What Online Poker Site Should I Play?

I routinely hear the same questions when I talk to friends and family about my online poker career.
Is playing poker online legal? Answer: Yes, in most states and countries it is legal to play, however recent U.S. legislation has put pressure on banks to not process illegal gambling transactions, which is very difficult to discern. You can usually find a variety of options to deposit funds and withdrawl. I’ve been playing online for 5 years and the longest it took to get my money on was a few days and the longest it took to get off was a few weeks by standard check. Typically you can deposit same-day and cashout in 1-3 weeks.

How do you know the site or the other players aren’t cheating? Answer: The same would just as well apply in a live casino except online every hand and detail is databased and can be analyzed and if there is some funny business the perps can’t just grab the money and run like in a casino. I’m not gonna say it doesn’t happen, but the online sites make boat loads of money just running a straight game and the entire industry’s success is based upon this trust. Typically the extent on cheating is a couple people who are playing on the same table and know each other’s cards, which can be an advantage, but if exploited on a regular basis would be easy to figure out after a while. Most of the controversy spurs from a recent situation at Ultimatebet and Absolute Poker (Which are now the same company) in which a top level employee was able to exploit a software weakness and access the hole cards of the other players. This player eventually was caught after getting reported by other observant players and showing an excessive profit margin playing in high limit games. The website got most of the blame for trying to keep the incident quite, but eventually apoligized and like most sites offered to reimburse all affected players.

All in all, the threat is currently small especially at the lower limits where it would not be a worthwhile venture. There are also thousand of very observant players in the poker community who keep an eye out and report any unsual incidents. In my best estimate I would guess 95% of the time everybody is playing straight which is probably better than the games in the casino or at home.

I’ve been looking forward to doing a post reviewing the different online poker sites. Many of the top players play on many different sites in order to take advantage of what each poker site has to offer. Some site have worse players, better bonuses, better rakeback, unique tournaments, special promotions, etc. Not to mention just having a larger selection of tables/games to find what is most fun or profitable for you. I personally play on 5 of the largest “U.S. friendly” sites: Pokerstars, FullTilt Poker, UltimateBet, Absolute Poker, Cake Poker, and used to play on Party Poker (Until they kicked the U.S. players to the curb. I look forward to getting feedback on Bodog and Doyle’s Room, which I have been interested in joining, however, neither at this time offer any kind of rakeback program, which is very important to me. So here’s my personal rundown on these sites:

Pokerstars –
Volume – By far the largest poker site in the world!! Volume ranges from 50,000-almost 200,000 players playing!! This makes the variety of games and limits very easy to fill.
Tournaments – Again very numerous at all limits. From freerolls to regular $Million guaranteed tournaments.
Sit in Go’s – From $1 – $2,000 and they are all full even up to $1,000, HU, 6man, and 9mans, Turbos, etc.
Cash Games – From 2cent/4cent up to $1000/2000 – They all fill well – Typically 20,000+ cash game players
Customer Service/Software – Very good, usually quick customer service. Software rarely has issues
Bonuses – They usually match $50-100 at 100% for 1st deposits
Rakeback/Player Rewards – They have a player VIP rewards system. Also, SNG leaderboard rewards
Promotions – Very big multi-table tournament promotions (Including WSOP, WPT, EPT,etc.) and a ton of different satelites. They also showcase a number of Pro players sponsored to play on their site.

Overall – I’d give them a Donkeyherding 8.5/10. I think it’s almost a must to have an account on Pokerstars with so many options available at any time. You can always get a game and great support. My only concerns are that you can get better Deposit/Reload bonuses and easier competition elsewhere and they currently don’t offer rakeback. They do on occasion have overlay (Free money added) on some tournaments and is a good site for me if I want to play during non-peak hours

Full Tilt Poker –
Volume – The 2nd largest poker site in the world. Volume ranges from 30,000-almost 80,000 players playing! Not quite as large as Pokerstars but still very big. This also makes the variety of games and limits very easy to fill.
Tournaments – Very numerous at all limits. From freerolls to some $Million guaranteed tournaments.
Sit in Go’s – From $1 – $2,000 and they are all full even up to $1,000, HU, 6man, and 9mans, Turbos, etc.
Cash Games – From 25cents/50cent to $2000/4000, Typically they have about 10,000 cash game players going at it, so it is pretty easy to get any size game to fill
Customer Service – Very good, usually quick customer service
Bonuses – 100% $600 max 1st deposit bonus (Which plays off reasonbly quickly)
Rakeback/Player Rewards – You can get rakeback if a new account. Also, leaderboard rewards
Promotions – Fulltilt seems to be a little more creative in trying out new tournaments and structures. They recently introduced a “Matrix” tournament in which you play 4 SNG’s at the same time against the same players and you are payed based on finish as well as an overall performance placement score. I like it, very interesting, but can be tough on your eyeballs if you’re not used to playing 4 at a time!!

Overall – I’ll give them a 9/10. I really like FullTilt Poker. It is a great site all-around. Plenty of volume, promotions, variety, and good customer service. A nice deposit bonus and you can get rakeback. They usually have good customer service. My only beef might be lack of reload bonuses, a bit tougher competition, and occasionally I get disconnected from only their site, but I’m not sure if that is just me?

Ultimatebet –
Volume – Ranks probably 4th largest “U.S. friendly” poker site in the world. Volume ranges from 10,000-20,000 players. A bit of a step down from Pokerstars and Fulltilt in size, but depending on the limits you play still quite active. Over the next year they expect to merge traffic with similarly sized Absolute Poker which will make them the 3rd largest U.S. accepted site.
Tournaments – During the morning and mid-day you can find lo-mid stake tournament, while large buy-in tourneys will run during hi traffic times and on weekends. They run a 200K tourney weekly and an annual large tournament event series called UBOC, I think twice a year. You can also come across occasional overlay (free money added) tournaments especially in some satelites.
Sit in Go’s – From $0.20 – $1,000, however, typically they fill well up to $100 buy-ins
Cash Games – From 1cent/2cent to $300/600, Typically they have about 1,300 cash game players. I would say 10/20 15/30 is the highest limit that fills reasonably well unless heads up.
Customer Service – I will definately say customer service is not their strong suit. Maybe with their merger with Absolute might improve. Don’t get me wrong, they will respond to your needs, however, not necessarily within 24hrs. They many times run satelites which if you win more than once are credited with tournament dollars and occasionally it is not automatically creditted to your account and I had to send a number of emails to make sure it got fixed.
Bonuses – up to 111% $1500 max 1st deposit bonus!! (Luckily with no deadline to play it off. If you’re a cash game player it will be earned quicker, I mostly play tourneys so for me it takes much longer) Reload bonuses are also available
Rakeback/Player Rewards – You can get rakeback if a new account, however, only for cash game play not until after any bonus payouts. I believe they also have leaderboard rewards.
Promotions – Even though UB is not as big a FT and PS, they do run a number of satelites for bigger events including WPT and WSOP. Phil Helmuth and Annie Duke are also popular site backers. I have been part of a couple of their live events in which they put on a nice party.
Overall – I’ll give them a 7.5/10. Currently, most of the time I like UB. It is a solid site all-around. Good volume during peak times, fun promotions, reliable software and variety. A nice deposit bonus and you can get rakeback. I actually like the fact I can play a $50 multi with around 100-300 players vs 1000+ like some of the bigger sites. They caught alot of crap over the earlier cheating scandal and I have the impression they are trying to go out of their way gain trust. If their customer service improves with the merge I will probably re-rate them between 8.0-8.5.

Absolute Poker –
Volume – Ranks probably 5th largest “U.S. friendly” poker site in the world. Volume ranges from 10,000-20,000 players. A bit of a step down from Pokerstars and Fulltilt in size, but depending on the limits you play still quite active.
Tournaments – They run weekly 100K and 150K tourneys alnog with some satelites to some bigger live tournaments. Typically mostly small to medium tourneys during non-peak times and larger tounreys during peak times and weekends.
Sit in Go’s – From $0.50 – $1,000, however, typically they fill well up to $100 and occasional $200 and $300 6 handers fill ok.
Cash Games – From 2cent/4cent to $300/600, Typically they have about 1,500 cash game players. I would say 15/30 sometimes 30/60, is the highest limit that fills reasonably well unless heads up.
Customer Service – Their email is no better than UB’s, however, they do offer a live telephone # available, which has been helpful in the past. Rarely do they have any software glitches, and I don’t have the additional entry tournament dollar problem here because they don’t currently let you play a satelite if you already have won an entry.
Bonuses – up to 100% $600 max 1st deposit bonus!! Very nice reload bonuses are also available up to 100%!!
Rakeback/Player Rewards – You can get rakeback if a new account and it apllies to all games/tourneys and bonuses are not subtracted. I also believe they also have leaderboard rewards.
Promotions – This site is currently a lo frills UB with better support, they do run a number of satelites for bigger events including WPT and WSOP. Currently poker pro Mark Seif is their front man.
Overall – I’ll give them a 8.0/10. Within the next year UB is expected to merge traffic with Absolute Poker (Their sister site) which is almost the same size and will propel them to being the 3rd largest U.S. accepted site, which will hopefully make them even better. Currently most of the time I like AP. It is a solid site all-around. Good volume during peak times, reliable software and variety. A nice deposit and reload bonuses, and you can get full rakeback. I actually like the fact I can play a $50 multi with around 100-300 players vs 1000+ like some of the bigger sites. They caught alot of crap over the earlier cheating scandal and I have the impression they are trying to go out of their way gain trust. Once their traffic improves with the merge and hopefully they can be a little more aggressive with promotions and new games, I will probably re-rate them 8.5+.

Cake Poker –
Volume – Ranks probably 6th largest “U.S. friendly” poker site in the world. Volume ranges from 3,000-10,000 players. Suprisingly even some higher limit games fill quite well, especially during peak hours. You can almost always find low to medium limit games running.
Tournaments – You can find plenty of $1-30 multi’s. Besides the weekly guaranteed multi’s, most are around 100-300 players and below $50. They do have satelites to WPT and WSOP events and many of the players can play pretty bad.
Sit in Go’s – From $0.50 – $1,000, however, typically they fill well up to $100 and occasional $200 and $300 6 handers fill ok.
Cash Games – From 2cent/4cent to $300/600, Typically they have about 1,500 cash game players. I would say 15/30 sometimes 30/60, is the highest limit that fills reasonably well unless heads up.
Customer Service – I usually get a reply within 24 hrs. from them, but no phone number is available
Bonuses – up to 100% $600 max 1st deposit bonus!! Very nice reload bonuses are also available up to 100%!!
Rakeback/Player Rewards – You can get 33% rakeback if a new account and it apllies to all games/tourneys.
Promotions – They run the typical WSOP and WPT satelites and run a couple larger $100-200 multis
Overall – I’ll give them a 7.8/10. They’re definately not the greatest site around yet, but they have probably the most fishy players vs. the others’ I’ve mentioned so far, they also have the highest rakeback at 33%, and have good bonuses. They definately need more reliable software and better deposit methods (I had to transfer money in through another player) I grew my bankroll faster on this site than any other makes me overlook some of its downfalls and I can only assume it’s gonna get bigger and better.

Party Poker – (No longer U.S. friendly)They used to be the #1 poker site around until they made the unpopular decision to dump all of their U.S. customers, which hurried over to Pokerstars, due to U.S. regulations. Very similar to Pokerstars in nature, however now about the size of Ultimatebet. Still they big tournaments and good support. At least that is until they decided to send me emails charging my account for the few dollars I had left due to “inactivity”?! Can you believe the nerve? Needless to say I told them where to stick it and they closed my account. lol.

Bodog – Similar in size to Cake Poker, however, their traffic has been declining, while Cake’s is growing. They also, currently don’t offer rakeback, however, I hear there’s alot of fish there and overlay in some tournaments. It might be somewhere I play in the future if I hear some good things and/or they start giving rakeback, but for now I’ve never played there so I won’t offer my opinion.

Doyle’s Room – Again, similar in size to Cake Poker, but no rakeback. I also don’t personally know anyone who plays there so I have no opinion other than if the site grows or offers rakeback I will give it another look. Anyone else with feedback please let me know.

If you do decide to sign-up for a new poker site make sure to click on my rakeback link first and follow the instructions, because once you sign-up if you don’t use the rakeback code you cant go back and still get rakeback!! This once screwed me on FullTilt and I didn’t have rakeback for a long time and lost alot of free money.

My other recomendation is to try not to split up your bankroll too thin by moving funds into a new site, while at the same time you want to take full advantage of the 1st deposit bonuses which typically offer 100% up to $500-600. Basically if you only have $1000 or less on 1 site, maybe try and save up $300-600 so you don’t cripple your bankroll on another site in case of a bad run. I unfortunately have learned this the hard way. I was doing quite well on Pokerstars and decided to sign-up for UB and AP and it spread out my bankroll too thin taking me months to build each account back up to sufficient levels in order to play larger games. Also, try to break the new site in slowly at a lower limit than you’re used to in case you get confused by the software and have time to get comfortable. Usually it takes me about 2-3 weeks to have a new site dialed in. Also remember you probably don’t have any feedback on your new opponents, so best play small and slowly move up.

GL, and good herding, Donkeyherder.
For more on me and my blog posts please check me out at: http://donkeyherder.livejournal.com

Comments

  • Nice Post! I agree with your words because earlier I have played in one unknown site which provides good features but it does not follows any value added things. After that I did research on like these blogs which provides trusted information for really interested in poker game.

  • i play http://www.pkr.com
    way the most awesome and coolest pokersite ever. its almost like real playing.
    u can do with buttons call your other players a loser or laugh and even flirt.
    its 3d and u can commond your player to do very cool thing.
    the most crap site ever is pokerroom. the cards are weird there. if u heads up and u have A K and the other AQ, 9 of 10 times AQ wins.
    i did a tournemant with say’s top 6 paid. i become 4th and didnt win shit. after email they wont want to pay me. i dont know wher i can take action to this, but at last i can do is tell u to not go to pokerroom, cause its a scamsite and they will screw you

  • Anyway a winning player does not need a credit huh ! Been trying Ipoker lately it’s a non US room without rakeback but there is funny players there !! What’s about Pacific i haven’t been there for ages, still so many crazy callers? And do they keep there rake structure (4$ cap) ?

  • I agree with pretty much everything you said and is why I recommend playing on more than 1 site to take advantage of all your opportunities. Cake has been growing and I play there alot. However, be prepared for glitchy software on occasion and I couldn’t use my credit card.

  • Well depends what u want . Fulltilt is excellent if u are searching for tournaments but for cash game I would say that people are playing really good at this room. They may as well give you 27% rakeback, not bad :-).
    If you play to “earn” some money I would recommand you Cake Poker, games are not that strong and they offer 33% rakeback to there players which is a bit better than fulltilt !

    Ultimate bet had lately problem of collusion so i dont really know what’s happening with them now

  • FullTilt is definately a solid site all the way around. I just wish they had reload bonuses, but they almost always have something I like running and as you said alot of the pros play there on a regular basis in reasonably priced buy-ins. I played a $50 tourney there a few days ago and had Lee Watkinson on my left and he actually was chatting it up with the average joe donks.

  • I would go for Full Tilt Poker! Bonus offers are also the best there, in my experience. They’ve got the best software and it’s always a motivation that the pros play there as well. 🙂

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