Casino Poker for Beginners: High-Hand Bonuses, Bad-Beat Jackpots, and More
Most casino poker rooms these days sponsor some sort of promotion or jackpot in an effort to bring in more players. It’s definitely worth asking about the existence of any such add-ons either before you sit down to play or sometime soon after you get settled. Between hands, just ask the dealer to tell you about any promotions or jackpots they’re offering.
I’ve seen all sorts of promotions, but there are a few fairly common types that you are most likely to encounter. Let’s run through them.
The premise here is simple: If you make a high hand — usually meaning either four of a kind or a straight flush — you win a cash prize. Sometimes it’s a fixed amount. Other times it’s a “progressive” jackpot, with the amount of the bonus growing daily until it is hit, at which time it resets to some baseline value. Occasionally, your jackpot will be determined by allowing you to spin a “wheel of fortune,” or pick from a bunch of identical envelopes.
In nearly every case, a few basic rules apply:
(1) You have to show your cards in order to win. (Ain’t nobody gonna just take your word that you had it if you quietly muck your cards after everybody else folds!)
(2) Once you have the hand made, you win the money, regardless of whether the hand plays out all the way. For example, if you have in your hand and the flop is — such as I had the good fortune to experience once (see below, right) — the jackpot will be yours, even if the hand ends right then with everybody folding to your bet.
In other words, you don’t have to play cautiously out of fear of losing the bonus if everybody folds and the hand ends early.
(3) You must use both of your hole cards to make the quads or straight flush. If you have and the board comes , you will not qualify by having your ace “play” as part of your five-card hand.
If you have and the board shows , you also will not qualify, because your best five-card hand is a 10-high straight flush, using only one of your two hole cards.
Best hand of the hour/day
As the name implies, the premise is that some fixed amount of cash goes to whichever player in the room has made the best hand over the course of each hour or each day. There may be some minimal value for a qualifying hand, such as a full house. For an hourly prize, you’ll have to stick around to see if you won. For a daily prize, you’ll have to call or visit the room the next day.
A bad-beat jackpot is paid when two high hands collide, e.g., four of a kind beating a lesser four of a kind, or quads beaten by a straight flush. Most commonly, the loser of the hand gets the biggest share of the jackpot, with a smaller percentage going to the winner of the hand. Sometimes there is also a small amount for everybody at the table, or even for every player in the room when the qualifying hand occurs. Again, both hole cards must be used by each player to make either quads or a straight flush.
For both high-hand bonuses and bad-beat jackpots, the award can be nullified if anybody talks about the possibility of a jackpot while the hand is in progress. It is tempting to do so, and you’ll find that many players cannot resist that temptation, but you must. Imagine how you’ll feel if you miss out on a $50,000 payday because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut until the hand was over. Imagine how angry you’d be if somebody else’s loose lips cost you that money.
Drawings are most common during sports events. You don’t have to do anything to qualify other than being an active player in the room. Cash is handed out at the end of every football quarter, or every time a team scores, or whatever. The winner is selected just based on seating position — e.g., Table 4, Seat 8.
In this promotion, you earn a ticket every time you make a particular hand. Most commonly it requires either a flush or a full house or better. You place the ticket(s) in a barrel, and the poker room staff later draws some number of tickets whose owners win cash sums. Drawings might be daily, or even two or three times a day. You will usually have to be present to win.
A “splash pot” is when the house juices up the pot for the next hand with something of value. Usually it’s a fixed amount of chips or cash (e.g., $100), but sometimes it’s an envelope with an unknown amount, or a gift certificate for something like dinner at one of the casino’s restaurants. The winner of the hand collects the prize along with the pot.
A player with in the hole wins a predetermined amount of cash bonus (or, occasionally, a spin of a wheel with various amounts available) if he or she loses the hand. You must play the hand out to completion, and of course you must show the losing aces. Again, you must not discuss the hand in progress, or otherwise signal to the other players that you have aces and/or that you are trying to lose the hand.
Some poker rooms reward their most loyal customers with a periodic (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual) freeroll tournament. You earn a seat in it by playing some specified number of hours of poker during the qualifying period. Sometimes you can earn a bigger starting stack in the tournament by playing an even greater number of hours.
Paid to play
Once in a while you’ll find a poker room — usually ones that are struggling to survive, and therefore most desperate to attract players — paying cash bonuses for a certain number of hours played in a day, week, or month, often in a graduated fashion.
There is free, and then there is “free”
Finally, do keep this in mind with all of the above (except for the paid-to-play promotion): You are not getting something for nothing. As the saying goes, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
All of these games are funded by an extra dollar or two of rake taken from each hand played. The schemes are all just fancy ways of redistributing what was the players’ money to begin with. In the long run, it’s a zero-sum game.
Additional strategy tips for how best to exploit each kind of promotion are beyond the scope of this introduction. However, a friend of mine, using the alias “Grange95,” wrote a detailed exposition of the most common kind of poker room promotions, including an analysis of which players benefit and lose the most from each kind, whether and how one should adjust one’s strategy when a promotion is in effect, and more. It’s well worth reading if you want more depth on this subject — “Jackpots, Freerolls, & Promos — Nuts, Bolts, & Comments.”
Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.