Small Stakes Bonus Clearing Strategy

What is a Bonus and Why Do I Have to Clear it?

Small Stakes Bonus Clearing Strategy Updated June 11, 2011

So you have signed up at one of the major online cardrooms like Bovada Poker and you made your initial deposit. Hopefully you deposited enough to get the maximum bonus (for example at Bovada you need to deposit $1000 USD for the maximum bonus dollar amount which 1100 bonus dollars (at a 110% bonus rate). But what exactly ARE bonus dollars?--they don't seem to be in your account. You cannot withdrawal them. You cannot play poker with them. Now you have your work cut out for you.

What Are Bonus Dollars?

When you have bonus dollars on any online poker room you will need to "clear your bonus" which means that you need to play a certain amount of real-money ring game hands, real money sit and gos, or real money tournaments and then they will convert your bonus dollars into real dollars. For the purposes of this small stakes bonus clearing strategy you will be clearing your bonus at real money small stakes ring games.

You will need to play a large number of raked hands to clear the bonus. In the case of Bovada again they will put cleared bonus amounts in actual dollars into your player account starting at $10 and progressing up to $1000. The good news is that you can clear up to 100 hands of poker per hour per table, so if you can play on four tables at the same time you can clear up to 400 hands per hour/eight tables at the same time can clear up to 800 hands per hour.

At those rates you will burn through the conversion of your bonus dollars very quickly.

What Type of Games Do We Use to Clear Our Bonus?

These online poker bonus clearing recommendations are for playing Limit Texas Holdem. If you are primarily a seven card stud player it will usually still be easiest to clear your bonus with Texas Holdem because of the sheer number of live ring tables going, and because you can perform this strategy almost robotically (with very little skill) and still make money.

Special Note for Omaha-8 Players

If you are an Omaha8 player then substitute the Group 1 hands from Low Limit Omaha in place of the starting hands listed below.

The Strategy

The clearing strategy we recommend has three main points:

  1. Very tight starting hand requirements (tighter than you've ever played! -- explained below)
  2. Multi-tabling (at least 4 tables going at a time) to clear the bonus faster
  3. Strong pre-flop aggression (you will usually raise or reraise any hand you play up to the cap preflop except vs the most passive players)

Very Tight Starting Hand Requirements

Here are all the hands you will play.

Ad As   Kd Ks   Qd Qs   Jd Js
Td Ts   Ad Ks            

Yes you read that right. Only pairs TT through AA and AK (suited or unsuited).

We are looking at getting as much money as possible into the pot before the flop. Many savvy small stakes online players will reraise even very tight raises when they have small and middle pairs in order to gain the post-flop initiative. Against these types opponents you must will always re-raise to maintain the lead and increase the size of the pot Our hand is often stronger than our opponents normal raising holdings.

It is important not to imagine AA or KK every time an opponent raises. They are not necessarily paying attention to how you are playing so don't assume that they would never reraise you without a top 1% hand. Of course if you legitimately notice a player or players who do behave this way (will only 3-bet with AA or KK, for example) then you should proceed accordingly).

Why So Tight??

Naturally this strategy is far too tight for maximum expectation in general play but it does put you in almost every hand you play with a preflop advantage (which you should push with as many raises as you can preflop) and, it doesn't require a lot of skill, and most importantly, it also makes it much easier to play on several small stakes tables at the same time because you will be folding 95% of the hands you receive before the flop.

After the flop you should remain aggressive and continue to bet even if you only have ace high. Keep betting until you are raised or until the showdown. If you are raised with no pair or an underpair (you have TT and there is a KQ on the board) then you should dump your hand against most opponents. With other holdings you can let your opponent take the lead but you will almost always want to see a river.

Obviously if you get caught in a multiway pot you should proceed normally and avoid getting between two raisers with a mediocre hand and other normal poker traps. Just remember you are starting with such high card value that, when you can control the action, it is usually worthwhile to pay to see a showdown.

Multi Tabling

We definitely recommend buying in for an amount that lets you claim the maximum number of bonus dollars since you only get a first-time deposit once!

In order to clear your bonuses in a reasonable amount of time you are going to have to play on more than one table at a time. Fortunately this is very simple on most cardrooms. Bovada Poker has the ability to resize their tables and automatically tile them to fit your screen. If you are new to online play then start with two tables and when you feel comfortable making your actions in time with those (which should be very simple using the starting hands above) then move up to three and then four then more. There are tools like Table Ninja that can make playing on multiple tables even easier (you can easily play 12+ tables using this strategy and PokerStars or Full Tilt using Table Ninja) A sample of Table Ninja is bundled with Hold 'em Manager if you want to try it out and if you don't have Holdem Manager yet then you should GET IT NOW Even without that tool you may want to try to work up to 8 tabling to clear your bonuses at the maximum rate.

Also this strategy is designed for full ring games. Do not try to use these starting hand selections on 6-max tables because the blinds will consume your money too quickly when you are playing this tightly. If you are a good enough player to clear your bonus at multiple 6-max tables and not lose money than there's a strong chance you aren't reading this article. Even so we won't make fun of you.

Choose a Limit

The higher the limit you play the faster your bonuses will clear, so you should play at the highest reasonable limit you can. A common benchmark for poker bankroll is 300 big bets, so if you deposit $600 in your poker account you have a decent bankroll for a $1-$2 limit holdem game. Since these starting hands are extremely conservative you can probably get by with a bankroll of 150 big bets so you should be able to multi-table at a $2-$4 game with a $600 deposit. If you drop below 100 big bets you should move down a level.

Naturally if your initial deposit is lower than $600 then you should play in an appropriate game. We definitely recommend buying in for an amount that lets you claim the maximum number of bonus dollars since you only get a first-time deposit once!

Choose a Table

For purposes of bonus clearing you want to play at tables where the percentage of players seeing the flop is between 25 and 40 percent. If the percentage is lower than this you won't make enough money on the hands you play to beat the blinds you'll lose and the rake. If you pick a table with a percentage higher than this then you will have excessive variance and may deplete your bankroll if you encounter an especially long run of bad beats.

Where are These Bonuses?

You may want to check out our Bonus Code section to view the current online cardroom bonus offers for first time depositors.