeback, which means that you'll actually be paid for playing at the room. (they need you to generate action so they can achieve their critical player liquidity faster, thus being a poker prop will bear some restrictions)
Knowing exactly what you sign up for is not just something ethically right that you owe yourself. It will also provide you with an edge you wouldn't have exploited otherwise, and just maybe, it'll help you past the stage of being a breakeven player and turn you into a winner.