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One of the common topics you’ll see mentioned in the poker blogosphere is bonus whoring. Of course, bonus whoring is the act of playing on a particular site in order to take advantage of a reload or some other type of promotional bonus. Many people chase bonuses from site to site and even include bonuses in their monthly win/lose figures. The more I’ve thought about it though, the more I’m beginning to question the wisdom of bonus whoring.
At the micro-limits the benefit if substantial. Someone with a $100 bankroll who deposits an additional $1000 solely to get a 10% reload bonus would double their bankroll (assuming they withdraw the $1000 after they clear the bonus). A player who plays $5/$10 and deposits an additional $1000 into his $3000 bankroll solely to get a 10% bonus would only increase his bankroll by 3.3%.
For someone playing .05/.10 the game selection options are fairly equal across all sites since the lack of skilled competition at that level is fairly normal. The micro-limit player is giving up very little EV by playing at one site vs. another. At higher limits this EV trade-off can be substantial. If site A has 10 games spread at a particular level with a fairly good mix of good and bad players one is +EV over playing at site B which only spreads three games at the same limit with a much tougher group of opponents.
One common bonus whoring tactic is to play limits lower than the person’s normal game. Say for instance I normally play $5/$10 and I sign up at FullTilt with $600 to get the 100% new signup bonus. Six hundred is far too small to play $5/$10 so I drop down to $1/$2 or $2/$4 in order to play lots of hands and clear the bonus. Let’s assume it takes 10,000 hands to fully clear the FullTilt bonus. Here’s the math:
10,000 hands winning at a rate of 2BB per 100 hands
@ $5/$10 total winnings = $2000
@ $2/$4 total winnings = $800
@ $1/$2 total winnings = $400
Even if you only jump down from your normal $5/$10 game to $2/$4 you give up $1200 to make $600. Now one might argue that someone making 2BB per 100 hands at $5/$10 should be able to smash a $2/$4 game for more than 2BB per 100 hands but by how much more? 2.5BB? 3BB? Even at 3BB per 100 hands your 10,0000 hands nets you $1800 including the bonus which still leaves you down $200 vs. just playing your normal $5/$10 game.
Of course, you could always deposit a proper bankroll for your limit at each site but it would seem that if you were a $5/$10 player and had $3000+ deposited at 2 or 3 different sites you would be much better off playing $10/$20 or $15/$30 than you would be chasing $100 and $200 reload bonuses. There’s also the issue to consider that you are constantly playing against weaker opponents which does nothing to improve your game.
The ultimate justification will probably come from those who choose to move their entire bankroll between sites. But even here, you’re tossing months of PokerTracker data out the window in order to chase a relatively small bonus amount. One could make that case that you might make more knowing your opponents better than you would from the bonus given a sufficiently high enough limit. It’s probably the most compelling argument for bonus whoring but when combined with the need to constantly move one’s funds from site to site and the downtime between moves, I would personally find it to be a bigger pain than it’s worth.
All in all, I’m pretty sure that the only benefits of bonus whoring are:
1. You have a very small bankroll and play micro-limit poker making the bonuses a substantial percentage increase in your bankroll.
2. You’re adding additional funds to an existing account where you regularly play.
3. You are changing your site of choice on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
Other than that, it’s probably -EV. If anyone has a pro-bonus whoring argument I haven’t considered, please leave a comment as I would love to be proved wrong on this one.