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Clearing Bonuses

Clearing Bonuses
From time to time, the site or sites that you play on may offer you a bonus, which requires that you play a certain number of raked hands in a given period of time in order to collect the money. The psychology of this is brilliant: After all, who can resist “free” money, especially a gambler? However, it is important to realize just what the site has in mind in making the offer, and make your playing decisions accordingly.

As the old saying goes, “There is no free lunch.” Although the offer seems like a no-lose proposition, if you fixate on clearing the bonus, you can get yourself in more than a bit of trouble. First, let’s take a look at a typical bonus situation. Recently, Full Tilt Poker made an offer to many of its low-level players to earn a $50 bonus, which needed to be cleared within 21 days.

The structure of the bonus was such that, for every $1 of rake collected in a hand, you would qualify for 6 cents of the bonus, which would be put into your account each time you cleared $5. On average, $1 of rake is collected on a $20 pot, meaning that, in order to take in $5, you would need to be dealt cards on just about $1,700 worth of hands. To clear the entire bonus, the total value of the pots at your tables would have to be around $17,000.

As always, your decision in just how aggressively you pursue the bonus must be tied to bankroll management, NOT the pursuit of “free” money, or you will expose yourself to the vagaries of variance. For example, if you are playing a $200 bankroll at no limit Holdem, you would normally only be sitting at a .05-.10 blind table, as this would insure that you have no more than 5% of your stack at risk at any one time.

While the temptation of adding the extra $50 to your account is great (after all, it would be an additional 25% just for sitting and playing), you should NOT change your money management strategy to try and achieve it. While it will take an enormous number of hours of play at that level to clear the entire $50, it is better to add only a portion of it by staying within your means, rather than to jump up in levels to try and achieve the bonus more quickly.

For instance, you could clear the bonus five times as fast by moving up to a .25-.50 game, but just take a look at what could happen. If you put up a full buy-in at .25-.50, you put 25% of your bankroll on the table. Now, let’s say that you fall victim to a horrible beat where you turn the nut flush, get all your money in, and then get rivered by another player filling his boat. Suddenly, one-quarter of your account is gone, and now you have to get the entire bonus JUST TO GET BACK TO EVEN. This will put even more pressure on you to gamble it up, and you might very well find that your account is empty long before you ever make that elusive $50.

In short, the bonus is best looked at as a nice incentive to play your normal game at a particular site. If you have accounts at multiple venues, the presence of a bonus at one of the sites should definitely influence you to play extra time at that site, but just by playing your normal game at your regular stakes, the bonus truly WILL be free money. 
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