Poker Rewards Programs: Is the Dream Back?

A general view of poker chips is seen. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for CineVegas)

What if you could earn six figures just from online poker – even if you’re a break-even player? That’s the way things used to be at many of the world’s top poker sites.

Most famously, PokerStars had a volume-based rewards program that gave you more rakeback the more you played. If you could make it all the way up the reward tiers to Supernova Elite, you’d earn somewhere around $120,000 in rakeback for the year. It’s what kept the poker dream alive for so many would-be champions.

Sadly, PokerStars canceled that rewards program in 2017 and replaced it with a program geared toward generating as many deposits as possible, rather than the volume of hands played. Many online poker rooms had already done the same by this point.

But wouldn’t you know it, PokerStars has returned with a new loyalty program that gives you rakeback of up to 65% when you reach the top tier. And there are other big rooms out there that will also reward you based on volume. Let’s take a moment to navigate these waters and see how best to take advantage.

It’s a Mistake

Whichever site (or preferably sites) you choose to play at, you’ll have to put in a lot of volume to clear those rewards tiers and make the really big money.

If you’re old enough, you probably remember the stories told by poker savants who were “on the grind,” spending all day and all night playing upwards of 20 cash tables at the same time. Those who made it to the top tier became semi-legendary. They lived the dream.

You probably didn’t hear the stories of everyone who fell short. As wonderful as poker is, especially compared to some of the menial jobs out there in the marketplace, it’s a hard way to make an easy living.

Playing all those tables at once is very taxing on the brain; error rates go up when you multi-table, and since you have to wait such a long time to claim that god tier of rewards, you could easily go bust in a downswing before reaching the Promised Land.

Dusty Roads

You’re not just putting your poker account at risk by playing such heavy volume. Back in 2013, noted grinder Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt described the damage all that multi-tabling may have done to his brain – doctors told Schmidt he would likely have a stroke by the age of 50 if he didn’t reduce his play to around 5-10 hours per week.

Schmidt’s account generated renewed interest in a 2009 Stanford study about the perils of multitasking. They found that heavy multitaskers showed deficits in attention control and short-term memory, two things that are very important when it comes to poker.

In other words, not only do you have to overcome the dual challenges of scheduling and prolonged downswings to put in heavy volume, but you also have to overcome the mental anguish it causes.

It Pays to Increase Your Fun Power

Keeping these things in mind, the best way to approach any rewards program is to take what the rooms offer you, but also to “stay in your lane” and not over-stress yourself to achieve high volume. Your most efficient cash game sessions will be 90-120 minutes long, with at least 30 minutes of downtime in between. If you must multi-table, keep it reasonable – maybe four cash game tables at once, or two “fast-fold” cash tables.

Lastly, if a six-figure poker income is one of your goals, you’re doing it wrong. Poker is a game of luck as well as skill and strategy; if you’ve got the brainpower to play poker well, you can make far more money doing something else that’s both easier and less risky. Collect your winnings and your rewards where you can, but keep poker and gambling fun. Anything less would be uncivilized.