Do you like to get something for nothing? In the very competitive market of online poker, different sites are ready to throw money at you in the shape of bonuses and promos, and you’d have to be a fool not to make the most of it.

For those unfamiliar with the online poker world – or for online players who want to get more for their money – here is the lowdown on poker site bonuses: what they are, how to get them, and how to make them work for you!

“Why are they giving me money?”

Poker sites make their money by having people play with them, simple as that. Every time you play for money, a very small percentage (called rake) is collected by the site as their fee; and when you play online tourneys the fee is also clearly specified. The more people play at a site, the more money the site makes. Easy peasy!

Many players join sites because they were recommended by third parties called affiliates, whose job is directing players to the best sites. This makes everybody happy: the player is happy because the site gives them a bonus, and the site is happy to have more players and it gives the affiliate some money too. Bonus codes are usually a way for the site to keep track of who referred the player to them, as well as the type of bonus offered, which we will go into right now.

“OK, so what am I going to get?”

Sign-up bonuses are exactly what they say they are: they are a reward when you sign up into a particular site and since you will be getting these only once, it is important that you shop around for the one that suits you best.

Some sites will offer you free money just for creating a real money account. This will usually be no more than a few dollars so you test the site and get your feet wet, after which you will usually be offered an attractive first deposit bonus.

Ready to make your first deposit? This is when things get interesting! Sites will often offer a fixed amount or a percentage of your first deposit, which you will have to “earn” before you get them (more about this later). For example, Party Poker’s most popular bonus offers to give you $25 free after you make your first deposit. Other common bonuses will give you a percentage on top of your deposit, such as “20% up to $200”, “50% up to $500” or even “100% up to $1000”. Beware if they sound too good to be true – they will probably be quite hard to earn.

If you already have an account, do not despair: occasionally some sites offer reload bonuses to existing players, which will add a percentage on top of your deposits – a very nice way to reward your loyalty!

“This sounds too good to be true. Where’s the catch?”

While not exactly a “catch”, it is true that you will have to work a little (or a lot!) in order to “clear” or “release” a bonus – that is, in order to get the cash. This is necessary to prevent players from trying to abuse the sites, and the requirements vary a lot between sites. This is why we suggest caution with overly generous bonuses, which may have very high requirements.

The first big difference is in how the bonus is released: some sites will release the cash progressively, for example $5 at a time; while others will wait until you have cleared the entire bonus before they let you have it. In both cases, the release will depend on how much and how often you play, measured by the number of raked hands you play or by the amount of money you contribute to the rake (i.e. how much you bet). And unless you are a very high roller it is obviously better for you to clear your bonus through the number of hands you play, regardless of whether the stakes are $0.01/$0.02 or $10/$20.

Let us give you an example of how this works: to get the $25 Party Poker bonus you will have to make a minimum deposit of at least $50 and play 125 raked hands, after which you will get $25 free. Another popular Party Poker bonus gives you 30% on top of your first deposit, but you have to play 7x your bonus to clear it: say you deposit $100 and your bonus is $30, then you have to play 7 x 30 = 120 raked hands to get the bonus. Requirements based on raked hands are great for beginners (who play very small stakes) as well as for more conservative players who will not bet heavily but choose hands more carefully.

Bonuses with rake-based requirements may be harder to clear because they depend on the stakes you play rather than just the number of hands. For example, if you want a $100 bonus which requires that you play $500 to clear, it is obvious that you will have to play for a lot longer in the $1/$2 tables than you would at the $5/$10 before you get your bonus. However, if you play very aggressively and are not afraid of going all-in, perhaps this type of bonus will be easier to clear.

“I want in! What should I do?”

The first thing to do is find a reputable affiliate who will refer you to a site. You can also join directly, of course, but the more respected affiliates have such good relations with the sites that they usually negotiate bigger bonuses or extra perks such as freerolls and merchandise for you. It is important that you choose carefully and maybe even ask around in a forum or two, because only a respectable affiliate will deliver on their promises (for a freeroll, say, or free poker gear) and ensure the bonuses are up to date and not left to expire.

Once you find an affiliate you like, and get a code from them, you’re ready to create your account and start getting those free bucks. It is really very simple!

Let us again use the example of Party Poker’s free $25: the bonus code is VIPCODE, so when you download the software and create your account you must simply enter it where it says "If you have a Sign Up Bonus, Please enter it here"

That’s it! After you deposit and start playing, you will see how soon free money finds its way into your account.

The best poker sites out there are competing with each other to pay you for the honor of having you as a player. Get out there, choose smartly, and pad your bankroll with free cash!

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