What do points make?

A look at just how rewarding poker sites’ loyalty schemes really are

You’re here to make profit, not ‘win’ cheesy baseball caps

If you ask me, the whole ‘customer loyalty thing’ has gotten a bit out of control. I was initially more than happy to carry a Sainsbury’s card and later on even a Tesco’s card, just to mix things up a little – a sort of reward points double agent, if you will. But now I have so many of these bloody cards that I can’t cope. Every time I forget my Boots card the checkout person looks at me like I’m a shoplifter.

Now the same ‘revolution’ is happening on poker websites. The operators don’t want you flitting willy-nilly from site to site, ruining their rake, so they tempt you with the promise of ‘free’ things. But are these ‘free’ things actually deserving of your loyalty, or are they just one step above a slap in the face? And how the hell do you qualify for them anyway?

Following on from its recent re-launch, Virgin Poker will kick-off its full loyalty reward scheme in February, where points can be traded in for Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles. According to Virgin’s Josh Morris, ‘[Reward schemes] are essential in an Internet poker environment, where there are only small differentials between different poker software applications. That said, they do need to offer value to players and the rewards need to be achievable.’

And that, my friends, is the truest word spoken here. Rewards are nice, but they must have value to you and not need years of play before that value becomes ‘real’. You are making poker operators A LOT of money and it’s about time they gave a bit more back.

The mechanics of poker loyalty systems are reasonably standard across the various sites, but a little bit of research will reveal which is best for you. An operator like Full Tilt rewards you with one point for every dollar in the rake on your winning hands, up to a maximum of three points per hand. You can also earn seven points for every $1 spent in entry fees for tournaments. A slightly different system is in operation at Ultimate Poker, which offers one point for every hour at the table (so playing multiple tables is advantageous) as well as fractional bonus points on raked hands that you win. Tournamentwise, you’ll earn six Ultimate Points for every $1 in tourney entry fees (e.g. $10+1$ = six points, $30+$3 = 18 points, etc). Like many sites, there are also incidental bonus points on offer, for simple things like being the first to sit down at an empty cash game.

Risk and reward

But what do you want out of these schemes? It’s easy to be led astray by pretty online pictures showing shirts, jackets, books, etc, but you could just go buy these off eBay. You’re going to get better value off a site where you can cash in your points for entry into more ‘exclusive’ freerolls and satellite tournaments. I recently cashed in some of my PokerRoom points to enter a $5 tournament ‘for free’, then came second and made $196. No crappy baseball cap will give me that feeling!

Cash out

The truth of the matter is that if you play enough online poker to rake a decent amount of points anyway, then loyalty schemes are hardly something you can complain about. If you play enough that you’re eyeing up the top prizes, you probably want to do more research into the sites that offer improved rake-back deals – where the house takes less from your winnings if you guarantee a certain amount of action. Prizes are great, but ultimately we’re here to make profit, not ‘win’ cheesy-looking baseball caps.

The various reward schemes are, however, a very good reason to stop playing cash games across so many different clients. Why would you want useless amounts of reward points spread across each of your favourite clients? Pick one and play cash there exclusively. By all means have 12 different clients on your PC (I know I do) because being a poker client monogamist will exclude you from all the great freerolls, satellites and promotions being offered on the web.

Ten years ago loyalty reward programmes were specialist schemes. Now every chemist, newsagent and coffee shop has one. Recognise that you are an important revenue stream to these massive companies and be sure to squeeze every last Mini Cooper out of them if they want your continued custom. Well, at least until yet another poker client appears making a better offer.

I fiddled about for three hours on a $0.25- $0.50 limit game while doing some research for this piece. I made enough for 1/76th of a hat. Yay.

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